It was based in part on Spike Lee's experiences attending Morehouse College, Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University.
Vaughn "Dap" Dunlap (Laurence Fishburne) is a politically conscious black American student at Mission College, a leading historically black college whose motto is "Uplift the Race". The college administration is portrayed as inept.
Dunlap leads anti-apartheid demonstrations encouraging students and school administrators to divest from South Africa. When Dunlap's buddies go into town, they find the local boys are not impressed with their activities, but they think of them as privileged college boys.
Open conflict breaks out between the groups. Dunlap feuds with Julian Eaves (Giancarlo Esposito) aka Dean Big Brother Almighty of Gamma Phi Gamma Fraternity, Incorporated. This group is characterized as "wannabees" (as in "wannabe better than me").
The fraternity brothers are preparing for a big college football weekend and Homecoming parties. Meanwhile, Dap's younger cousin, Darrell (Spike Lee) [aka "Half-Pint"] is a Gamma pledge.
The Gamma women's auxiliary, the Gamma Rays, who are sleek and light-skinned, confront non-Greek black co-eds, particularly over skin color and the nature of their hair. Some of the Rays use contact lens to change eye color.
- Larry Fishburne as Vaughn "Dap" Dunlap
- Giancarlo Esposito as Julian "Dean Big Brother Almighty" Eaves
- Tisha Campbell as Jane Toussaint
- Kyme as Rachel Meadows
- Joe Seneca as President McPherson
- Ellen Holly as Odrie McPherson
- Art Evans as Cedar Cloud
- Ossie Davis as Coach Odom
- Bill Nunn as Grady
- James Bond III as Monroe
- Branford Marsalis as Jordan
- Edward D . Bridges as Moses
- Kadeem Hardison as Edge
- Eric Payne as Booker T.
- Spike Lee as Darrell "Half-Pint" Dunlap
- Anthony Thompkins as Doo-Doo Breath
- Darryl M. Bell as Big Brother X-Ray Vision
- Joie Lee as Lizzie Life
- Alva Rogers as Doris Witherspoon
- Paula Brown as Miriam
- Jasmine Guy as Dina
- Samuel L. Jackson as Leeds
- Cassi Davis as Paula
- Phyllis Hyman as Phyllis
The filming dates for "School Daze" took place from March 9th to May of 1987. The movie's budget was an estimated $6,500,000.
Spike Lee arranged for the two groups of actors to stay in separate hotels during filming; the actors playing the "wannabees" were given better accommodations than the ones playing the "jigaboos". This favoritism led to tension on the set which showed in the on-camera animosity between the two camps.
In the film, the method approach yielded strong results: the fight that occurs at the step show between Dap's crew and the Gammas was not in the script. On the day the scene was shot, the fight broke out between the two sides & Spike ordered the cameras to keep rolling.
Before completing his the film, the officials of Morehouse, Spelman, and Clark Atlanta University asked Spike to stop filming on the campuses because the colleges' Boards of Directors had concerns on how he was portraying the historically black colleges in the film, so he had to complete the filming at Morris Brown College.
Tisha Campbell was given the role of Jane in the film after Spike Lee was impressed with her singing when she was the movie "Little Shop of Horrors".
Spike Lee was able to get the final cut rights for the film thanks to Columbia Pictures executive David Pickler.
"School Daze" debuted at #10 at the box office, grossing $1,802,656 during its opening weekend and grossed $14,545,844 domestically.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie was given a 60% rating based on 20 reviews with an average rating of 5.8\10. It was also given an 81% audience score.
"School Daze" received positive reviews for its exploration of issues within the black community.
Roger Ebert gave the film four in a half stars, saying, "There is no doubt in my mind that "School Daze," in its own way, is one of the most honest and revealing movies I've ever seen about modern middle-class black life in America".
He also noted its frank exploration of issues of discrimination within the black community related to skin tone and nature of hair, saying it was significant as a film with a "completely black orientation. All of the characters, good and bad, are black, and all of the character's references are to each other".
However, some people resented Spike Lee's portrayal of a dysfunctional black college.
Many officials of black colleges and faculty heads attacked the film for its use of racial language, epithets and portrayal of a college in trouble.
They objected to the words "frizzie" and "nappy-headed" (referring to the characters' hair) being used by the students. As a result of the film, some colleges excluded him from their lecture programs.
Rita Kempley from the Washington Post called the film "an arrogant, humorless, sexist mess".