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Film / Jungle Fever

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She's got jungle fever, I've got jungle fever,
We've got jungle fever, we're in love;
I've gone white-girl crazy, she's gone black-boy hazy,
We're each other's baby, we're in love.

Jungle Fever is a 1991 film directed by Spike Lee. It follows three intertwining plotlines. In the first, architect Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) leaves his wife Drew (Lonette McKee) and takes up an affair with his firm's temp secretary Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra). In the second, Flipper and his parents (Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee) struggle with the spiraling drug addiction of their elder son Gator (Samuel L. Jackson in a performance that won him a special supporting actor award at Cannes). In the third, Angie's former boyfriend Paulie Carbone (John Turturro) tries to free himself from the control of his autocratic father (Anthony Quinn) and racist friends.


Tropes:

  • Actor Allusion: The crackhouse is similar to the one in New Jack City, which also starred Wesley Snipes.
  • Asshole Victim: Gator, who revels in being a crack addict, steals money from his family, and (if he's to be believed) robs elderly people to support his habit. There's little sympathy for him when his father the Reverend Doctor decides to put an end to Gator and the problems that he causes by shooting him.
  • Big "NO!": Flipper at the end, while holding the prostitute he bumped into on the street.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Flipper and Angie's relationship is over, Gator is dead while his father the Reverend Doctor may go to prison for shooting his son. Meanwhile, Paulie is a pariah in his own neighborhood for trying to date a black woman and is probably destined to be estranged from his father for the same reason. On the other hand, there's some hope that Flipper will mend his marriage with Drew and that Paulie, who has finally shown some independence by standing up to his father and to neighborhood trouble-makers, may still have a good life ahead of him.
  • But Not Too Black: For Drew, Flipper's taking up with a white woman is worse than it might be because she's light-skinned herself and she now questions how much of a factor that was in their marriage.
  • The Cameo:
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Flipper's friend Cyrus winds up telling his wife about Flipper's affair with Angie. Cyrus's wife tells the whole neighborhood.
  • Defenestrate and Berate: Drew's reaction when she finds out about Flipper and Angie.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Both Flipper and Angie have overbearing, conservative fathers. Their shallow affair is driven as much by a desire to spite their fathers as anything else.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Paulie finally gets the courage to stand up to both his overbearing father and to the neighborhood hoodlums when they criticize or ridicule him for his interest in Orin, a black woman. He gets badly beaten for it, but at least he's shown them that he's willing to stand up for himself.
  • Extreme Doormat: Paulie to his father and to most of the guys in the neighborhood, at least until his final scene where he shows some spine.
  • Foil: Paulie and Orin, to Flipper and Angie. Paulie is a white man attracted to a black woman, Orin, but he is attracted to her kindness and intelligence rather than to her race. Whether or not they will work out as a couple is unanswered, but at least they have a real basis for a relationship, unlike Flipper and Angie.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: The Reverend Doctor is a self-righteous and cruel man who tyrannizes over his family. However, he often acts this way because there's more than a grain to truth to what he says and believes:
    • While he expresses his thoughts on the subject in the most insulting way possible, the Reverend Doctor isn't wrong to say that Flipper and Angie's relationship is shallow, selfish and driven by a desire for sex with the exotic racial "other" rather than genuine love (not to mention an even more childish desire to spite their elders). Of course, where he goes too far is in claiming that all interracial relationships are as superficial as theirs.
    • Unlike his wife and Flipper, the Reverend Doctor had the good sense to recognize that Gator was beyond redemption very early on. Not only was Gator a crack addict, he was proud of being a crack addict.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: The relationship between Flipper and Angie is condemned by Flipper's father, along with his friends, while her father beats her after finding out about it and then throws her out of his house. At least in Flipper's case, though, it's partly due to it being adultery.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Despite being the only one of them with a job, Angie is still expected to make dinner for her father and brothers, who still complain about her cooking not being as good as her mother's.
  • Mixed Ancestry is Attractive: Played With. Drew is half-black and half-white. She gets concerned that her black husband's initial attraction to her was because she is lighter-skinned since he cheats on her with a white coworker.
  • Nice Guy: Paulie is probably the most likable of the main characters in the film. He's not a bigot like his father or the other guys in his neighborhood, his interest in Orin is sincere affection rather than "jungle fever," and he seems to have an interest in bettering himself by reading and signing up for college courses so that he won't be stuck in the same dead-end job around the same dead-end people the rest of his life. Not surprisingly, these traits don't exactly make him popular around the neighborhood.
  • The '90s: Like most of the defining decade's films during the time. Denise, one of Angie's friends, even lampshades it when the latter tells her friends she's going out with a black male.
    Denise: This is the '90s. There's nothing wrong with that.
  • Offing the Offspring: The Good Reverend Doctor Purify shoots Gator to death out of despair for his crack habit.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Gator being killed by his father was inspired by the death of Marvin Gaye.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Flipper ends up realizing that he can't have the life he wanted with Angie and that the prejudice they & any future kids they would have is too much to deal with. The movie ends with him being back with his wife and taking his daughter to school, pretty much exactly where he was at the start of the film.
  • Skyward Scream: The ending.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happens to the Reverend Doctor after he shoots Gator. Did he tell the truth about what happened and wind up in prison for the rest of his life, or did he stretch the truth by saying that he acted in self-defense and walk away a free man?
  • Where da White Women At?: Played straight, subverted, deconstructed, everything. For Flipper, having an affair at all seems partly in frustration at his not being promoted at work. Angie is available, he admits to being curious about white, and he says that she was curious about black. She is in part getting back at her arrogant father and brothers, although, unfortunately, she's still living with them.
  • World of Jerkass: There are very few sympathetic characters in this film. Gator is a crack addict and petty criminal who steals from his own family. The Reverend Doctor is an overbearing domestic tyrant. Angie's father beats her when he discovers her affair with Flipper, her brothers are equally bigoted lazy bums, Paulie's father treats his son like a doormat, and the people at Paulie's store are racist hoodlums. Flipper's bosses are smarmy, condescending jerks. Last but not certainly not least, Flipper and Angie aren't particularly likeable either, as they carry on their affair for completely selfish reasons - eroticizing the racial "other" and spiting racist family members.

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