Not too long ago, actor Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Cooler appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair for their role as “disrupters revolutionizing art, film, and fashion”. In the photo, Jordan extends his arm and uses his hand to hold the back of Coogler’s hand. The image is also to promote solidarity between brotherhood. Black masculinity does not just mean large muscles and deep gazes. Yet, the image received backlash, especially from black males on twitter before the tweets were removed. These tweets emasculated the men, such as:
“The pose insinuates a man dominating another man. He’s palming his head.” – @Fettimagazine
“Why is he holding his head like that anyway? What type of unity does this suggest? It does look a little suspect. Looks almost like he has his head headed towards his **** How about a simple handshake?” -@Mizzlee_atl
Analyzing the moments where black males are allowed to be intimate and show solidarity in School Daze, it often comes at the cost of sexualizing women in private and showing dominance in public. Dap and Da fellas often discuss their most scared, intimate thoughts and emotions in either Dap’s room or in a car. One of these moments includes a car ride to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken. The car is tight, little room to move, which offers an ideal time for a group of black males to get closer to one another. As their choice of topic, the men bond by discussing their previous relationships and sexual partners with women to assert their manliness over one another. When they find out one of their friends cares more about his singing group Glee Club than sex, all the Da Fellas tease him, slapping him around but eventually embrace in half-hugs. Lee chooses women as a bonding point to show the critical development of black male unity and the masculinity of black men. Instead of being sexualized, they objective the women of their lives to strengthen their unity.
Contrasting this scene to the opening scene of the movie, Dap is surrounded by his friends in strong poses demanding the school Divest from South Africa. These black men show unity by appearing as a dominant force to be reckon with. When Julian attempts to distract the crowd with the pledges of Gamma Phi Gamma, Dap and his friends confront Julian and his fraternity. It is clear Dap and Julian have different priorities that prevent unity across different groups. The lack of unity of black males across different groups comes out during the step show. The Gamma Dogs perform a very sexual step routine to show their popularity to amongst the women of the school. In response, the Da Fellas perform a routine with numerous Homophobic slurs aimed at the Gamma Dogs. Da Fellas and Gamma Dogs have strong unity within each others groups, so strong that a fight ensues between the groups.
We finally see a moment of solidarity across the different black male groups at the end of the movie during Dap’s wake up. Calling almost a truce, Julian and Dap stand beside one another, urging everyone to wake up. Although the men do not hug or shake hands, they give each other a look of acknowledgement, as though both are now on equal terms. Had Julian and Dap embraced, the ending scene would have been more intimate. The intimacy in a public setting would show these two large figures on a college campus as weak. Julian and Dap need to maintain status as pillars of strength, although they cannot fix what has happened throughout the film alone.
From Lee’s film, in the public space, black males must be seen as pillars of strength for the community, the initiators of any action. Embracing one another in hugs and bonding should only happen in private spaces such as a car ride or home. For Jordan and Coogler, their photo is the next step to demonstrate strength and support without being sexualized in the public sphere. Yet, it is now a matter of having the audience embrace the photo; black men are not emasculated when they hug.