Spike Lee’s, Bamboozled, is a sarcastic yet thought provoking breakdown of the way television depicts African American images towards society. The film was made in 2000, by famous producer Spike Lee. The main characters are Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) who is the most well known producer at the television company. Sloan Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith) plays the role of Delacroix’s assistant. She is alongside his journey throughout the film in order to help him create the television show. Their goal was to write a show that will be so “offensive and racist”, it will prove his point to people that the network only wants to see black buffoons on television. To their surprise, viewers actually enjoyed the show “Mantan”. To add fuel to the fire, CNS executives also ordered 12 episodes of the show for a mid-season replacement. The repercussions of Mantan resulted in the show gaining popularity, and viewers started to take sides and develop a new view on society on representation. The viewers of the film were segregated, as half of them enjoyed the show and the other had a very deep hatred of the show. Tempers became worse, resulting in a very appalling conclusion of the movie.
Historical and Cultural Context
Lee’s film, Bamboozled, brought minstrelsy from the 19th and 20th centuries to today’s modern day television programming. Minstrelsy, also called minstrel show, is known for its humor and popularity. It is a corrupted form of musical
theater that fabricated black lives and reinforced hurtful stereotypes.The tradition reached its most highest peak of popularity in 1850 to 1870. The earliest minstrel shows were performed by white male minstrels, who were traveling musicians, who painted their faces black and danced and sung like slaves would have done. This tradition would be later called by scholars “blackface minstrelsy”. The maker of the blackface show was Thomas Dartmouth Rice. He was also known as “Jim Crow,” an African
American impersonator who performed the skits of the show. The pioneer company, the Virginia Minstrels, a quartet group headed by Daniel Decatur Emmett, first performed in 1843. Two other notable companies were Bryant’s, Campbell’s, and Harvey’s, but the most important company at the time was the Christy Minstrels, who performed on Broadway for almost ten years. The writer of the songs for this company was Stephen Foster. Foster remains a very popular songwriter, with his most famous songs “Old Folks at Home”, “My Old Kentucky Home”, and “Old Black Joe.”
The format of a minstrel show were usually composed of two parts, which was made by the Christy company and changed only little afterwards. The first part the performers are arranged in a semicircle, with the interlocutor in the middle and end man, known as Mr. Tambo, who played the tambourine, and Mr. Bones, who rattled bones. The interlocutor is usually in whiteface and usually wore formal attire, while all the others would be and blackface and wore long tailed coats and striped pants. The hows would always open with a chorus, often made to be the grand entrance. At the conclusion of the song the interlocutor would give the command to the audience to be seated. He would proceed to tell jokes to the audience, with ballads being played the most famous instruments, being the banjo and violin. The second part of the show would be also called olio, a mixture or medley, consisted of a series of individual acts that ended with a walk around where every member did a certain number while the others sang and clapped. There were occasionally a third part of the show consisting of a comic style opera. Bamboozled was the same as a minstrel show was back when it was popular. It reminded people that times do change but history continues to repeat (Brittanica 1).
The events of the Civil Rights Movements, Reconstruction Era, and Jim Crow Laws have all also shaped the afterlives of slavery and our views on white supremacy and black inferiority. White supremacy and the belief of black inferiority is still the base of minstrelsy even though the performances and people discussed in the music changed over time. Surprisingly, blackface minstrelsy was made initially from the North. Many thought blackface was originally made in the south, due to the genre’s focus on black segregation and slavery. Still today, the racial stereotypes from minstrel shows can still be seen in popular culture. You can see racial stereotypes in social media, television, and music. Examples are memes that are created and posted on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram that are very harmful to black society as posts of slavery and talking as if black’s are still slaves.
Themes and Style
Spike Lee’s Bamboozled is saying that even today, people in society still wouldn’t see much wrong in black faced minstrelsy until things get very bad.Instead of people reacting to the show by hating it like Delacroix planned they enjoyed the show. This shows that society does not see anything wrong with the show. Maybe because of the fact that most people don’t know the origin of blackface minstrelsy. People overlook many things in society that are racist. Blackface can be very weird but if people find that it’s funny the thought
of racism does not even matter in the picture anymore. Bamboozled showed just that, as people overlooked the racist show for humor. Lee used a very abstract way of getting his point across in the movie. He made Delacroix go through the fact that society saw no wrong to show that society today still sees no wrong with blackface minstrelsy.
Bamboozled’s has complicated reflections on free speech, representation, and cultural appropriation. Lee continuously disturbed the boundaries of reality and satire with appearances from the famous Reverend Al Sharpton, a theme song type tune made by Stevie Wonder, the Alabama Porch Monkeys, and Mos Def playing the leader of the rap group that was called Mau Maus, a hybrid of Public Enemy and the Black Panthers. Spike Lee made it known to Ashley Clark, the author of Facing Blackness: Media and Minstrelsy in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, that “The thing about Bamboozled which a lot of people didn’t get is you could make the same film about women, gay people, native Americans and Hispanics, about how people have been dehumanised in cinema and television” (Clark 1). Lee is trying to emphasize the point that black people are not the only ones that can be targeted by the theme of Bamboozled. Other populations of people that are considered isolated or not equal to white societies could be represented through his film too.
When Bamboozled came out in 2000, Led had an extremely big wave of early success in the 80s and 990s, and Bamboozled was just another expression of frustration Lee felt with the film industry and the criticism he had received from the media. He has been characterized as an angry black man and the film was the reaction against the negative representation of black people on television. The movie was called a “feel bad movie” by Sharon Thiruchelvam, and had no true audience because it is a film that puts everyone in the problem: studios, white executives, black executives, and the performers tha chose to be represented. In an interview Lee stated that black performers have a choice now: they do not have to be clownish or cartoonish portrayals in sitcoms or “magical negroes” like they were in The Green Mile or Legend of Bagger Vance. 2000 was known as the turn of the millennium, the 100th anniversary of cinema and the 50th of television. Lee was thinking how far has society truly come and how far do we need to go? He made Bamboozled to show society that these problems that arose in earlier life in America are far from over and still are not solved. He wanted to make it the most plain way to see the problem in cinema and television. People have not been so worried about it or maybe have not seen it, but Lee’s Bamboozled was definitely an eye opener for America.
Lee used black performers to perform in blackface instead of white performers. By doing this, he made it extremely hard for viewers to overlook the fact that something like this happened in the history of blackface. Lee complicated viewing by daring viewers to laugh at the joke being said in the film.
In today’s society, there is a huge disconnect of the origin, issues, and history of blackface, whether it is on television, around Halloween, or media. Many people in today’s society still do not know the roots of blackface. Many think that it is just a way of black humor. Television is the worse of them all that has a disconnection to the history of blackface. Television shows exploits the realness of blackface and make it seem as if it isn’t what it truly is. Examples of racist television shows are Amos ‘n’ Andy, Dear White People, and Love Thy Neighbour. Networks use persuasive tactics to make viewers think that fit is just funny. Halloween is another example. Around this time, people dress up as characters and creatures. Some of the costumes are very racist and show no regard to the history of blackface.
There are so many themes in Bamboozled that make people think that it could have been made today in 2017. The lack of diversity in media corporations, debates on the representation of black people on camera. Lupita Nyong’o and Mo’Nique both won Oscars, one did as the role of a slave, the other a welfare queen. Octavia Spencer won an Oscar award as a maid from the movie The Help. The themes also focuses on excessive police brutality against black people, and cultural appropriation the foreshadows the story of Rachel Dolezal, the woman who headed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Washington by stating she was black when she was actually not.
At the end of June, 2017, rapper Jay-Z released a controversial song titled The Story of OJ. Jay-Z illustrates black caricatures, just as Spike Lee did in Bamboozled. This song restarted the discussion on what it means to be black in America. Jay-Z stated various descriptions of black people America, saying “Light n***a, dark n***a, faux n***a, real n***a. Rich n***a, poor n***a, house n***a, field n***a. Still n***a.” By Jay-Z saying this he made it clear that no matter what you are in society you still have one thing in common, you are still considered equal, as a n***a. The Story of OJ and Bamboozled shows society that no matter what you do in life; dance, sing, be a successful black person, or even be homeless, you are still categorized with all of the people of the black race, and stereotyped to be poor and an outlaw of American society.
Deihl, Matt, et al. “Summary of The History of Minstrelsy · USF Library Special & Digital Collections Exhibits.” The History of Minstrelsy , Omeka, 2012, exhibits.lib.usf.edu/exhibits/show/minstrelsy.
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The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Minstrel Show.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 15 Mar. 2017, www.britannica.com/art/minstrel-show.
Thiruchelvam, Sharon. “Revisiting Bamboozled, Spike Lee’s Satire on Race and Representation.” Revisiting Bamboozled, Spike Lee’s Satire on Race and Reprsentation, Vice- i-D, 14 Dec. 2015, id.vice.com/en_au/article/8xgedb/revisiting-bamboozled-spike- lees-satire-on-race-and-representation.
Bellamy, Jason, et al. The Conversations: Bamboozled | The House Next Door. Slant Magazine, 25 Feb. 2012, www.slantmagazine.com/house/article/the-conversations-bamboozled.
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Ebert, Roger. “Bamboozled Movie Review & Film Summary (2000) | Roger Ebert.” Bamboozled Movie Review, Roger Ebert.com, 6 Oct. 2000, www.rogerebert.com/reviews/bamboozled-2000.
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- Bamboozled (2000)
- Spike Lee
- Definition of Bamboozled
- Damon Wayans
- Pierre Delacroix