Jungle Fever

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Jungle Fever
Jungle Fever film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySpike Lee
Produced bySpike Lee
Written bySpike Lee
Music by
CinematographyErnest Dickerson
Edited bySam Pollard
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • June 7, 1991 (1991-06-07)
Running time
132 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million[1]
Box office$43.9 million[1]

Jungle Fever is a 1991 American romantic drama film written, produced and directed by Spike Lee. The film stars Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Lee, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lonette McKee, John Turturro, Frank Vincent, Halle Berry (in her film debut), Tim Robbins, and Anthony Quinn, and is Lee's fifth feature-length film. Jungle Fever explores the beginning and end of an extramarital interracial relationship against the urban backdrop of the streets of New York City in the early 1990s. The film received positive reviews, with particular praise for Samuel L. Jackson's performance.


Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes), a successful and happily married architect from Harlem, is married to Drew (Lonette McKee), a buyer at Bloomingdales. Together, they have a young daughter, Ming (Veronica Timbers). At work, Flipper discovers that an Italian-American woman named Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra) has been hired as his temp secretary. Initially Flipper is upset that he is the only black person working at Mast & Covington, but after being told employees are hired according to their ability and not race, he relents.

Angie lives in Bensonhurst with her abusive father, Mike (Frank Vincent), and her two brothers, Charlie (David Dundara) and Jimmy (Michael Imperioli). Angie's quiet fiancé Paulie runs a corner grocery store and lives with his elderly widowed father, Lou (Anthony Quinn). Angie feels utterly suffocated in her home life. Every night when she returns home from work, she is expected to cook for her father and two brothers.

After several nights working late hours together, Flipper and Angie have sex, which begins a tumultuous relationship. Flipper wakes up the next morning, ignoring his daughter. Flipper demands his superiors, Jerry (Tim Robbins) and Leslie (Brad Dourif), to promote him to partner, but he is denied. He resigns, having plans to start his own firm.

Eventually, Flipper admits his infidelity to his longtime friend, Cyrus (Spike Lee), who criticizes him not for being unfaithful to his wife but for having an affair with a white woman. Cyrus refers to the cause as "jungle fever" - an attraction borne of sexualized racial myths rather than love. Flipper pleads with Cyrus not to tell anyone, including his wife. Angie's friends are equally disparaging when she tells them she is having a relationship with a black man.

Drew learns about Flipper's affair, through Cyrus' wife, Vera (Veronica Webb) and throws him out of their home. Flipper moves in with his father, Southern Baptist preacher The Good Reverend Purify (Ossie Davis) and mother, Lucinda Purify (Ruby Dee). Later, Mike severely beats Angie with a belt (among other things) after hearing that she is dating a black man from one of Angie's brothers, via her girlfriends.

At Drew's place of business, Flipper attempts to reconcile. Drew kicks him out, feeling he was attracted to her for being half-white, but is now unfaithful to her because she is half-black and that Flipper was searching for a white, light-skinned woman as he was a successful black man. Flipper and Angie move into an apartment in Greenwich Village. They encounter discrimination for being a mixed race couple, such as being insulted by a waitress named LaShawn (Queen Latifah) in a restaurant, chastisement from The Good Reverend, and financial issues.

After some play fighting, Flipper gets restrained by two policemen (the same ones who killed Radio Raheem two years prior) who receive a call that he was attacking Angie. The long-term incompatibility of Flipper and Angie's relationship is compounded by Flipper's feelings for Drew and Ming, and Angie wanting to have children of her own. Eventually the couple break up. Echoing what Cyrus told him earlier, Flipper tells Angie their relationship has been based on sexual racial myths and not love, but Angie denies this, telling him she loves him for who he is, not for what he is.

Things begin to turn worse for Flipper when his crack-addicted older brother Gator (Samuel L. Jackson) - who has been constantly pestering Flipper and his family for money - steals and sells Lucinda's TV for crack. Flipper searches all over Harlem for Gator, eventually finding him in a crack house. Exasperated with him, he finally gives up on his brother and cuts him off.

Nevertheless, Gator arrives at his parents' house to ask for money and, after Lucinda refuses him, begins to ransack the home. Gator's erratic behavior leads to an altercation with both of his parents. It ends with The Good Reverend proclaiming angrily that his son is "evil and better off dead", and he shoots him in the groin. Gator collapses, screaming in pain, and dies in a weeping Lucinda's arms with The Good Reverend watching remorsefully.

In a short sub-plot, Paulie is taunted by his racist Italian-American friends for having lost his girlfriend to a black man. He asks one of his customers - a friendly black woman named Orin Goode (Tyra Ferrell) - on a date. This angers his father, whom he defies by ignoring him. On his way to meet Orin, Paulie is surrounded and assaulted viciously by his customers for his attempt at an interracial relationship. Although badly beaten, Paulie still arrives at Orin's for their date. Frankie, one of the attackers, despises black people although he states his love for rap music and the group Public Enemy.

Angie later is accepted back with reluctance into her father's home and Flipper unsuccessfully tries to mend his relationship with Drew. He talks to his daughter as she is in bed. As Flipper leaves from his apartment, a young crack-addicted prostitute propositions him, calling him "daddy"; in response, Flipper throws his arms around her and cries out in anguished torment. It has been suggested that this woman is his daughter all grown-up.

In a deleted scene, Flipper is driving in a car with Cyrus when Frankie asks him to pull over. Eventually, Flipper takes off while Frankie stares at the open space in shock.




Lee dedicated the film to Yusuf Hawkins.[4][5] Hawkins was killed on August 23, 1989, in Bensonhurst, New York by Italian-Americans who believed the youth was involved with a white girl in the neighborhood, though he was actually in the neighborhood to inquire about a used car for sale. According to the New York Daily News, "the attack had more to do with race than romance".[6][dead link]


In the film, Flipper's brother, Gator, is a crack addict. He is constantly pestering his family members for money. His father has disowned him, but his mother and Flipper still occasionally give him money when he asks.[7][8][9][10]

In an interview with Esquire, Jackson explains that he was able to effectively play the crack addict Gator because he had just gotten out of rehab for his own crack addiction. Because of his personal experience with the drug, Jackson was able to help Lee make Gator's character seem more realistic by helping establish Gator's antics and visibility in the film.[11]


The film's soundtrack was by Stevie Wonder and was released by Motown Records. Although the album was created for the movie, it was released before the movie's premiere in May 1991. It has 11 tracks, all of which are written by Stevie Wonder, except for one. Though some believe that Wonder's album was unappealing, others believed that it was his best work in years.[12]

The instrumental theme for the film is Bless the Star by Terence Blanchard. This theme was used in Mo Better Blues previously but does not appear on either's soundtrack.


Critical response[edit]

The film garnered mostly positive reviews from critics, with particular praise for Samuel L. Jackson's performance as crack addict Gator, which is often considered to be his breakout role.[13][8][9]On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 81% based on reviews from 48 critics. The site's consensus states: "Jungle Fever finds Spike Lee tackling timely sociopolitical themes in typically provocative style, even if the result is sometimes ambitious to a fault."[14] On Metacritic the film has a score of 78% based on reviews from 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[15]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 3.5 out of 4 and wrote: "Jungle Fever contains two sequences - the girl talk and the crackhouse visit - of amazing power. It contains humor and insight and canny psychology, strong performances, and the fearless discussion of things both races would rather not face."[10]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ a b "Jungle Fever (1989)". Box Office Mojo.
  2. ^ "Jungle Fever". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  3. ^ Williams, Lena (1991-06-09). "UP AND COMING; Samuel L. Jackson: Out of Lee's 'Jungle,' Into the Limelight". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  4. ^ https://slate.com/culture/2014/07/spike-lees-opening-credits-sequences-titles-for-movies-do-the-right-thing-da-sweet-blood-of-jesus-jungle-fever-and-more-are-among-the-best-parts-of-the-movie.html
  5. ^ "5 Things To Know About 'Storm Over Brooklyn,' a New Doc About Yusuf Hawkins". Essence.
  6. ^ "Yusef Hawkins, a black man, is killed by a white mob in 1989". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2016-04-29.
  7. ^ "Spike Lee Cools Off but His 'Fever' Doesn't". The Los Angeles Times. 1989-05-17. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  8. ^ a b Freedman, Samuel G. (1991-06-02). "FILM; Love and Hate in Black and White". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  9. ^ a b Stephen Hunter (June 7, 1991). "Spike Lee's 'Jungle Fever' seethes with realities of interracial relationships". Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on 2012-07-29. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  10. ^ a b Roger Ebert (June 7, 1991). "Jungle Fever". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2020-08-07.
  11. ^ JOHN H. RICHARDSON (2010-12-15). "Samuel L. Jackson: What I've Learned". Esquire. Retrieved 2016-04-29.
  12. ^ "Jungle Fever - Stevie Wonder | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-04-30.
  13. ^ "Spike Lee Cools Off but His 'Fever' Doesn't". Los Angeles Times. 1991-05-17. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  14. ^ "Jungle Fever (1991)". Rotten Tomatoes.
  15. ^ "Jungle Fever". Metacritic.
  16. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Jungle Fever". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
  17. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-19.

External links[edit]