If you’re looking for modern movies that effectively tackle the issue of interracial dating, you’re looking at a decidedly short list. Spike Lee’s "Jungle Fever" is probably the most ambitious, and Robert De Niro’s criminally underrated "A Bronx Tale" briefly touches (very effectively) on the topic, while Anthony Drazan’s little-seen "Zebrahead" falls somewhere below those two.A movie more earnest and well-meaning than wholly successful, Zebrahead is still worthy of praise – if only for treating its teenagers like actual people.
The setting is inner-city Detroit, a lower/middle class neighborhood in which members of every race and religion live in close proximity. Though the high school seems contentedly integrated, there is still a lot of latent racism just under the surface. When good-natured Jewish kid Zack sparks a tentative romance with his best buddy’s recently arrived cousin, tensions start to flare at school. That Zack’s best friend, Dee, is black seems to be no problem, yet when Zack starts dating "out of his race", the news is met with varied reactions – most of which are fairly unkind.
Michael Rapaport (True Romance) delivers a phenomenal early performance as Zack, adroitly avoiding all the potential cliches of the "white kid with black culture" character, and N’Bushe Wright (Blade) is excellent as Nikki, offering a strong young woman who’s both proud of her roots yet also willing to buck convention. (The scenes between Rapaport and Wright are particularly touching.) A few supporting actors shine, most notably DeShonn Castle (in his only role to date) as the lovable Dee, and Ron Johnson (Sister Act 2), who brings some some sadly misunderstood sadness to a potentially one-dimensional ‘villain’ character.
The students are comprised of a somewhat shallow collection of racial stereotypes (the smart Asian girl, the militant pro-black preacher, the cocky Italian, etc.), but the main characters are fully fleshed-out and generally quite compelling. The various roadblocks that you’d expect in an interracial relationship are all present and accounted for - some original, some not. Aside from enjoying the movie in a ‘well-written soap opera’ sort of way, you may be wondering exactly what writer/director Anthony Drazan’s overall point is."Zebrahead" is a well-acted modernization on "Romeo and Juliet", but not much more.