Jungle Fever revolves around Flipper (Wesley Snipes) and Angie (Annabella Sciorra) a mixed race couple from New York who have an affair. It also follows Flipper’s crack addict brother Gator (Samuel L Jackson), Angie’s white ex boyfriend’s pursuit of a black woman, and the lives of their families, in an in depth look at race relations in 90s New York.
Jungle Fever is Spike Lee’s study of mixed race relationships, a fact which is hammered home in almost every scene. There’s no subtlety here, as every character in the film is utterly obsessed with the colour of people’s skin. I don’t doubt that the racism shown really exists, but it would have been possible to show this without having a conversation about race every other scene. It makes this feel less like a film and more like a series of case studies.
It is, however, very balanced in its outlook. The racism on display in Jungle Fever works both ways, with black characters as racist as the white ones, but this also means that the black characters, along with the white, constantly talk about race.
Luckily there are other things going on here too, like a look at the family and gender roles, and also the part religion plays. Racists on both sides stick firmly to their deeply held religious principles and it’s often the less religious characters who are less conservative and more blind to race.
Wesley Snipes is fantastic in this serious dramatic role, as is Annabella Sciorra. But the most notable performance here is from Samuel L Jackson as crack addict Gator. He manages to be both terrifying and amusing, which is possibly his greatest strength as an actor. This is a good film and an effective drama which is enjoyable and engaging, if heavy handed.