Black Is Not A Genre: Musicals

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This week we look at musicals with Jazmyne Moreno, programmer of the Lates series at Austin Film Society.

Much of what we think of as the aesthetic of the modern musical evolved from a long history of co-opting Black musical and performative styles and gentrifying them for white audiences. In that context, Spike Lee’s second feature film School Daze (1988) is transgressive on two frons. For one, it wrested creative control back from genre tradition that had largely erased the influence of Blackness from its history and re-infused it with the most cutting-edge Black music of its time. Two, it reversed the white-dominant insularity of musical theatre culture and reflected that alienation back onto audiences by setting School Daze within the culturally esoteric world of historically Black colleges.

Like many of his early films, Lee’s second film opened to mixed reviews, many of which had more to do with a lack of familiarity by white critics with the palette he was painting with. And, while for much of his career, it was seen as a relative misstep between his precocious debut (She’s Gotta Have It) and his iconic third feature (Do The Right Thing), over time, the cultural perception of School Daze has grown to include an appreciation not only of the huge risk Spike took in releasing a full-blown musical as his sophomore effort but in its honest and unabashed willingness to, as the ol’ folks say “air out dirty laundry,” outside the safety of Black communal spaces.

This project is supported in part by the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department.

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