He Got Game

he-got-game
Alee’s Analysis: The life and times of the black American male is explored in a whirlwind of decades-old stereotypes
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He Got Game is a 1998 movie directed and written by Spike Lee. The plot of the film involves a New York prison inmate Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) serving time for the manslaughter of his wife. Jake is offered a deal by the governor that would considerably shorten his remaining prison time. The only thing he has to do is convince his son, Jesus (Ray Allen), a superstar high school basketball player and number one prospect in the country, to sign a letter of intent to attend the governor’s alma mater. Just one problem — his son hates him; he has never forgiven his father for the death of his mother.

He Got Game features an all-star –and future all-star– cast. The previously mentioned Denzel Washington and Ray Allen (who knew he acted?) appear, plus Rosario Dawson, Hill Harper, Milla Jovovich, Rick Fox, and Lonette McKee, amongst others. But the most outstanding feature of this film is not the cast, but its amazing two-hour display of social and racial stereotypes. If you ever wondered just what stereotypes exist in and around black American communities about black men, this movie is for you.

Colorism

Every romantic relationship in the movie includes a black male with a much lighter, if not white, woman. From Jake and his wife Martha (Lonette McKee), to a pimp and his main prostitute Dakota (Milla Jovovich), and even, later on, Jake and Dakota. Scenes featuring women almost exclusively include lighter-skinned women, unless she is not meant to be a sexual object (e.g. Jake’s daughter Mary [Zelda Harris]). Because everyone knows black American men love light-skinned women!

Sexism and Misogyny

The women of He Got Game exist as extensions of the men. Women serve as outlets for the men, as sexual partners and means to take out their frustration in verbal and physical abuse. Nearly every scene involves some abuse of women. The only power women seem to have is between their legs. But even their one strength has its limits, as we see with the often abused and hopeless Dakota.

denzel-washington-ray-allen-he-got-gameSports, Money, Sex

Jesus (not named after the Biblic lord, if you were wondering) is offered athletic scholarships from schools and more money than he has time for from NBA sports agents if he agrees to play for them. Everyone around Jesus is seeing green and preparing for the riches that will come by way of their lord and savior. Everyone except Jesus — despite suffering to raise his sister alone after his mother’s death and father’s imprisonment, Jesus is focused on education and doesn’t care about the money.

We almost think Jesus may be living up to his heavenly name, but he has one weakness: sex and girls. His trips to recruiting schools find him enthralled by the girls who flock around their possible star athlete. White girls, that is. As Chick Deagan (Rick Fox) is so kind to inform us, “The sistas make you work too hard for it”… the white [girls] let you drive their Mercedes and you can call them up [for sex] at 4 AM and they’ll be there before you hang up.

…Wait, basketball, cars, and easy white women? How could a black man resist? Jesus thinks he’s made it back to heaven and indulges in the “life” before he has to return to the world (his hometown of Coney Island, Brooklyn). If you are uncomfortable with lots of sex scenes in a movie, you’ll want to skip He Got Game.

It All Makes Sense…Or Not

Denzel’s superb acting (and Ray Allen’s not so superb acting) is almost overshadowed by everything else. Some scenes simply do not add to the story in any significant way and others are added on in a clumsy manner. In the end you wonder, “Did that make sense?” Well, at the very least He Got Game offers a glimpse into the life of the stereotypical urban black American male, up close and personal.

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42 thoughts on “He Got Game

  1. If you are uncomfortable with lots of sex scenes in a movie, you’ll want to skip He Got Game.

    I’m not uncomfortable with lots of sex scenes in a movie… But I’d sure be uncomfortable watching the rest of the film.

  2. All I have to say is…

    I have had a 20-year crush on Rick Fox. 😀 😀

    I’ll be back when I have something more significant to add.

  3. P.S.: That’s the ONLY reason I saw this movie at the theater.

    Okay, now that I have regressed back to my teenage years, I will take a break and regain my senses.

  4. Mira,

    Lol. It’s not so bad. And if you’re not very socially aware I’d doubt you’d be bothered or even notice most of the stereotypes that dance around in this film. If you are, just think of it as a game — how many stereotypes can you find? (I forgot to mention one, that is of black men as aggressive and abusive.) It’s just intriguing to watch.

    And I would give it a B+ overall — it’s an interesting movie. Denzel Washington is such an amazing actor. You always feel that not only is he the person he is playing, but he is feeling every moment. My favorite scenes were when he was coaching Jesus as a young boy: “You gotta work harder than the next man. It’s the will of the man, it ain’t the skill of the man!” “Yeah, yeah, yeah! He can’t play you! He can’t do nuttin’ wit’ you!”… Lol.

    Ray Allen should stick to hitting those 3-pointers off the big screen. He wasn’t the worst actor I’ve ever seen but some of his parts were so flat and rehearsed.

  5. Bunny,

    “I have had a 20-year crush on Rick Fox. 😀 :D… That’s the ONLY reason I saw this movie at the theater.”

    Lol. That long? 🙂

    Rick Fox is good-looking, I guess. But he’s always seemed like a typical pretty boy to me; nothing extraordinary or unusual about him. He looks like he could be one of the Dominicans that would hang outside of my old neighborhood.

    But it’s funny, because I could totally guess you would like someone like Rick Fox. He was what I had pictured as more of your type.

  6. basketball, cars, and easy white women? How could a black man resist?

    haha It’s like a black mans heaven 😀

    I should watch some spike lee movies I don’t think I’ve seen one before. I saw a clip from jungle fever where snipes walks and some random black prostitute walks up and says that she will suck his dick.

    And he overly dramatic screams no! Kinda turned me off.

  7. But it’s funny, because I could totally guess you would like someone like Rick Fox. He was what I had pictured as more of your type.

    Yep, and that was the problem! I was always gravitating to some kind of Rick Fox-like guy (of any race… just that general type of look worked for me)! I got to meet Rick when I was 16 and a friend and I waited by his team’s bus… he was a nobody then, so I think he was pretty happy that some giggly teenage girls wanted a picture with him. He told me he liked my hat.

    I still have that hat.

    Anyway….. as for the movie… it had potential (anything with Denzel Washington does), but Spike Lee’s movies (at least the ones I saw in the 90s) always came off like he was trying way too hard to send a message. There was always some black man/white woman relationship, and there always had to be commentary about it… it wouldn’t have been a Spike Lee joint if a black male character didn’t make SOME type of comment about how white women were easier to deal with. I was just wondering what Spike’s point was — after all, Jungle Fever was a whole movie about that topic, right?

    And yes, the sex scenes in his movie were always gratuitous, as if he just put them there because he could. Most of them never really had anything to do with relationships that took place in the movie (like when that gangster-kinda guy from the street drives Jesus around and tells him about the dangers of fast living, and Spike just throws a random sex scene in there).

    The thing is, there is a lot about the college recruiting process that is illustrated here, and the plot isn’t terrible… the execution just didn’t work for me… but hey, I didn’t see the movie for the great storyline. 😉

  8. Nkosazana,

    “It’s like a black mans heaven :D”

    I was going to go with that, but it was way too easy, what with his name being Jesus and all. 🙂

    Jungle Fever… oh boy. Lonette McKee stars as the wife there too. She’s always working with Spike Lee’s stuff; I think they are close friends since she worked under him in school. But she’s not that great of an actress.

  9. Bunny,

    “I got to meet Rick when I was 16 and a friend and I waited by his team’s bus…”

    You’re always meeting pro athletes… the next big event you attend, you should take me along.

    “He told me he liked my hat.

    I still have that hat.”

    You were probably like, “This hat isn’t going anywhere!” 🙂

    “There was always some black man/white woman relationship, and there always had to be commentary about it…”

    Yes. That, and/or black men with much lighter women.

    “it wouldn’t have been a Spike Lee joint if a black male character didn’t make SOME type of comment about how white women were easier to deal with. I was just wondering what Spike’s point was”

    To tell black men: please go out and make more Lonette McKees to star in my clumsily done, extremely long movies? 😀

    “there is a lot about the college recruiting process that is illustrated here, and the plot isn’t terrible… the execution just didn’t work for me”

    Right. The plot and Denzel were pretty good, that’s why I give the movie a B+.

  10. I just saw “Mo’ Better Blues” on NetFlix and that annoyed the hell out of me, so I think “He Got Game” will make me want to slap someone …

  11. Ugh, I didn’t like it either.

    Denzel cheatin’, another BM-WW storyline where Spike had to make a point… was Lonette McKee in this one too?

    Actually, what was this movie about?

    (Note, I don’t care about BM-WW, but it just seemed waaaay too forced in all of Spike’s movies, just like BM/light-skinned BW. Or black Latina women. It’s like, dude, are you trying to deliver some kind of message? Cause we got it, okay? We got it back in 1991 when you made Jungle Fever!)

  12. All that “It’s just a dick thang”, and blaming his drama on his mama. The Jewish characters were annoying, but they were not anymore stereotypical than others in the film (remember when the movie came out the Jewish community was really mad).

    One good thing is that Denzel Washington ended up married to Joie Lee (the chocolate girl).

  13. Bunny,

    Lol. I don’t think Lonette was in this one.

    Sherry,

    “One good thing is that Denzel Washington ended up married to Joie Lee (the chocolate girl).”

    Ha. I bet that’s only because she’s Spike Lee’s sister (and looks just like him).

  14. So maybe I will skip his movies since it’s so focus on BM-WW like most black movies.. Oh I can’t wait for Shame and My Last Day Without You to come out on DVD. Both black actresses are dark skinned I think.

  15. Yes, the other love interest and jazz singer Mr. Gilliam (Denzel) would not bring up on stage with him. She ended up singing for Wesley Snipes band.

  16. Nkosazana,

    You could still watch them just to study the social dynamics. You (specific and general you :)) can learn about American culture from certain movies like these. Or you could just watch them for the laughs. Some of the scenes are hilarious, and others are hilariously bad.

    Sherry, okay thanks. She would be the other love interest. 😉

  17. I just don’t get this one. Is it because she’s black? Or that she’s so cheap?
    Why should he care if she’s a prostitute?

  18. Oh I’ll get hubby to ‘find’ a spike lee movie. Bamboozled looks cool. It’s seems to be like a black version of that Mel brooks movie.

  19. Nkosazana,
    The point of that scene is this young girl had resorted to prostitution to pay for her drug habit.

  20. Denzel Washington is so OVERRATED!. He’s a one-dimensional actor for goodness sakes. And what’s up with him constantly licking his lips in the parts he plays?. Suffice to say, miss me (now) with these sorts of films, although my ex and I did like Girl 6. It was ok. I can’t get pass the accents, attitudes and accusations normally affiliated with such films.

    Haven’t you lot not noticed that any films done by a black male producer is often to our detriment?. It’s like, they love to bogg us down with being the loudest, fatest most difficult female creatures on this earth. Since I’m the opposite, I want to see films that reflect more my (and many others like me) realities. After all, like books, movies are an escapist resort, no?. In fact, such movies are extremely dangerous for our (already battered to bits) psyche….

  21. foosrock,

    Denzel is not overrated. He’s very appropriately rated, if you ask me! I don’t see how he is one-dimensional… his roles are diverse and he can play any character believably. He and Rosario Dawson were much better than the others in this film. I don’t remember him licking his lips much in this movie at all. 🙂

    “Haven’t you lot not noticed that any films done by a black male producer is often to our detriment?”

    They’re all done by the same group of guys, more or less. Spike Lee, John Singleton, Chris Rock, Tyler Perry…

    “I want to see films that reflect more my (and many others like me) realities. After all, like books, movies are an escapist resort, no?”

    It’s funny because some people say these types of movies do reflect their reality. They say it reminds them of their neighborhoods, relatives, etc. So as long as these people keep paying for those types of movies and giving them praise, the movies will continue to be made. But it does seem there are movies being made which are changing things up.

  22. Alee, it’s not the diversity of the roles he’s given to play, but HOW he plays those roles with the same mimics(Training Day, which I only saw because of Ethan Hawke. The Inside Man, because of Jodie Foster and some others, but watched them mostly because of other actors I liked, NOT because of Mr Overrated Washington!) . Plus I’m still looking for the HOTNESS that so many women purportedly fawn over. In comparison, Samuel L. Jackson is, in my opinion, a ways better calibre of actor. Team him up with another actor of the old school method, like John Travolta, Geena Davis or Tommy Lee Jones and you’ve got poetry on the screen!!!.

  23. foosrock,

    How does Denzel act similarly in every role? I’ve seen a few of his movies and they don’t seem very similar to me, except maybe that they were all done with passion. I think he’s okay-slightly good looking; I don’t think he’s “le hotness” — he is hyped in that arena. But I always thought it was his personality in combination with his appearance that caused women to fawn over him. He seems like a sincere and interesting guy.

    Samuel L. is a good actor as well, but if anyone plays the same schtick every time, it’s him! He’s almost always the tough, smooth-walking, fearsome guy or the calculating villain.

  24. Denzel plays himself in these movies. I worked on “Inside Man” with him and Spike Lee. Denzel is a straight womanizer, he tried to take me out and I mentioned his wife to his face and he was in shock. My friends will still tell the story until this day. I was so over him after that, and Spike Lee is a mean guy who thinks someone owes him something. I was over the both of them after my up close and personal encounters.

  25. ^…*stares in bewilderment*

    Nikisha, what, what, what? You can’t just drop a bomb on us like that.

    What did he say to you? Are you sure he was trying to show romantic interest or was he just trying to be nice to a coworker? And what did you do on the Inside Man? We’re going to need more details.

    Now I may have to take back my statement about him being sincere. And inform a friend that her love Denzel wasn’t as great to other women as he was to her when she met him briefly…

  26. Alee,
    I just did some feature work as a hostage in the movie. I also attended the wrap party and release party for the movie and the wrap party is where Denzel grabbed my hand after having women bombard him one by one, second after second and asked me my name and said we should go out after the party. I declined and told him I loved what his wife said about God on the BET awards weeks earlier. He looked bewildered and said “no one has ever said something like that”. I told him it was nice to meet him and as I went to leave, he pulled my hand again and said “are you sure you don’t want to hang out after this?”. Mean while 2 of my friends watched from the side lines and my one male friend told me that he was talking about my ass to his body guard even before I spoke to him. Keep in mind Alee, my ass was huge because I gained about 25-30 pounds and it all went to my booty and thighs…lol. But you can rest assure 9 out of 10 industry people are jerks.

  27. Nikisha,

    I am shocked. Truly. It would be one thing to hear that about Ray Allen, Rick Fox (winks at Bunny ;)) or any other athlete or typical actor. But Denzel?… Washington? I know a few women who would not be happy to hear this.

    “I declined and told him I loved what his wife said about God on the BET awards weeks earlier.”

    Lol!

    I can just see you saying that.

    “as I went to leave, he pulled my hand again and said “are you sure you don’t want to hang out after this?”…my one male friend told me that he was talking about my ass to his body guard even before I spoke to him.”

    What? That’s just so… [stereo]typical. I guess it all does make sense in the end. 🙂

    “Keep in mind Alee, my ass was huge because I gained about 25-30 pounds and it all went to my booty and thighs…lol.”

    Ha. I can imagine; I’m the same way.

    Well, at least we can say Denzel has good taste in women? 😀

    “9 out of 10 industry people are jerks.”

    I know, I’d just thought he was the 1 out of 10 who wasn’t. Very interesting to hear otherwise, though.

  28. Alee,
    I was super flattered that he tried though…lol. I ran down the steps from the second floor of the restaurant Cipriani’s in my heels like I just drank some hyper juice! I was in shock for days and the realized he is human just like every one else and I felt sorry for his wife. I wouldn’t want my husband to do that to me :(.

  29. Nikisha, yes, I would feel bad for his wife. Even if she does have a famous husband she should be able to expect fidelity like anyone else in a marriage.

  30. Awh Alee, I did not know you were such a big Denzel fan!

    Ah actors thinks to much of themselves anyway. Your acting not curing HIV. Kinda funny how every black American actor in some point of his life visit SA and goes to one of those rural schools be a ‘treat’ for the children.

    Now that’s rural schools with no electricity or running water, Do you think they know who Laurence Fishburne and Chris Rock is? no they don’t.

  31. Alee,
    I’m highly surprised you haven’t read/heard gossip about Denzel OVERRATED Washington’s womanising ways. Even little ole me, who finds it difficult to navigate the internet, have read stories about him, and frankly, though not prone to believe gossip, he does strike me as the type. Perhaps I’m being prejudice as I find the man deeply, but deeply unsympathetic and I don’t even know him or have even met him like Nikisha!. Something about him spells: DOG to me. I certainly wouldn’t be flattered if a dog wanted to fuck me!.

  32. Nkosazana,

    I’m not a big fan of Denzel’s. I think he’s a great actor, but I don’t follow his life or work.



    foosrock,

    I hadn’t heard anything about Denzel and womanizing, but like I said above, I don’t follow his life or work. And I’m not a regular of gossip sites. But even if I had heard something like that, I would probably dismiss it as a rumor until there was solid evidence to the contrary. But hearing it from Nikisha, I have to believe it.

  33. Alee,

    Yes, I totally expect womanizing from Rick Fox and most athletes. 😉 In fact, considering the stories I’ve heard, I’ve had to force myself to only appreciate Rick for his looks and not for his behavior!

    I have no personal experience with Denzel, but he made a comment a few years ago in the media that indicated that he had not been faithful to his wife.

    http://www.imdb.com/news/ni0056466/

  34. Bunny,

    From your link:

    “Being a star and all of that, temptation is all around. It’s all around, and I haven’t been perfect, I’ll be quite candid about it. But my wife puts up with me… “

    Ugh.

    I hadn’t read that. That’s very… interesting. I’m just amazed that he’s shrugging it off as, “Well, I’m famous. Sh*t happens. My wife understands.”

    “Today I start to pat myself on the back when I look around and see that very few people have put more than 20 years into a marriage. Pauletta is my born soulmate.”

    Huh? Pat himself on the back…for what? Why does it matter if he’s been married for 20 years if he hasn’t been faithful and his wife knows it? Might as well have divorced; that’s a marriage of appearance only.

    He is so out of it.

    Where’s my eyeroll smiley?…

    Oh, there it is: 🙄

  35. Double bloody eyeroll, Alee!. I hope she’s also getting it on with some young hottie. Afterall, she can’t help it!.

    Like I wrote: DOG!

  36. That’s very sad to hear. I saw her on TBN (last December) talking about the fact that her husband was a Christian, She sang a few gospel songs and seemed very content.
    “Pauletta is my born soulmate.” He probably meant to say doormat.
    Don’t these men worry about STDs.
    I have a very old aunt in her 80’s who just found out about her husbands 5 children by another woman. That is in additon to the three she knew about previously. They have been married over 60 years and she’s a strong Christian woman. I am sure the two are related. I don’t know if I could do that, afterall, Jesus gave you an out if your spouse committed adultery.

  37. SS,

    “I saw [Pauletta Washington] on TBN (last December) talking about the fact that her husband was a Christian”

    Well, I can’t say I’m surprised.

    “Pauletta is my born soulmate.” ‘He probably meant to say doormat.’

    He might view those two terms interchangeably. 😀

    I feel bad for your aunt — 5 children? Martyrdom is not easy.

  38. Nkosazana,

    “Seriously never marry an actor or musician”

    Or an athlete. They are definite no-nos. As this movie showed quite clearly.

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