Jungle Fever & 10 Other Films That Have Tackled Interracial Relationships

Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
You probably don't remember what you were doing on June 7, 1991. You may not even have been born yet. But for Hollywood and anyone looking to have a dialogue about race relations, it was an important day. It's when Spike Lee's Jungle Fever opened in theaters.

Never one to shy away from a controversial topic, Lee delved into the politics of interracial dating. Wesley Snipes plays the married Black lover to Annabella Sciorra's Italian-American Brooklynite, and both catch flak from family, friends, and strangers. Various characters in the movie also float the theory that dating white or light-skinned Black women is a status symbol of sorts for African-American men, a fetish with the aim of elevating one's image.

Snipes and Sciorra's characters don't get their happy ending. There's not even a "happy beginning," really. The film starts with a dedication to Yusuf Hawkins, a Black man who was killed in 1989 by Brooklyn locals who wrongly thought he was in their Bensonhurst neighborhood to meet a white woman. Clearly, this very real issue needed addressing, and Lee stepped up.

How have things changed in the 25 years since the film's release? In pop culture, viewers don't flinch when they see Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope romance Tony Goldwyn's Fitz on Scandal, and shows like Black-ish and Empire have added to the dialogue. Movies are slowly introducing more interracial relationships, with two films in the pipeline — Cannes favorite Loving, and the David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike project A United Kingdom — that will explore real-life relationships in a historical context.

In the meantime, you can always sit down to a fresh (or first-time) viewing of Jungle Fever. Or click through the following slideshow, which features movies released since Jungle Fever that offer their own takes on the topic, with mixed results. Will Hollywood one day better represent the faces and families we see in the real world? Maybe — but there's still a ways to go.

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