From firstname.lastname@example.org Thu Nov 16 09:22:00 2000
Spike Lee, "Bamboozled" Review
By Kelwyn Wright <email@example.com>, 14 November 2000
You've been hoodwinked. You've been had. You've been took. You've been led astray, run amuck. You've been bamboozled.--Malcolm X
Spike Lee's Bamboozled elicits a number of responses -- none of them mild.
It is a litmus test movie -- a Rorschach test movie -- with something to offend just about everybody. I saw Bamboozled with a sparse crowd, all black, at a local cineplex. There was no laughter as the movie played, even though parts of the movie are hilarious. By the time the credits played, I was the only patron left sitting in the theater (which is a shame, because the credits are, conceptually, among the finest, most fully realized segments of the movie).
But, oh, this a hurting thang. No matter what kind of Negro you profess to be (or know yourself deep in your heart to be) -- "House Nigger," "Field Nigger," "Porch-Monkey Nigger," "Step-in-Fetch-it Nigger," "Ivy-League-Educated Nigger," "Mau-Mau-Black-Power-Spouting-Forty-Ounce-Drinking Nigger," "Sell-Out Nigger," "Tommy-Hilfiger-Wearing Nigger," "Just-Want-To-Get-Along Nigger," "White-Wannabe Nigger," "Most-Of-The-Time-Righteous Nigger" -- Bamboozled cuts deep, and then throws salt on the wound.
Bamboozled is the cinematic equivalent of "playing the dozens" ("YOU a Hillnigger!" "Yo MAMA is a Hillnigger!"). Virtually no one escapes being a target in Spike Lee's "bizarro" world. There is a vicious send-up of Ving Rhames' winning the Golden Globe and insisting that Jack Lemmon take it "because he was more deserving" (except in Bamboozled everything is devalued). Matthew Modine is Lemmon's stand-in and Damon Wayan's sell-out stands in for Rhames. There is Al Sharpton playing himself as a political opportunist (an irony wrapped up in an irony). There are the "Timmy Hillnigger" ads with the hopelessly culturally clueless "Timmy" starring in his own commercial (when a newly minted "cash money brother" shows up with brand new pants, a character sniffs, "..looking good in those Hillnigger jeans!"). There is the right-on-the- edge offensive "BOMB!" malt liquor commercial that is also an indictment of every rump shaking rap video out there.
Yet, this is one of Spike Lee's most reserved cinematic offerings. It has very little of the "Look at ME!" NY Film School cinematic grandstanding Mr. Lee usually traffics in. The camera is almost sedate, the palette he works in -- somber, with muted tones (lots of blacks and grays). And, while almost every "Spike Lee Joint" has been sex saturated -- the nudity and animalistic sex gratuitous -- this one is curiously asexual, as if the film itself had been castrated. Lee purposely sidesteps a naturally evolved (within the context of the movie) sexual attraction between Savion Glover and Jada Pinkett. The true measure of Mr. Lee's serious intent, however, is that he doesn't show up on screen. There is no superfluous "Spike Lee" character in this movie (he couldn't even resist injecting himself in the Malcolm X bio-pic he helmed). Which, perhaps, shows the seriousness of Mr. Lee's intent.
And what exactly is his intent? He deluges the viewer with hateful images, racist film and television clips, racist cartoons and vintage racist collectibles. The effect is not unlike being pelted with rocks -- each one with the word "nigger" stamped on them. At the self-same moment he underlines the conflicting motivations of the oppressive culture -- how they fear, loathe and, paradoxically, revere the "inferior" culture they profess to despise and purposely denigrate even as they rush to emulate and embrace it. As the network exec Dunwitty (played by Michael Rapaport) tells Damon Wayans' self-loathing Pierre Delacroix, "I'm blacker than you, brother man." Dunwitty has a black wife, bi-racial children and has decorated his office with black sports icons. While Delacroix speaks in an affected lisping english of the "cultured negro," Dunwitty likes to pepper his bombastic out- bursts with "ghetto grammar." Dunwitty admires the power, grace and beauty of black people, but he also knows what side his white bread is buttered on.
Lee, the cinematic provocateur he is, also ups the ante by having "white-face" negroes pop up in incongruous places -- like pasty-faced MC Serch being a vocal member of the blacker than black revolutionary rap group led by rapper Mos Def -- are we all "brothers of different mothers?" -- "Can't we all just get along?" Paradoxically, on film, the scabrous "Man Tan: The New Millenium Minstrel Show," Delacroix's venomous response to Dunwitty's plea that he create something "real," becomes a National sensation -- a "Survivor" like phenomenon -- that brings both white and black viewers together in laughter and black face. Whites and Blacks haven't been on the same page like this since they were all swiveling their hips to MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This!"
As I watched Man Tan, Sleep and Eat, Aunt Jemima, Li'l Nigger Jim, Sambo and Rastus, along with a band called the Alabama Porch Monkeys (played by the Roots) cavorting and lazing about in their watermelon patch, I was reminded of, of all things, "Hee-Haw," the seminal redneck comedy sketch show that ruled the syndicated air waves for the better part of two decades. Surely, it was just as offensive to the constituency it mocked as the fictional "New Millenium Minstrel Show." Yet, a curious thing evolved along with "Hee-Haw": Southern political ascendancy. It should be noted that the Speaker of the House is a southerner as have been three out of the last five presidents (four if you count George Bush senior).
"Bamboozled" is sometimes derivative (I could have done without the cribbing from the movie "Network") and is not always coherent and cohesive in its satire, but it is successful in dredging up the uncomfortable question, "What are we REALLY mad about?" And, more importantly, what are we going to do about it?
Copyright (c) 2000 Kelwyn Wright. All Rights Reserved.
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