The last credit we see at the end of BAMBOOZLED is a dedication to Budd Schulberg. It’s a dedication that I found most appropriate because Budd Schulberg wrote the screenplay for “A Face In the Crowd”. A movie I’ve seen maybe eight or nine times and I still see new things in it every time I see it. There’s a lot of “A Face In The Crowd” as well as “Network” in BAMBOOZLED. All three movies should be watched together as thematically they’re the most scathing of indictments on the dangers of television ever committed to film. They’re all satires, they’re all comedies, they’re all dramas and they’re all true tragedies as well. Especially BAMBOOZLED in that the situation created by corporate and personal greed as well as the maniacal hunt for ‘The Next Big Thing’ and higher ratings lead to a truly frightening bloodbath that always leaves me stunned when I get to the end of this powerful movie.
Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) is in a whole lot of trouble. His job at the Continental Broadcasting System is in serious jeopardy. The network is in last place and Pierre’s boss, Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rappaport) insists that Pierre come up with a television show that will appeal primarily to African-Americans. Dunwitty is an idiot who thinks that because he’s married to a black woman that gives him the right to use the word ‘nigger’ freely. He has pictures of black athletes on the walls of his office and claims he understands black people more than the uptight, Harvard educated Pierre. Pierre conspires with his assistant Sloan Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith) to create a show that is so overwhelmingly racist and offensive that Dunwitty will have no choice but to fire Pierre who can then go to another network. He hires two talented street performers, tap dancer Manray (Savior Glover) and the comic Womack (Tommy Davidson) to star in a show called “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” The show is to be set in a watermelon patch on a Southern plantation and all the performers will appear in blackface. Womack is horrified, but Manray, eager to make the big time at last agrees to star in the show. Womack reluctantly goes along, not willing to leave his partner. And he hopes that maybe he can make some changes by being on the inside.
Now here’s where things get interesting: Dunwitty actually loves the show and puts in on the air where it becomes a mega hit and a cultural phenomenon. So much to the point that the multi-racial studio audiences begin showing up wearing blackface themselves and proudly proclaiming themselves to be ‘niggers’. Sloan and Womack are disgusted and horrified by the show’s popularity but Pierre and Manray embrace their success wholeheartedly, even though prominent African-Americans such as Al Sharpton and Johnnie Cochran denounce the show. The situation is complicated by Sloan’s brother Big Blak Afrika (Mos Def) and his politically oriented rap group, The Mau Maus who hatch a plan to kidnap Manray and execute him publicly on a live Internet web cast.
BAMBOOZLED isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people. I’ll be honest here: Spike Lee isn’t exactly the most subtle of filmmakers when it comes to making his point. The images of blackfaced actors shuckin’ & jivin’ in a watermelon patch to the music of a group called The Alabama Porch Monkeys (played by The Roots) is one that a lot of people won’t want to see. And I can understand that. BAMBOOZLED is a hard movie for me to watch and I have a tremendous amount of liking and respect for the film. So I can imagine the impact it’ll have on people who don’t like Spike Lee or this kind of material. But I watch some of the so-called ‘comedies’ featuring black actors on UPN and I realize that “The New Millennium Minstrel Show” really isn’t that far from what they air. We get the message but Spike Lee really goes out of his way to make sure that we get it.
The visual style of the movie goes a long way to selling the story to me. Spike Lee shot the movie using digital camcorders that you or I could go into any electronics store and buy. This method gives the movie a documentary-like feel that I liked. What else did I like? Jada Pinkett Smith has never really impressed me all that much as an actress outside of her roles in “Low Down Dirty Shame” and “Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight” but here she plays a wonderfully detailed character who is truly horrified by the situation she finds herself in. I remember Tommy Davidson from the old “In Living Color” TV show where he always struck me as one of the most consistently talented performers. He doesn’t seem to get a lot of work and I don’t understand why. Here he shows a definite talent for drama. As does Savior Glover. Sure, we know he can dance good enough to make angels weep but he also can act. I ended up not liking his character and think that he deserves his eventual fate but I sympathized with him and understand why he made the choices he did. Damon Wayans makes some odd choices in his playing Pierre Delacroix, including using a really odd, nasal way of speaking and an unusual way of using his hands while talking. But I appreciated seeing him do something different. I’ve always liked Damon Wayans and his easy going manner of acting in comedies. I’d like to see him in more dramas. And any movie that has Paul Mooney in it automatically gets my attention. Paul Mooney is probably the funniest man who has ever lived. This cat wrote for both Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle and if I have to tell you any more than that then you just don’t get it. And I really liked Mos Def in this one as well. If you’ve ever seen “Something The Lord Made” then you know that Mos Def really can act. That was made in 2004 but even in this 2000 movie you can tell he’s got the chops. He and Jada Pinkett Smith have a wonderful scene where they discuss how black people are portrayed in movies and television that is so compelling you feel like you’re eavesdropping on an actual conversation. Michael Rappaport does an excellent job of playing a character that is totally unlikable but yet, you can’t wait for him to show up on screen to see what he’ll do next.
So should you see BAMBOOZLED? Well, I certainly think you should if you’re in the mood for a Sunday afternoon of heavy social satire. Rent BAMBOOZLED, “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” and watch ‘em all. BAMBOOZLED is not light entertainment at all. In a lot of ways it’s a highly offensive movie where negative images of African-Americans fill the screen and shove themselves into your face. And if you’re sensitive about the use of the n-word then you should stay away because it’s used often here. But I recommend BAMBOOZLED if for no other reason than Spike Lee dared to explore how African-Americans are used and exploited by television and did it in such a thought-provoking manner. You may love it or hate it but BAMBOOZLED, like “A Face In The Crowd” and “Network” will make you think about what you watch on television and why you watch it.
Be advised that there is no nudity in the movie and no violence until the last fifteen or twenty minutes but the language throughout is mighty raw. And the n-word is used enough to make even Quentin Tarantino blush. So if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.