RoQ Riffs!! Ya’ll good??? Hope everything is good on your end. Back with another RoQyPiece Theatre for you movie heads. You know how it goes, whether mainstream or indie, well-known or indie, movies are a huge part of hiphop. This segment is all about the flick. This one, I’ve been saving for a bit. I was going to wait a little longer to drop it on you because of it’s cultural significance, but decided to deliver it earlier than expected for those exact same reasons. This 15 year old film is prophetic in it’s own ways. It’s satirical. It’s metaphorical. It’s controversial. Mostly, it’s TRUE…
What I’m referring to is Spike Lee’s 2000 filmpiece, Bamboozled.
That was the horribly dated late 90’s/early 2000’s stylized movie trailer.. complete with the glass chimes and knock off , empty neo soul instrumental.
Marlon Wayans’s character, Pierre Delacroix, works as a television executive living in the City of New York. His company of employment, CNS (Continental Network System) has been experiencing a downturn in independent network views and is looking to shake up the ratings by any means. Due to this, the board of executives are breathing down the neck of Delacroix’s boss, the closet racist, tactless Thomas Dunwitty.
Dunwitty is the type of culturally insensitive individual who defines race based on inherent prejudices and false stereotypes. He has a sort of appropriative approach to what he perceives as “black folks”; integrating various cultural aspects, icons and etc as his own, even marrying a black woman… but still refusing to truly understand his ignorance and closet bigotry. Justifying the liberated use of the word “nigger” on the color of his spouse and biracial children.
So.. yeah.. he’s THAT kind of guy … lol.
Anyhow, Dunwitty and Delacroix, (who’s real name is actually Peerless Dothan, more on that later) sit down to discuss ways which they can bring the ratings back up to acceptable standings. Dunwitty, while telling Delacroix “he’s more of a nigga than Pierre”, discredits using a more wholesome portrayal of black folks in favor of controversy. Pierre, backed into a corner, decides the only way to break away from contributing to ignorance is to create the most over-the-top, offensive show he could imagine — This is the only he could be released from his contractually-bound position at CNS.
Pierre and his assistant (played by Jada Pinkett-Smith) employ two street performers in their schemes; the tap-dancing Manray (played by tap-dance legend Savion Glover) and his best friend Womack (comedian Tommy Davidson). Manray and Womack eagerly and immediately agree to participating in the so-called “controversial” pilot, mainly due to their squalid and disenfranchised living conditions. At this point, Manray did not understand why his stage name would be “Mantan”.
During the next session, Delacroix, or “De La”, as Manray and Womack refer to him as, pitches his idea for a minstrel show under the satirical guise of “promoting racial healing”. He brings in the two entertainers and pitches the show as “Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show (with co-host “Sleep n Eat”, to Womacks shock and initial disapproval).
“Mantan & Sleep-And-Eat, two real coons. Ignorant, dull-witted lazy, and unlucky; and uneducated brother with educated feet. ” He then explained the over-the-top offensive names (i.e. “Little Nigga Jim”) as well as the tentative setting: A watermelon patch; with blackface both being suggested by Dunwitty and De La. Following ManRay’s impromptu tabletop tap dance and Sloans vehement disapproval, Dunwitty, unable to discern De La’s true intent, immediately agrees to the show pitch, promising full backing from his CNS superiors. De La, positioning himself in Dunwitty’s chair, leans back satisfied at how easily his racist boss was baited into something so egregiously politically incorrect it could ruin the reputation of the station, terminating the contract. .. And yes, you did read “blackface” a couple sentences above… that’s exactly what the show was being pitched as:
For those not in the know, Blackface is a performance style seen in Minstrel Shows, racially offensive sketch comedy shows put on by prejudiced folks, popularized between the Post Civil War era and the turn of the century.
It seems that deep down, De La does want this to serve as a lesson to the general American populace that the current prejudiced archetype is a detriment to society; Sloan expresses uncertainty for it’s success. Regardless though, the show receives a green light and the team scrambles to fill up the ranks in order to make this show a reality. A completely non-black writing staff was hired, despite there actually being a search for a more culturally diverse collective. [ The dialogue of this scene is an interesting insight into certain individuals inadvertently stereotyped perceptions, often based on the televisions influence.] Also, most importantly, the casting call (s/o to THE ROOTS!!!)…
Um.. yeah.. wow. So uh.. the show obviously is set to go. Except for one thing, instead of CNS getting word of this and putting a stop, they hired on a professional producer (from Finland >_< ) to make “creative changes”. By creative changes, I mean, they are dressed up in over the top butler tuxedos and bell hop uniforms and the location is set to a cotton field on a plantation. Hmm. Just go to 48:30 on the damn link. Rewritten dialogue full of falsified stereotypes and self-degrading slander. I mean, at one point, ManRay passes out and is revived by a fucking watermelon. By the time the show reaches a break segment, the audience’s stunned look of disbelief did a complete 180; from “appalled” to “applause”. Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show was a surprise HIT. CNS bought and additional show and made it a midseason replacement on their network — Peerless’s plan backfired.. gravely.
Depressed by the show’s unexpected success, De La visited his father, who makes a living traveling as a standup comedian. He was in town for a show. It shocked Pierre to see his father in the current state he was in; boozed, broken, and complacent. It was his strongly-convicted, morally-upright, passionate father, the same man who turned down hollywood deals due to “his integrity”, who was the inspiration behind Peerless finding himself in the entertainment industry. It was after this cathartic experience , he decided he did not want to be a victim to his own belief system — So he jumped into The New Millennium Minstrel show head first.
The story flashes forward to the first taped episode, the one which will be broadcast to the entire globe. The contrast between ManRay’s content, careful application of his make up, and Womack’s enraged state as he wearingly applies his , alludes to the inevitable downfall of the duo (similar omen can be noted regarding ManRay obtaining Bojangle’s deathbed tap shoes). As with the first time, they stepped into character and executed their roles flawlessly, if such a thing could be said about buffoonery. It’s during this time, De La and Sloan are seen laughing at the ignorant behavior. First tv show completed, time for the grand debut.
CNS’s programming team gives the show the prime time debut treatment, complete with commercials marketed to the target “demographic”: overly-priced, cheap brand-name clothes and liquor.
You laughed because of the Tommy Hilfiger reference is so blatant. Don’t lie.
Anyways, the national recognition grew; magazine covers, newspapers, billboards, bus ads, you name it. With that, however, came the much expected controversy that Sloan initially warned De La about. Hundreds of protesters, headed by Johnny Cochran and ( the annoyingly hypocritical ) Al Sharpton . As expected, the backlash was furious. Criticism from black folks were abound. Even Sloan’s pseudo-revolutionary brother “Big Black Africa” (played by Mos Def) and his crew The Mau Mau’s ( yes, as in, named after the real Mau Mau Revolution ) are plotting a final solution to De La’s coonery experiment gone rogue. To combat the controversy, CNS hires a culturally out-of-touch publicist to attempt and curb racial issues she discovered second hand; inadvertently offering insensitive solutions under the guise of being “politically correct” (i.e. “not all black people are lazy and ignorant” ) .. It’s clear Peerless bit off FAR more than he can chew.
It’s around this time that ManRay starts to become the victim of his own fame; evolving from a naive and eager disenfranchised performer, to an arrogant, socially-detached star. After one particular choreography session, Womack happens to witness ManRay’s abusive treatment of one of his child dancers. During the heated argument between the duo, Womack finally expresses his contempt for the show and how he needs to separate himself from the literal minstrel show they are both the stars of. This is the last time they will see each other alive.
Around this time, ManRay discovers that everything is not what it seems at “the top”. Sloan, who herself has reached her moral limit, has been giving the lead star various videos about ManTan Mooreland and the real meaning behind minstrel shows, in a surreptitious attempt to bring ManRay into “the light”. This, as well as her growing influence over him due to romantic chemistry, caused CNS and De La to remove her from the project, in attempt to contain their star. During the next taping, as the egregiously self-racist “Honeycutter” name replaces that of “Sleep & Eat” ‘s on the co-star dressing room door, ManRay sits up on the lighting walkway — without make up.
It seems Womack’s conversation about him “changing” and cooning for for the camera, added with Sloan’s attempts, have had made a lasting impression on “ManTan” .. the “real coon”. as he was refusing to get into wardrobe and perform. After Dunwitty panicked about the delay of show, De La was able to locate and convince ManRay to perform. However, he would not get into wardrobe and perform his way.
It was during this scene where the message of the show starts to really shine through. While De La and “ManTan” were having their conversation backstage, Honeycutter was entertaining the crowd with his antics. This once apprehensive , partially offended crowd from the first few episodes were replaced with elated, participating viewers… all of whom in blackface. After months of acclimation and desensitizing , the general public’s moral compass was permanently re-calibrated to accept such a racially offensive show laden with false stereotypes and culturally-degrading material……. sound familiar??
So, The Big Lipped Mouth Stage Entrance opens up to reveal the non-minstrel ManRay to the shock of the entire crowd. After reciting his famous “sick and tired of being a nigger” line, he collapses on stage and after a few minutes, jumps back up in an almost ceremonial “rebirth” act and begins dancing to the shock and horror of the blackfaced crowd. Dunwitty , in a panic (and blackface), rushes down the audience stairs, canceling the shoot and ejecting ManRay from the studio . “Niggers like you come a dime a dozen”.
The rest of the story runs it’s course: The MauMaus catch up with ManRay, kidnap and then execute him live on camera during a tapdancing routine. Sloan shows up to a depressed Pierre’s office and fatally shoots him. During Peerless Dorthan’s last moments alive, he laments over the damage he has created and the literal bodies that lie in the wake of his horrible experiment gone wild.
One thing I found interesting was the contrast between this satirical movie and it’s very real source material, which can be viewed at the end of the movie.
So, there you have it… Bamboozled… a BRILLIANT film, in my opinion. Not because of the acting, not because of the score, not even because it was “A Spike Lee Joint”. The reason why this movie has found a permanent slot on my dvd (no blu ray, Spike??) rack is because of it’s prophetical prediction of the state of hip hop’s mutation and corporate manipulation on a mainstream scale. At it’s time of release, Bamboozled could possible be seen as “far-fetched”, since some of the stereotypes which permeated through media was a little more subtle, and you had to be more of a discerning individual to catch the reference, with tools such as youtube being years from release.
Today, though?? Gone are the subtle contextual clues hidden throughout shows, songs, movies… You have ignorant fools like Young Thug.. You have an entire cast of coons on the reality show (scripted) known as Love & HipHop … you have “educated” individuals such as 2 Chainz … I don’t even need a link to that one. It’s sad reality today, major media profits off the tarnishing of an entire human subgroup’s integrity, with more and artists failing to see the error in selling off their dignity for a check. When you’re down and out, hungry to any sort of break, it seems less of a “sacrifice” to give up certain liberties in order to receive some sort of break… and corporate media plays into and exploits this with expert precision.
Meanwhile, you have a multitude of collectives and open minded individuals in protest of this corporately-sponsored shaming of an entire subculture of american citizens. You have people making songs much like the fictional Mau Maus of Spike’s film. There is a figurative and literal rift between those who accept these stereotypes as “norm” and an accurate representation, and those who demand an end to the now-blantantly overt attack on people of color.. by greedy corporations and the culture’s own people. These are the reasons why I believe Bamboozled is so horrifically brilliant and ahead of it’s time.
Unfortunately, you don’t have to dial down the over-exaggerated material by much to make this a rather realistic movie. There is something wrong about that, you know?
This is why it’s dangerous to forget the past, to sugarcoat it and deny it’s harsh reality. Keeping your mind on all three tenses, present.. future.. AND past, will help you maintain moral direction. It will help you maintain respect for your self and common man. In terms of what you really have to lose; as the saying goes, “never forget“.
So , yeah.. there you have it.. Bamboozled. Give it a shot, it’s pretty damn interesting, to say the least.
Alright, RoQ Riffs!! I’m out!!
Until next time… Live from Phoenix, “The Culture Is Back!!!”