Director’s Spotlight: Bamboozled
Satire. 1, a- A literary work in which human vice or folly is ridiculed or attacked scornfully. b- The branch of literature that composes such work.
2. Irony, derision or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice or stupidity.
That definition is the first line of dialogue that Damon Wayan’s Pierre Delacroix speaks in Bamboozled. Bamboozled is Spike Lee’s blistering and often hilarious look at Hollywood and the American media’s portrayal of African-Americans in film, on television and on the theatrical stage. Spike pulls no punches in his assault on what he saw as the modern-day minstrel show that still continues to dominate Hollywood’s portrayal of what it is to be black in America. And, he also points his camera, and his finger, at those he feels enable and tolerate this attitude, even pointing that finger at himself and the actors in the movie at times. Who else but Spike Lee would have the nerve to use footage from his own movies to poke fun at himself? It’s one of Lee’s most honest movies. Watching it again, I’m struck by how brilliant the movie is at times and how brave this movie is. I’m also struck by how under appreciated it is. Most people haven’t seen it. It was barely released in 2000.
The movie follows Delacroix, a highly paid writer at a major TV network. The network is starting to lose ratings and pressure is put on Delacroix to create the next “black hit TV show” by his boss (Michael Rapaport). Given the choice of writing a new black show just to make his boss happy or get fired, he decides to rebel and have a little revenge on his racist boss and network. Delacroix comes up with a plan to create a show so negative, offensive and racist that it will never air and get him fired (Delacroix can’t quit, it’s in his contract). He enlists two homeless street performers named Manray and Womack. Manray is a talented tap dancer and Womack is his street emcee. Delacroix writes a show that stars Manray and Womack in black face make up in a modern-day minstrel show. The show is called “Mantan: The New Millenium Minstrel Show.” The show is offensive beyond belief. But, much to the shock and horror of almost everyone involved, the show is an overnight sensation. An instant hit that makes stars out of Manray and Womack almost instantly. Things start to spiral completely out of control after that. The lives of everyone involved with the making of the show are ruined and some of the characters don’t survive to see the credits roll.
The movie has some great touches: at times biting, offensive and hilarious, sometimes simultaneously. There’s fake commercials that are so overtly racist and offensive. They’re made even more offensive when you realize that real commercials, movies, and hip hop videos can be more racist than the stuff in Bamboozled. The board game Othello is in the background as Delacroix’s mother chastises him over the phone about how bad his TV show is. Footage from Malcolm X is used to emphasize the word “bamboozled”. The fact that everyone in the movie is aware of what they’re doing is amazing to me. This movie shines because of the great performances of everyone involved. Wayans, Jada Pinkett and Mos Def all give great performances. I think this is Damon Wayan’s best work.
The movie does lose some of its focus as it reaches its climax. Spike juggles outrage, humor and anguish in the movie’s final act. It might have been more than Spike could handle at the time. During the movie’s last half hour there are scenes that are extremely tragic but are sprinkled with comedy. It makes it a little disconcerting to laugh when the only survivor of a militant gang is the only white guy in the group who cries when he realizes the cops didn’t shoot him because he is white.
It’s definitely one of those movies that needs to be watched a few times for it to really sink in. The first time you see it, you’re cringing in disbelief at what you’re seeing half of the time, which I think ultimately is what Lee was aiming for in the film. It’s also a homage to Network. Bamboozled predicted shows like “Flavor Of Love” in the same way Network predicted the coming of shock TV and Jerry Springer.
I give Bamboozled 4 Pitchforks.
Posted on November 25, 2009, in Director Spotlight and tagged damon wayans, Director Spotlight, jada pinkett smith, michael rapaport, mos def, movie, movie review, satire, spike lee. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.