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Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) is a frustrated writer with CNS, one of America’s largest TV networks. When his boss Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) demands he create a hip show angled at African Americans, Delacroix—whose treatments for black middle class sitcoms have been consistently turned down—decides to create a show so racist and offensive it will get him sacked. Instead, his Millennial Minstrel Show, starring dancer Man Ray (Savion Glover) and his friend Womack (Tommy Davidson) in black face makeup, becomes a massive hit, and Delacroix is forced to reconsider his own beliefs.

Review by Stuart Whitmore:
Spike Lee knows a thing or two about stereotyping. His complex examinations of racial disharmony are often written up—and sometimes written off—as race obsessed screeds. The director himself rarely gets by without the adjective "controversial" being attached to his name. So when the controversial Spike Lee decides to make a satire about racial stereotypes you know it will be something worth watching. But Bamboozled exceeds all expectations. The movie opens with Damon Wayans’ Pierre Delacroix reading aloud the dictionary definition of the word satire. It’s an important disclaimer for Lee to put in place, considering that what is to follow involves African American actors blacking up with burned cork and singing and dancing with many a cry of "Yessir, masser sir!"

Among all filmmakers working in Hollywood today, only Spike Lee has the credentials and the intelligence to get away with such a conceit. And get away with it he does. Bamboozled lifts the heart of its plot from Mel Brooks’s The Producers but plays it to far greater social and ethical effect. The principle object of ridicule is Rapaport’s villainous TV exec, a wannabe homeboy who thinks it’s OK to call people "nigger" because Quentin Tarantino does it and is fond of telling African Americans the he knows black people better than they do. Other targets are skewered equally ruthlessly. The Mau Mau, a rap group-cum-band of revolutionaries, preach militant black nationalism while putting out an image of African Americans stuck in a ghetto rut. After witnessing their performance first hand, Delacroix shudders: "I don’t want anything to do with anything black for at least a week." A certain clothing magnate is also spoofed, with a white-bread designer called Timmi Hilnigger taking the Bamboozled kids to the cleaners by appropriating their culture and selling it back to them at inflated prices.

But race and identity are complex issues and Lee treats them as such. The strength of the story is that it isn’t black and white. The characters have many dimensions. Wayans’ character is a pretentious Ivy Leaguer who combines a desire to see affirmative representations of black people in the media with a deep seated insecurity in his own identity. Pierre Delacroix isn’t even his real name. Womack, Man Ray and the other performers must reconcile their discomfort at blacking up—and taking the stage names Man Tan and Sleep-and-Eat—with the seductive lure of fame and fortune. They are artists who can only find demeaning roles through which to express their talents and make a living—just like the black performers in the archival footage Lee intersperses throughout the movie.

Lee’s brilliance in Bamboozled is to make Man Tan and Sleep-and-Eat genuinely funny and likable. Their show is at once horrific and entertaining. You want to laugh and cry at once. The dichotomy is never better expressed than in their first performance for the TV pilot, where the shock and disbelief of the audience, who in real life had no idea of what they were about to watch, gradually gives way to chuckles at Man Ray and Womack’s antics. Not content with addressing race and identity, Bamboozled also stands up as an essay on taste and decency. Who decides what is offensive and what is not? Which subjects can we laugh at or satirise and which are too sensitive?

Lee expands on the themes of the film still further in his thoughtful audio commentary. His theory is that the minstrel shows never actually ended, we’ve just become sophisticated enough to drop the blackface makeup. African Americans are still largely confined—and sometimes confine themselves—to demeaning roles and Lee views Gangsta rappers, whose ghetto tales are lapped up by middle class white kids, as the 21st century equivalent of the minstrels. The 50-minute making of documentary also calls on critics and historians to discuss the wider issues and is produced with the same thoughtful intelligence as the main feature. For budgetary reasons Bamboozled was shot using digital video. Lee chose to use home camcorders rather than larger, professional digital cameras, capturing a scene with up to a dozen cameras to give it the feel of a filmed play. The technique produced plenty of footage. In addition to the 130 minutes of action in the final edit, there are a dozen more deleted scenes which are included here alongside more takes of the Mau Mau and Tommy Hilnigger in action. Sharp, funny and thought provoking, Bamboozled is a film that defies any stereotypes that could be placed on it. And that has to be a good thing."

Published January 3, 2002

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You can buy it HERE - next day delivery within Australia


CAST: Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tommy Davidson, Michael Rapaport


RUNNING TIME: 130 minutes

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: November 22, 2001

SPECIAL FEATURES: Widescreen 1.78:1; Audio commentary by Spike Lee; The Making of Bamboozled documentary; Deleted scenes; Music videos Blak is Blak by Mau Mau and Dream With no Love by Gerald Levert; Artwork gallery; Cast and crew; Theatrical trailer. Languages: English 5.1 and 2.0. Subtitles: English.

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