Black Face, and Bamboozled
I’ve been reading many trending news stories about black face and cancel culture.
Blackface is a term that is used to describe a form of theatrical make-up that is predominantly used by non-black performers in order to represent a caricature of a black person. Interestingly, in all the conversations concerning black face and cancel culture, no one has mentioned the film Bamboozled, if they even remember it.
Bamboozled is a 2000 American satirical comedy-drama film written and directed by Spike Lee about a modern televised minstrel show featuring black actors donning black face makeup and the resulting violent fallout from the show’s success. It features an all-star mostly black ensemble cast featuring Damon Wayans, Jada Pinkett Smith, and many others. Though critical reception was mixed, and the film was unsuccessful financially, becoming a box office bomb it may be one of Spike Lee’s most insightful, and important film, especially with the importance of the Back Lives Matter movement and the blowback against many politicians and white and black entertainers (including SNL's Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon) who while claiming “no evil intent” have been apologizing profusely for skits they did in the past featuring a white performer in black face.
In recent years Bamboozled has achieved cult film status for its satirical look at stereotypical depictions of black people in both historical and contemporary American film and television productions.
Here is the plot of Bamboozled as described on Wikipedia.
Pierre Delacroix (real name Peerless Dothan) is an uptight, Harvard-educated African man in the employment of television network CNS. At work, he endures torment from his boss Thomas Dunwitty, a tactless, boorish white man. Not only does Dunwitty use African-American Vernacular American English (AAVE) and the word “nigger” repeatedly in conversations, he also proudly proclaims that he is more black than Delacroix and that he can use “nigger” since he is married to a black woman and has two mixed-race children. Dunwitty frequently rejects Delacroix’s scripts for series that portray black people in positive, intelligent scenarios, dismissing them as “Cosby clones”.
In an effort to escape his contract through being fired, Delacroix develops a minstrel show with the help of his personal assistant Sloane Hopkins. Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show features black actors in black face, extremely racist jokes and puns, and offensively stereotyped CGI -animated cartoons. Delacroix and Hopkins recruit two impoverished homeless street performers, Manray and Womack, to star in the show. While Womack is horrified when Delacroix tells him details about the show, Manray sees it as his big chance to become rich and famous for his tap-dancing skills.
To Delacroix’s horror, not only does Dunwitty enthusiastically endorse the show, but it also becomes hugely successful. As soon as it premieres, Manray and Womack become big stars, while Delacroix, contrary to his original stated intent, defends the show as satire. Delacroix quickly embraces the fame and recognition he receives while Hopkins becomes ashamed of her association with it. Meanwhile, an underground, militant rap group called the Mau Maus, led by Hopkins’ older brother Julius becomes increasingly angry at the show’s content. Though they had earlier unsuccessfully auditioned for the program’s live band position, the group plans to end the show using violence.
Womack quits, fed up with the show and Manray’s increasing ego Manray and Hopkins grow closer, despite Delacroix’s attempts to sabotage their relationship. Delacroix confronts Hopkins, and when she lashes back at him, he fires her. She then shows him a videotaped montage she created of racist footage culled from assorted media to shame Delacroix into stopping production of the show, but he refuses to watch it. After an argument with Delacroix, Manray realizes he is being exploited and defiantly announces that he will no longer wear blackface. He appears in front of the studio audience, who are all in blackface, and does his dance number in his regular clothing. The network executives immediately turn against Manray, and Dunwitty fires him.
The Mau Maus kidnap Manray and announce his public execution via a live webcast. The authorities work feverishly to track down the source of the internet feed, but Manray is nevertheless assassinated while doing his famous tap dancing. At his office, Delacroix (now in blackface himself, mourning Manray’s death) fantasizes that the various black-themed antique collectibles in his office are staring him down and coming to life; in a rage, he destroys many of the items. The police kill all the members of the Mau Maus except for One-Sixteenth Blak, a white member who demands to die with the others.
Furious, Hopkins confronts Delacroix at gunpoint and demands that he play her tape. As he does so, Hopkins reminds him of the lives that were ruined because of his actions. During a struggle over the gun, Delacroix is shot in the stomach. Hopkins flees while proclaiming that it was Delacroix’s own fault that he got shot. Delacroix, holding the gun in his hands to make his wound appear self-inflicted, watches the tape as he lies dying on the floor. The film concludes with a long montage of racially insensitive and demeaning clips of African characters from Hollywood films of the first half of the 20th century. Afterward, Manray is shown doing his last Mantan sequence on stage.
If you are a progressive politically, I suggest that you gather a bunch of your black, white, and Asian friends, preferably cross-generational, watch the movie together, sit quietly after it is done for at least ten minutes and then have a serious discussion about black face, BLM and issues of race. I’ve already done it. It was an amazing experience.
Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for knowledge, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory. He is also a white dude, raised by black people. His website is AskLewis.com
You can read all of his Medium stories at Lewis.email@example.com.
“I am always exploring trends, areas of interest, and solutions to build new stories upon. Again, if you have any ideas you would like me to write about just email me at LewisCoaches@gmail.com”.