In a scene from "School Daze," Spike Lee's new comedy-musical, two factions of women students taunt one another about their skin color and hair. Standing in a dormitory hallway, a student with long, golden waves flips her hair at a student with a short, unstraightened style.

"It ain't even real," says the woman with the natural cut.

"You wish you had hair like this," is the reply.

"Girl, y'know you weren't born with green eyes," says another, noting the use of contact lenses.

Some black moviegoers cringe. Some laugh. Some say this scene is real, but why didn't Lee keep it under wraps?

"Nothing in this film is made up. All this stuff comes from experience," says the director. That's a point of view many share. Yet there is also some dissension.

From its first mention in the media, "School Daze" has been mired in controversy. The film crew was kicked off the Morehouse College campus because some school authorities thought alumnus Lee had demeaned the black college experience. Then Vanessa Williams, the actress and deposed Miss America, asked for a rewrite of the lead female character, didn't get it and backed out. And when they discovered Lee was daring to lift the curtain once again on attitudes toward skin color and hair texture in the black community, preservers of positive black images attacked the themes as exploitative and exaggerated.

In the week since it opened nationally, "School Daze" has lived up to its raucous advance billing. "Now the film is finished, and we are creating more problems," said Lee, who took the unusual step of calling a conference of black students to discuss the film. Held at Howard University this week, it was linked by satellite to approximately 250 campuses across the country. Controversy, of course, has its own bankable value and brings a peculiar artistic endorsement. Lee himself has said, "My role in film, for the most part, is as an instigator."

On that point he's right. In Washington this week, offices on K Street and Capitol Hill, apartment buildings, dormitories and classrooms have become forums for arguments over the merits of Lee's follow-up to his debut hit, the low-budget and steamy "She's Gotta Have It." And just as that film's "Please baby please" entered the street lexicon, people are already quoting unprintable lines from "Daze."

For some black moviegoers, reaction is ambivalent. "People are torn between paternalism because he is a brother and wanting to stand back and be artistically critical," says Qevin Weathersby, president of the Howard Undergraduate Film Organization. He was disappointed in the film but honors Lee's artistic spirit. "I struggle with that myself. He is one of our own, and I think it is a triumph that he is able to work on that scale."

Audrey Chapman, a family therapist and counselor at Howard, thinks that even though Lee was "outrageous" in many of his depictions, the situations are common. In a scene at a fried chicken outlet, college students confront a group of local residents and have a heated debate about assimilation. "The whole scene was sad," says Chapman. "The student in his African garb contrasted to the guy with the shower cap -- both are saying, 'Look at how disconnected you are.' At that moment they were both rejecting who they are."

Paul Ruffins, editor of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation magazine, thought the movie was "great fun ... but uneven." He's impatient with Lee's critics. "People have said they are worried about white people knowing black people are divided. What makes them think white people don't know? I think it's healthy we have reached this level of critical maturity."

Ruffins' coworker Arthur Johnson agrees. "I think it's flawed, but I found it refreshing," says Johnson, an editorial assistant for the foundation and a free-lance film critic. "I think it's important at this time that some serious issues are being addressed in film. We go to a lot of movies, including the ones of Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor that say nothing. 'Daze' is disturbing people and making people talk."

A fundamental question is whether it's appropriate to use $6 million from Columbia Pictures and Coca-Cola Co. to put what some black people feel is "family business" on the screen. But the point that Lee is a young black success -- "She's Gotta Have It" cost $175,000 and grossed $7 million -- is not lost on critics or supporters. He and other newcomers, such as comedian Arsenio Hall, are seen as the new wave of voices that tease the established white powers while being as yuppified as their sons and daughters. When Lee was introduced at Howard, those in the audience barked, the current signal of approval, just as they do for Hall.

"I'm glad that you -- in getting financing through a big motion picture company -- did not have to sell out or cross over to accomplish what you did. That is very inspiring to us folks who are back here still struggling," said one student.

During the forum -- which also included "Daze" stars Ossie Davis and Tisha Campbell, cinematographer Ernest Dickerson, coproducer Loretha C. Jones, Manhattan Records Vice President Gerry Griffith and Billboard's Nelson George -- Lee said his film probably employed more blacks in all aspects of the production than would all the other Hollywood films made this year. His boast was loudly cheered.

The movie is set at Mission College, a black school in the throes of Homecoming Weekend, fraternity pledging rituals and a political quarrel over divestment in South Africa -- situations that are merely ways for Lee to delve into the more serious and sensitive issues of class and color. The familiar conflict of the Haves and Have Nots is given a black interpretation through the Wannabees (who "wanna" be white and have light skin, straight hair and light eyes) and the Jigaboos (the darker students with nappy hair, who seem to have more racial pride).

Lee told the Howard audience, "I wasn't afraid. I knew it would make people squirm."

A third-generation graduate of prestigious Morehouse College, Lee uses his respect for black traditions as a springboard into the film. It opens with a wonderful parade of black historic figures and scenes. Flashing across the screen as a choir sings are sepia images of Willie Mays, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X -- and then the film begins with a blast of technicolor vignettes.

One of the most controversial aspects is the treatment of women. While the men in the early scenes discuss politics and sex, the women bring up the skin color quandary. They face off in a dormitory hallway with some razor-sharp name calling -- "pickaninny," "Barbie doll," "high-yellow heifer" and "tar baby" -- then the scene fades into a full-energy 1950s-style musical routine set in a beauty parlor. The Wannabees and the Jigaboos sing about the virtues of their hair.

Though Chapman says the characterization of women is "degrading," she thinks the message is real. "Women in Washington are very caught up in having long hair and fair skin, and a lot of that is due to what they say is the selection process by black men," she says. "Lee was showing the competitiveness and self-hate that black women have had to endure in America because of their darkness and hair texture."

Overloaded with sexual heat, Wannabee Jane Toussaint, the leader of the Gamma Rays, goes to bed with fraternity pledge Half-Pint (played by Lee himself) just because her boyfriend directs her to.

"These things are terrible, and I think by putting this stuff on film we can view it for what it is," said Lee. The Howard audience cheered.

Campbell, who plays Toussaint, hopes the audience will recognize a bad role model. "She is dumb and naive and she will do anything for her man. She has leadership qualities when it comes to the women, but when it comes to her man she will do anything for him," Campbell said.

When Lee was asked by a caller "why the light-skinned women were all beautiful and glamorous and the dark-skinned ones weren't," he said, "I think that question is more a reflection on your own -- I don't mean to dish you -- but I think it's more a reflection on your own attitudes, because I think the Jigaboos are just as pretty as the Gamma Rays."

Lee clearly establishes that black life in America has its contradictions, quirks and internal disputes, but some viewers feel the themes aren't fully developed. "Overall I was let down," Weathersby said. "Issues were brought up but not expanded." For instance, the attitude toward hair texture. "I was glad he dealt with it, but I wanted more of a historical and social reference point. Some things were in a vacuum."

What worries some black moviegoers is that whites don't understand the nuances and may mistake Lee's caricatures for reality. And may take the coarseness of the language -- such as "boning" for making love -- for some collegiate, or even racial, illiteracy. "Daze" has no scenes in a classroom -- although there is one in the version of the script in Lee's new book about the making of the movie. The only scene in the library is Half-Pint asking Slice Dunlap, the activist, to get him a girl so he can show the guys he isn't a virgin.

Because "Daze" focuses on the frivolous side of fraternity life, it has been both booed and ballyhooed as a black "Animal House."

Such comparisons with predominantly white films or characters anger Lee. "For the most part I think white people think the world revolves around them," he said. "... One of the reviews said Giancarlo Esposito is an unfunny Groucho Marx -- now that shows that everything they see revolves around their culture. If you have a black man with a part down his hair, automatically they think we are trying to make this guy a Groucho Marx character. That was the furthest thing from my mind. Those things again and again pop up in reviews, and let you know these critics know nothing about what they are looking at."

But despite the dizzying approach, Lee's messages are not lost, say some "Daze" admirers. The film ends with Slice waking everyone up and assembling them on the green, dressed in their bathrobes and curlers. "It had a message -- 'wake up,' " says Karl Bennett, 22, a senior at the University of the District of Columbia. "You look at the news and see the death count in D.C. A lot of my younger brothers and sisters are walking around in a daze. And I think that is the significance of school 'daze,' not 'days.' "

Johnson agrees. "You can't put it better than that. It is not about designer clothes, what your hair is like, what you look like, what fraternity you belong to."

So far the consensus is that in making the movie Lee has added to the accomplishments of black filmmaking. As Ossie Davis said, underscoring the sense of fraternity, "If the film was a dog, I would still have a great amount of respect for a man who knows this {Hollywood} system."