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Bamboozled (2000) - Spike Lee
Related: African American cinema - Spike Lee - American cinema - 2000
Bamboozled (2000) - Spike Lee [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
Bamboozled is a 2000 satirical film written and directed by Spike Lee about a modern televised minstrel show featuring black actors donning blackface makeup. Pierre Delacroix, played by Damon Wayans, is a Harvard-educated black man working for a television network, and proposes the minstrel show to solve the network's ratings slump. Delacroix' boss, Thomas Dunwitty, played by Michael Rapaport, is a white man who claims he can use the word "nigger" since he is married to a black woman. Delacroix proposes the show because he would like to quit but quitting the network would put him in violation of contract and so he would rather be fired. Delacroix hires two black men off the street to tapdance and banter, in accordance with minstrel tradition, and expects the show to be controversial. Instead, the show is a wild success.
The content is heavily satirical, showing the characters all in blackface in a rural setting in a cotton field with plentiful watermelons. The Roots have a role as the show's house band, The Alabama Porch Monkeys. The audiences within the movie, initially baffled, come to love the show, and after a few episodes even elderly white women show up in blackface and proclaim themselves "niggers."
One of Lee's tricks on the audience for his movie is that the performances of the show within a show are rendered with excellent musicianship, sharp timing, exciting dancing, all within the most stereotypical settings of cotton fields and watermelon feasts.
The script, expressing rage and grief at media representations of black people, largely does so through the eyes of its moral center, the character Sloan Hopkins (played by Jada Pinkett Smith). It also satirizes many icons of black culture, including Ving Rhames, Will Smith, Johnnie Cochran, and Al Sharpton (Cochran and Sharpton appear as themselves in the film, protesting the television series).
The movie also stars Savion Glover as Manray (stage name Mantan, after Mantan Moreland), Tommy Davidson as Womack (stage name Sleep n' Eat, after Willie Best), Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Honeycutt, and Mos Def, Canibus, and DJ Scratch as three of the activist/hip hop group The Mau Maus. The character of Sloan has a brother who is among the group members.
The movie does not offer easy solutions or targets to the problems addressed, and wisely addresses how complex and ultimately independent of one person the situation is. While rated R for strong language and violence, it is an important film that will no doubt provide much discussion and reactions.
The movie was shot on digital video on a budget of $10 million USD, as Lee had trouble justifying financing for the project.
The title, which may in fact have come from an old, racist game seen briefly (literally for a few seconds) in the movie, means "purposefully confused, tricked or led astray" --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bamboozled [Apr 2005]
Director Spike Lee has never shied away from controversy, and with Bamboozled he tackles a thorny mix of racism and how images are bought and sold. A frustrated TV writer named Delacroix (Damon Wayans), unable to break his contract, tries to get fired by proposing a new minstrel show, complete with dancers in blackface. But the network loves the idea, and Delacroix hires two street performers (Savion Glover, who is truly the finest tap dancer since Fred Astaire, and Tommy Davidson) whose hunger for success and ignorance of history combine to make them accept the blackface. Despite protests, the show is a huge success--but gradually, the mental balance of everyone involved starts to crumble. As an argument, Bamboozled is incoherent--but how can racism be discussed rationally in the first place? Lee takes a much braver approach: Every time something seems to make sense or make a point, he complicates the situation. At one point, Delacroix goes to see his father, a standup comedian working at a small black club. Delacroix perceives his father as a broken failure. But his father's routine is full of articulate critiques of white hypocrisy, and the older man describes refusing to play the narrow movie roles that Hollywood had offered him, while Delacroix has convinced himself that his minstrel show is actually doing some social good. And what is the effect of the show itself? Lee obviously finds blackface abhorrent, but the minstrel routines are perversely fascinating and Glover's dancing, even when he mimics Amos and Andy-era routines, is outstanding. Most cuttingly, Lee points out parallels between minstrel and contemporary hip-hop personas. By the time it's over, Bamboozled won't have told you what to think, but you will have to think about these issues--and that alone is a remarkable accomplishment. --Bret Fetzer for amazon.com
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