Jungle Fever deals with a married black architect who gets into an affair with a white woman. When the affair goes public his wife throws him out of the house and he moves in with her in an appartment and they have to deal with prejudice and racism from all sides. But what about the sincerity of their relationship? Are they really in love or are they just interested in eachother because they both have a different skin color? Do they have “Jungle Fever”?
Jungle Fever is not so much about the relationship between the black Flipper Purify (I kid you not, that’s his name and he’s played by Wesley Snipes) and the white, Italian Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra), but more about how people around them respond to this affair. This is also the movie’s biggest flaw. When we first see Wesley he’s making passionate love to his wife, something he seemingly does almost every morning. Get me a wife like that. At work things are less smooth as he thinks he’s earned it to be made a partner but in the mean while even a request like wanting to have a black temp secretary isn’t taken seriously as she turns out to be the aforementioned Angie Tucci. She’s seeing the shy John Turturro and has to cook for her father and brothers since her mother died. After working late a couple of nights and sharing stories over take-away dinners they have sex and their lives change. She’s aware of his marriage and doesn’t want to break them up. They still go places together but seemingly the sex was just one time only. But when Flip tells Cyrus (Spike Lee) about him having had sex with a white woman the story starts to wander around and ends up with his wife who throws him out. Flip and Angie start a relationship which causes racial prejudice from both sides. From this point on the movie strays away from the relationship of which we’re not really involved in due to that and focuses on how basically every character in this movie is a racist. Sure opinions expressed by certain characters are very real, but by making every character short sided the movie wanders into the realm of caricatures. Especially the Italian-Americans are not getting off easy: Angie’s dead beats her almost to a pulp when she finds out his daughter is “fucking a nigger”, her brothers are not to pleased either and her girlfriends find having sex with a black man disgusting. After being dumped John Tuturro’s character Paulie takes a liking in a black woman who comes to his shop daily to buy newspapers. All his friend are unanimously against it and spout racial slurs like they’re ordering pizzas at The Hut.
On his side things are better but not much. There’s an awkward dining scene with his parents, baptists, who do not approve of their relationship. In all this there’s also room for a sub-plot about Gator Purify, Flip’s brother who’s a crackhead and goes from some innocent shenanigans to violence in order to get some money. He’s played by a then unknown Samuel L. Jackson and his girlfriend is an unrecognizable Halle Berry.
The point Lee tries to make is clear, you can’t really get away from it here because it’s shoved in your face. A bit too much, but to his credit a lot of the dialogue feels real. I’ve got girlfriends who say they feel disgusted when they think of having sex with a black man. It’s just not their thing. But that’s a matter of taste, yet Lee seems to make a point about it. I found it unnecessary. Even in the porn industry there’s a checkbox for interracial on the form of do’s and don’ts that people have to fill in. To me people have the right to be prejudice about who they want to have sex with or not.
Lee does make a valid point about parents who want to decide for their children who they should see end who not. It’s really bad parenting when you want your child to be with someone you like her to be with and not with someone who he or she likes to be with. And it’s a battle you’ll always lose.
Spike Lee should’ve taken out the sub-plot of Gator as it is just filler and does not fit the theme of the movie and focused more on the relationship of Flip and Angie. Other than the office sex scene there’s not a whole lot of expose of the relationship. We’re only shown how the people around them deal with it and how they respond to it. How they respond to each other we’re never shown. It would be so much easier to care for these people if we drawn into their relationship and made part of it. The movie could have had more impact of that was the case. Now it’s a good film, beautifully shot also, but Lee has proven he can do much better.