Bamboozled [2000]

Director Spike Lee has never shied away from controversy, and with Bamboozled he tackles a thorny mix of racism and how images are bought and sold. A frustrated TV writer named Delacroix (Damon Wayans), unable to break his contract, tries to get fired by proposing a new minstrel show, complete with dancers in blackface. But the network loves the idea, and Delacroix hires two street performers (Savion Glover, who is truly the finest tap dancer since Fred Astaire, and Tommy Davidson) whose hunger for success and ignorance of history combine to make them accept the blackface. Despite protests, the show is a huge success--but gradually, the mental balance of everyone involved starts to crumble. As an argument, Bamboozled is incoherent--but how can racism be discussed rationally in the first place? Lee takes a much braver approach: Every time something seems to make sense or make a point, he complicates the situation. At one point, Delacroix goes to see his father, a standup comedian working at a small black club. Delacroix perceives his father as a broken failure. But his father's routine is full of articulate critiques of white hypocrisy, and the older man describes refusing to play the narrow movie roles that Hollywood had offered him, while Delacroix has convinced himself that his minstrel show is actually doing some social good. And what is the effect of the show itself? Lee obviously finds blackface abhorrent, but the minstrel routines are perversely fascinating and Glover's dancing, even when he mimics Amos and Andy-era routines, is outstanding. Most cuttingly, Lee points out parallels between minstrel and contemporary hip-hop personas. By the time it's over, Bamboozled won't have told you what to think, but you will have to think about these issues--and that alone is a remarkable accomplishment. --Bret Fetzer

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