Bamboozled, written and directed by Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, BlacKkKlansman) follows TV producer Pierre Delacroix, frustrated with the network’s rejection of all his ideas, decides to pitch the worst idea he can think of and get fired. However, his show becomes a huge hit.
The show that Delacroix pitches? It’s a 21st century minstrel show.
At the very beginning of the film, Delacroix cites the definition of satire:
- a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
- the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
- trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly
Those are just a few definitions of satire. Lee’s film is the most bitter and angriest use of satire I’ve ever seen. Bamboozled is a difficult film to talk about, obviously, as it portrays Black actors preforming in minstrel shows used to dehumanize Black people.
The performances are stunning, Damon Wayans plays Delacroix, a well-spoken, well-dressed TV producer. Delacroix uses the opportunity of a modern-day minstrel show to satirize contemporary society and how it still dehumanizes Black people through less obvious means. Jada Pinkett Smith plays Sloan Hopkins, Delacroix’s assistant, she’s the voice of reason, constantly saying how horrible of an idea the show it.
Savion Glover, an extraordinary tap dancer, plays Manray, named changed to Mantan for the show. Glover’s physical performance is outstanding, with multiple scenes showcasing his talents, but his emotional performance is fantastic too. Tommy Davidson plays Womack, Manray’s business partner and performer, his name is also changed, to Sleep’n Eat. Davidson gives a strong performance as he struggles to put himself in Blackface and go out and preform, but he and Manray need money, so he does it.
There’s a strange dichotomy in the film. There are prolonged scenes with Glover and other performers tap-dancing like there’s no tomorrow, it’s really fun to watch, however, they’re dressed in Blackface and wearing costumes of Mammies and other stereotypes used to dehumanize Black people.
As I said earlier, Bamboozled is not an easy film to watch at all, I’d even compare it to the most extreme of horror movies with its intense uncomfortableness and in-your-face attitude, while also being a really funny satire at showcasing just how “proclaimed anti-racists and allies” can still act very racist.
I don’t want to say any more, as the film has loads of surprises, but before you go seek the film out, I want to warn you again, the film is hard to watch but a necessary reminder of the horrors of White America and the blight of Black people.
As Spike Lee said, “…it’s for everyone to watch. I know that it’s painful at times, but we’re not making this up. The depths of degradation in cartoons, movies, and television shows, the misrepresentation of a people – it’s an American legacy. Not just in television or movies, but in all media.”
The film is available to rent on Amazon and to watch on Criterion Channel.