Racial Prejudice in the Movie “Jungle Fever”

The movie Jungle Fever directed and writen by Spike Lee, brings the viewer the lives of two families – African Americans and descendants of Italian immigrants. One of the historical parts of the movie which is presented by the filmmaker is the side of the city which the families of Bensonhurst, a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, reacts when one of them- Angie( an italian descendant) starts being romantically involved with Flipper ( African American). Vinny, a character in the movie that is shown as resistant to this interracial relationship, is a friend of Paulie, Angie’s italian boyfriend, which owns a store in the neighboorhood and is frequented by mostly italians. Vinny’s reaction of resistant, bigotry and despair in relation to the involvement of an Italian american woman and african american men is lead by the desire to keep the italian background of the community he was raised, to fight for his roots and the desire to maintain the neighborhood where he was raised “free” of people he considered inferior than his race.

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In Italy, entire small towns, saw their population fall by half in the decade between 19th century to the 20th century. Of these population, almost a third had as destiny the dreamy North America, specially New York, which had a great need of menpower. Citation Dr. Gerry Krase a Brooklyn College professor afirms that the “culture of this particular Italian population attempted to recreate their Italian villages from back home and tried to reflect their “exaggerated sense of defense” against any other culture or ethnicity”. In 1980’s the italian population reached its higher number of residents in New York. Bensonhurst, was one of the main neighborhoods that they were found. Analysing the history a few years back, in 1968, civil rights legislation made segregation illegal, but it remained through a series of individual actions, institutional practices and government policies. The separation of housing areas developed by ethinicities remained stable for while, but consenquently saw a shift in which African Americans started to ihabit and visit such as Bensonhurst.

In the United States, it was said that the Italians “were not black, but they were not white either. They suffered racism, but still felt that they were superior to African Americans. During the 1990’s, when the movie was filmed, although clear acts of discrimination were publicly prohibited by law, discrimination based on skin color continued to happen. .Differences and contrasts between groups was a very important feature in the evolution of life in group. Social relations between two groups could be identified such as two social groups: “we” and “others”.

The others are not just the others, they are usually also the enemy. Others are not civilized, others do not have our customs, others are violent, others are bad, others do not follow our gods (who are the only true ones), others have strange behaviors that are not ours, others bring us diseases, others eat our food, others kill us, others deserve to be fought. In short, hell is the others. Groups compete with each other. Groups of animals of the same species compete for the same resource, same foods, same type of territory that they prefer and same ideal environmental conditions. This idea could be compared to humans’ evolution. But also, group life has evolved bringing many benefits to the success of an individual and his peers, but also bringing intergroup competition. Discrimination of “others” results in union and cooperation of members of the “we”. Cooperate with “we” to beat “others.” This explanation can be used when Vinny, the italian character in the movie which is being analyzed, follows Paulie along with other italian friends, trying to make him feel bad about going out with an African American girl. He says “are you going out with that “f” nigger? You are a “f” disgrace”. Vinny and the friends ended up beating him for his intention of seeing Orin.

The analogy above can be seen in real life when in the summer of 1989 (two years before the film was released), Yusef K Hawkins, a black teenager, went shopping for a car in Bensonhurst, which was stated above was predonmily italian at the time but seeing more and more other ethinicities around. A group of italian teens, attacked him and eventually shot him. In reality the group thought he was there to date one of the girls pertaining to the neighborhood. The defense not just of the neighborhood against non-whites, but also the defense of the body of the woman that belonged to them. Again it is possible to see the “we” against “others”. It is a mechanism of defense against the mix of their community.

One group dominates the other institutionalizing a prejudice. Vinny, the italian teens involded in Yussaf’s murder and the many italians in Ben– that demonstrated racism against african americans, were fighting ideals that were passed by older generations. The ideals that they were better than blacks and that in their new territory ( the neighborhood in New York city), they needed to show they were stronger and better in order to maitain that little space for them. That territory was hard for them to conquer and they should not allow any outsiders.

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Racial Prejudice in The Movie "Jungle Fever". (2019, Feb 05). Retrieved February 5, 2023 , from

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