“Bamboozled” (2000) is a Spike Lee film starring Damon Wayans as Pierre Delacroix who creates a minstrel show for television. The show is supposed to shock America out of its racism. Instead it becomes wildly successful, making America more openly racist. Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mos Def and The Roots also appear.
Delacroix is a black man who works for a white television network, coming up with ideas for new shows. He needs a hit. After years of creating serious shows about the black middle-class that are never given a chance, he comes up with a satire: “Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show“.
It features black performers in blackface playing happy slaves with huge smiles who sing and dance. The show’s lead characters, Mantan (Savion Glover) and Sleep’n Eat (Tommy Davidson), are shiftless and dullwitted, played to stereotype for laughs. The house band (played by The Roots) is called the Alabama Porch Monkeys.
This sort of thing was pushed off of radio and television by the NAACP back in the 1950s. Delacroix expects shock and protest. He gets a bit of that from blacks but not enough to matter compared to the wild success it enjoys among most whites and some blacks.
White unease quickly disappears when it turns out that (some) blacks like the show and that the show’s creator, Delacroix, is himself black. How can it be racist? In time the show’s studio audience appears in blackface too, proudly calling themselves “niggas”. “Niggas is a beautiful thing” goes the catchphrase.
For Delacroix and Mantan success goes to their heads. The whole bit about the show being a satire on racism is quickly forgotten. For others, like Tommy Davidson’s character as well as Delacroix’s assistant Sloan (Jada Pinkett-Smith), the show’s merciless racism becomes too much and they quit.
We get a bit of background on Delacroix: his father, Junebug (Paul Mooney), is a small-time stand-up comedian who plays black night clubs. He had the talent to make it big in Hollywood but never did because he did not want to say the things that Hollywood wanted him to say. He cared more about integrity than success. Besides, he had money enough to live on and a beautiful woman – what more did he need? Delacroix thinks he is a fool.
Junebug: ”Everybody want to be black, but nobody want to be black.”
Sloan on Delacroix: ”He’s not black; he’s a Negro.”
Delacroix puts personal success above all else. He becomes a sell-out who furthers racism. He does not see the error of his ways till the closing scene where he lays dying, quoting James Baldwin:
People pay for what they do, and still more for what they have allowed themselves to become, and they pay for it, very simply, by the lives they lead.
“Bamboozled” was excellent till the last 20 minutes when it ends in a strange blood bath that almost comes out of nowhere.