September is around the corner which can mean only one thing: back to school. Whether you’re heading to university or preparing a loved one for their first day, you’ll need to get your head back into the academic game–not an easy feat when the summer weather and vacation memories still linger in your mind. In order to make the transition a bit smoother, we’ve rounded up GIANT’s top five back to school films, each of which will get your mind right and get you amped to hit the books or get back into the swing of daily school drop-offs. These films have been graded based on the following criteria: strength of moral/lesson; portrayal of people of color; brainpower of professors and students; and overall writing and acting. Find out now how the following films measure up:
Released in 1988, this Spike Lee film is chock full of issues addressing the black community during the late 80’s, and still to this day. Lee explores complex topics such as Greek groups, political consciousness, skin complexion, romantic relationships, and HBCU culture. Not to mention the famous “jigaboo” and “wannabe” battle scene that continues to be referenced in pop culture. While School Daze received a large amount of backlash from black and white critics alike, this film brought to light important conversations set in an influential setting, and in doing so, incited discussions in the real world about the validity of the film’s issues.
Student Body: Laurence Fishburne playing Dap; Giancarlo Esposito playing Julian/Dean Big Brother Almighty; Tisha Campbell playing Jane Toussaint; Kyme playing Rachel Meadows; and Spike Lee playing Half-Pint.
Faculty: Ossie Davis playing Coach Odom.
Extra credit: While shooting the film, director Spike Lee actually had the “wannabe” characters staying in better accommodations than the “jigaboos,” to spawn genuine feelings of discontentment between the two groups. This trick actually paid off, because the fight that broke out during the fraternity step battle scene was unscripted!
Final Grade: A
School of Rock
For the past few years, music programs across the country have been at risk of being obliterated from school curriculums, with many school officials arguing that making money cuts in this department makes the most sense. This 2003 film starring funny man Jack Black makes a pretty strong case against the belief. Playing a washed-up, self-absorbed rocker in danger of losing his Battle of the Bands spot, Black deviously takes on a substitute teacher position at a prestigious elementary prep school. Much to Black’s surprise, his fifth-grade students are actually super talented! Hilarity and heart-warming moments ensue between excellent performances given by the young cast and the transformation of Black’s character.
Student Body: Disney star Miranda Cosgrove playing Summer Hathaway/Tinkerbell; and other young actors and actresses who you probably don’t know by name.
Faculty: Jack Black playing Dewey Finn; Joan Cusack playing Principle Mullins
Extra Credit: The script originally called for Jack Black and Joan Cusack’s characters to fall in love following their outing to the bar. We’re glad they stayed just friends!
Final Grade: B+
Now this film right here? This film right here? This is another throwback brimming with famous black actors and actresses when they were just starting their careers. You’ve got Tyra, Omar, Regina, Ice Cube, Busta all playing students at the fictional Columbus University, and you’ve got John Singleton directing and co-producing. Released in 1995, Higher Learning follows three very different incoming freshman students whose initially separate problems ultimately intersect and combust in an intense conclusion. Out of all the movies on this list, this film spans a wide variety of issues not only crucial to black college students, but to students of various racial, ethnic, political and sexual backgrounds as well.
Student Body: Omar Epps playing Malik Williams; Tyra Banks playing Deja; Regina King playing Monet; Ice Cube playing Fudge; Busta Rhymes playing Dread; Michael Rapaport playing Remy; Jennifer Connely playing Taryn.
Faculty: Laurence Fishbourne playing Professor Phipps.
Extra Credit: Tupac Shakur was originally set to play the role of Malik but he was jailed shortly after getting the part and the role went instead to Omar Epps.
Final Grade: A+
Based on My Pose Don’t Do Homework, the true autobiography of former U.S. Marine Lou Anne Johnson, this blockbuster hit fueled the flames for the “unconventional teacher saves inner city students” films that were soon to follow. Yet, unlike many of the genre’s successors, the brilliant performance of Michelle Pfeiffer and the student cast lit up the big screen with a refreshing mix of reality, grit and inspiration. The seemingly unorthodox methods that Johnson used, such as using karate to instill discipline and popular music to explain metaphors and symbolism, have actually been adopted in many school curriculums today, primarily universities. Instead of discrediting the potential of disadvantaged youths, this film demonstrates the extraordinary bounds these students can make if approached with methods relevant to their own culture and communities.
Student Body: Marcello Thedford (The Game and Sons of Anarchy) playing Cornelius Bates
Faculty: Michelle Pfeiffer playing Lou Anne Johnson; Courtney B. Vance playing Mr. Brandey
Extra Credit: Michelle Pfeiffer was pregnant during production. Although shot out of sequence like most films, it becomes apparent when methods are used to hide the actress’ stomach.
Final Grade: A-