This Day in Film: “Mo’ Better Blues”

Published by Marcus Reeves on Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:30 am.

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

On this date, 22 years ago, Spike Lee released his fourth feature film, Mo’ Better Blues. The sultry, jazz-centered story was a drastic turn for the confrontational director who, just the year before, unleashed the racially-explosive film Do the Right Thing, which some critics predicted would start riots in the hot summer of 1989.

For Mo’ Better Blues, Lee used his penchant for creating cinematic tension to tell the tale of star jazz musician Bleek Gilliam (Denzel Washington) who, along with leading a star-studded band, juggles two girlfriends (played by Cynda Williams and Spike’s sister Joie Lee).  Moreover, within his band, he must temper the ambitions of his hotheaded virtuoso sax player Shadow Henderson, played by Wesley Snipes. The cast also included Dick Anthony Williams, John Turturro, Robin Harris and Samuel L. Jackson.

While the film wasn’t as big a hit as Lee’s first three projects, Mo’ Better can be credited for turning both Denzel and Wesley into Hollywood leading men and sex symbols.  Who could forget Shadow’s steamy balcony scene?

Yes, Mo’ Better Blues marked Lee departure from focusing on the provocative issue on race. But, in true Spike fashion, the film did manage to rub one group — Jews — the wrong way. Several Jewish organizations, including the Anti Defamation League, complained about the director’s depiction of two Jewish jazz club owners, saying they were stereotypical.

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