The Ballad of Gator Purify: Samuel L. Jackson's Career-Making Performance

Before Jules Winnfield...there was Gator Purify.

Samuel L Jackson Gator Jungle Fever
Universal Pictures

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay that looks at why Samuel L. Jackson’s performance in Jungle Fever rules.


Look, if the Cannes Film Festival invents a new acting category to recognize your performance, you’re doing something right. In 1991, Samuel L. Jackson won Cannes’ very first Best Supporting Performance award for his role as the fantastically named Gator Purify in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever.

A tense hurricane of racial tension and romance, Jungle Fever tells of Flipper (Wesley Snipes), a successful, married Black man who contemplates having an affair with his white work colleague (Annabella Sciorra). Flipper’s racial, class, and romantic anxieties are intensified by the presence of Gator (Jackson), his charming older brother whose addiction to crack cocaine leads him to constantly hustle friends and family for money.

The video essay below details what, exactly, makes Jackson’s performance so noteworthy. It also touches upon why, in retrospect, this is the performance that announced the actor’s arrival as one of the most powerful dramatic forces in Hollywood.

As the essay astutely notes, Jackson himself was only a week out of rehab for his own struggles with addiction when he started work on the film. All told, as Gator, Jackson delivers a scene-stealing performance; an electric, sly, and tragic portrayal of the highs and lows of self-destructive substance abuse.

Watch “Why I Love Samuel L Jackson’s Performance in Jungle Fever“:

Who made this?

This video essay about Samuel L. Jackson’s performance in Jungle Fever comes courtesy of the fine folks at Little White Lies, a film-obsessed magazine based in the United Kingdom. Leigh Singer wrote and edited the video, and Adam Woodward produced it. You can follow Little White Lies on Twitter here. And you can check out their official website here. You can subscribe to their YouTube account here.

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(Senior contributor)

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