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Film / Bamboozled

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Bamboozled (2000) is a satirical mockumentary film written and directed by Spike Lee.

Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) is a Harvard-educated African American man, working for a television network known as CNS ("Continental Network System"), who's feeling a bit pissed. His boss, Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport), is a wannabe-black white guy who insists he is more black than Delacroix is, and who dismisses all the intelligent shows about African-Americans that Delacroix proposes as knockoffs of The Cosby Show. Delacroix believes that all Dunwitty wants are shows portraying African-Americans as buffoons.

Frankly, Delacroix would just like to leave, but he's contractually bound to the network. In order to get himself fired, and to satirize the network's desire for buffoonish black people, Delacroix concocts a brilliant plan: He comes up with a televised minstrel show called Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show, in which two black street performers portray goofballs named "Mantan" and "Sleep 'N Eat" on a watermelon plantation in blackface makeup. Dunwitty, sure enough, greenlights the show.

To Delacroix's horror, the show is a huge success!

This film provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: Racial caricatures in entertainment are bad, especially when enacted by members of one's own race.
  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype: Every member of the Mau-Maus. Yes, including the white guy.
  • Awesome Mc Cool Name: Sloan's brother (and Mau-Mau's member) Big Blak Afrika, played by Mos Def.
    Sloan: I hope you don't think I'm going to call you "Big Blak Afrika."
  • Bad Boss: Thomas C. Dunwitty, the tyrannical vice president of the Continental Network System, or CNS.
  • Blackface: A central tenet of the film's satire, used as part of Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show and adopted by its fans in public. The film's posters even include photos of the show's leads in costume and a blackface baby taken from a 1920's advertisement.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Taken to extreme. Every black member of the Mau-Maus is shot dead by the police, except the white guy, who protests loudly about it.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Discussed. The fact that a minstrel show gets popular leads to the black creators getting a considerable amount of pushback and criticism from the audience. Delacroix tells the press all sorts of excuses as to why the show is perfectly fine, though he secretly starts having second thoughts once he sees how much damage the show is doing to racial tensions.
  • Bullet Dancing: After he refuses to do his routine, the Mau-Maus force Manray (the guy who plays Mantan) to tap dance by shooting at the floor around him one last time before shooting him dead.
  • Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin': The whole point of the racist show, was for Delacroix's to offend people and get fired from his job, which he hated.
  • Cringe Comedy: The "Mantan" sketches. In an effort to make all of the blackface even more uncomfortable, Spike Lee insisted that all of their jokes be unironically funny.
  • Downer Ending: Delacroix, Manray and most of the Mau-Maus are all dead. Sloan will have to live with the guilt that she killed Delacroix. It's implied that Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show will continue on with another "dime a dozen nigger", proving that no one has learned from this experience.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Delacroix assumes the idea for the show will get him fired, but his boss greenlights it. He then banks on it being a controversial flop, but it becomes wildly successful.
  • Haunted Technology: At the end of the movie, Delacroix's Jolly Nigger Bank spontaneously starts operating, repeatedly, with increasing frequency.
  • I Know Your True Name: Sloan invokes it to try and bring "Pierre" back down to earth.
  • Jive Turkey: Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show indulges in this, tying in with the use of blackface and other Minstrel Show iconography. Dunwitty himself also makes use of it a ton, believing himself to be more black than the actually black Delacroix.
  • The Last DJ: Delacroix's father, a stand-up comedian who refused to sell out to Hollywood in favor of doing what he loved with the people he loved, in the way he loved to do it. However, the consequences of such integrity are that he doesn't have the recognition or income befitting of his talent. When Delacroix comes to him for advice, the old comedian says that he has "too much pride" to say the things that Hollywood would want him to say. Unfortunately, Delacroix decides that he doesn't want to end up broke but proud, and doubles down on the minstrel show.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-universe: what was intended to be the most horribly racist show imaginable is instead seen by black viewers as sharp satire to the point they openly quote lines that would normally be horrifying to say in public.invoked
  • Modern Minstrelsy: The whole point, centering around a literal modern minstrel show being aired on live TV.
  • Motive Decay: Tragically, Pierre was trying to pitch a show so offensive that his boss would recognize that his demands were actually racist. When the network loves Mantan, he then believes that the Black community will so vehemently reject the show that it will force American TV to deal with stereotypical portrayals of Black people. When the Black community (mostly) enjoys Mantan, Pierce just accepts his popularity with a Money, Dear Boy attitude.
  • My Nayme Is: The Mau-Maus insist on spelling the word black as "blak", since "nobody be pronouncin' that shit.".
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Much as Mr. Lee would probably like to harm Quentin Tarantino, he is much less enthusiastic about libel suits, choosing to instead pastiche the guy in the form of Dunwitty.
  • N-Word Privileges:
    • Dunwitty argues he can use the N-word because he grew up among black people and has a black wife, and is thus effectively black himself.
    • Thanks to the phenomenal success of Delacroix's show, everyone in America winds up having these. It gets to the point where audience members (ultimately including Dunwitty himself) are showing up for tapings in black makeup. So we have a blonde girl in blackface, an Italian-American in blackface (he calls himself "a Sicilian nigger," which is an actual slur), and... a black girl in blackface.
  • Painting the Medium: Most of the film is shot on standard-definition digital camcorders to conserve its budget. However, scenes from Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show are shot on 16mm film, providing ironic juxtaposition between the lusher visuals and the blatantly racist imagery.
  • Parody Commercial: A few, advertising Tha Bomb soda.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Womack goes from this to Only Sane Man throughout the film.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Dunwitty. Also, one of the members of the Mau-Mausnote .
  • Purely Aesthetic Glasses: Sloan is only seen wearing glasses while at work and is shown having no difficulty seeing without them in sequences where she is not wearing them.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Mantan and Sleep-N-Eat are names of classic minstrel characters.
    • "Two Real Coons" was the tagline of George Walker and Bert Williams, two historic African-American blackface performers. (Sic.)
    • A lot of historic black caricature material is referenced, including Delacroix's Jolly Nigger Bank, a caricatured black head and hand that eats coins.
    • In his rebellious final appearance on the Show Within a Show, Manray speaks pointedly at the audience, and recites an amended version of Howard Beale's "Mad As Hell" rant.
  • Shown Their Work: Done in-universe. The characters producing the minstrel show take pride in replicating the same blackface makeup— mostly burnt cork mixed with cocoa butter— used by the blackface performers of old.
  • Show Within a Show: "Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show", a television show.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Smooth Blak is the only female member of the Mau Mau's.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Delacroix intentionally made Mantan as offensive as he could, in the expectation that it would either be rejected by the higher-ups or would completely fail once shown off. Unfortunately for Delacroix, not only does the producer take the bait, but the show becomes a runaway success, leading to Delacroix have to defend something he knowingly hates doing.
  • Stunned Silence: The audience in the first taping, after:
    Mantan: ...And we are two reeeeal cooooons.
  • Take That!:
    • Early in the film, Lee uses the absurdly buffoonish and offensive character of Dunwitty to take a jab at his much-publicized spat with Quentin Tarantino over the issue of N-Word Privileges.
    • Pierre Delacroix giving away an award to Matthew Modine is a jab at Ving Rhames for giving away his Emmy award to Jack Lemmon two years previously, which outraged Lee.
  • Token White: 1/16 Blak is this to the Mau Mau's.
  • Truth in Television: Spike Lee did not make up the minstrel names Mantan or Sleep n' Eat.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: A central theme of the film, in which everyone in Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show is a stereotypical black character played for comedy.
  • Verbed Title: Bamboozled
  • Video Inside, Film Outside: Inverted; for budgetary reasons, most of the movie was shot on-location on digital standard-definition camcorders, but the scenes depicting Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show were shot with 16mm film on an elaborately-designed studio set.
  • Villain Has a Point: Though the film condemns the Mau Maus for executing Manray on live broadcast, the film agrees they have every right to be angry at the "Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show" for reviving the minstrel show format and all the racist stereotypes that come with it.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Dunwitty disappears from the movie after he fires Manray, only appearing once more when filming a PSA regarding Manray's kidnapping.
  • The Whitest Black Guy: Protagonist Pierre Delacroix (real name Peerless Dothan) is an uptight, Harvard-educated African man in the employment of a television network. He's tormented endlessly by his boss Thomas Dunwitty, a crass, boorish white man who speaks with a stereotypical African-American accent, drops N-bombs like there's not tomorrow and claims to be more Black than Delacroix because he married a black woman and has two mixed-race children.