When it comes to the topic of addressing underrated films, it seems fitting I should address this one first because for a majority of my life it’s been an obsession.
Anybody who knows me for even two minutes can tell I’m a pop culture/film fanatic so it should come as no surprise that I spent a great amount of my early years in video rental stores. I’ll never forget when I was eight and Bamboozled made it onto VHS and DVD. I didn’t see the film at the time but I do recall seeing a quick trailer playing multiple times in the store. What I remember vividly more than anything else is how the store had a Bamboozled poster on the wall. I was too young to really comprehend what racism is, let alone a minstrel show but there was something incredibly haunting about the grin of Tommy Davidson and the look of shock Savion Glover had.
I’ve heard since seeing this film that every time they put on blackface, both men cried when they saw their reflection. When you look into the eyes on the poster, there is a rather compelling look of tortured sadness that is the look of two men about to break down from all the pain they’re currently experiencing.
From one perspective I can see how this film has completely falling to the wayside. The average human being probably can’t consume all of Spike Lee’s work. Holy fuck I really don’t believe anybody enjoys directing and working on a film more than Spike Lee. The man has directed critically acclaimed films such as Do The Right Thing and Malcolm X, he’s done films with cult followings like School Daze and He Got Game and he’s also directed music videos such as Public Enemy’s Fight The Power and even The Kings of Comedy special.
On top of that he’s still pumping out incredible work. I recently watched Chi-Raq and was impressed by the colorful satirical imagination Spike used to tackle the harsh subject of gun violence in Chicago.
The man has an incredible body of work that the average person can only get around to seeing a fraction of.
But I’m still shocked at how forgotten Bamboozled has become. It’s one of those films where you would have to pay some unknown asshole fifty to sixty bucks to have a physical copy, and I’m not sure if you can get a digital copy. In a perfect world, The Criterion Collection would make sure it’s easily available in quality format because when it comes to the subject of racism, Bamboozled is easily one of the most important films to tackle such subject matter.
This film’s budget was ten million and made just over two million, apparently people were far from woke in 2000.
The main plot is a television writer (Damon Wayans in a wonderful performance) who decides to pitch the idea of a New Millennium Minstrel Show and his spiraling descent of a journey when he is horrified to discover the studio is willing to go all the way with the concept and it becomes the next big thing, something on the level of Friends in popularity. Throughout the film we see Damon Wayans in his office, surrounded by racially insensitive figurines with the look of someone who has given up his soul to Satan for success.
Marc Maron has brought up this film multiple times on his podcast and once a black writer mentioned that what he didn’t like about the film was that the material in The New Millennium Minstrel Show is outdated lame comedic material and not updated. Personally I think it was wise of Spike Lee to use the same old jokes that sound like something from an uncut episode of The Little Rascals because it demonstrates that the racism some believe is long dead still exists and the same old bullshit is still sadly relevant.
Quick scene of children trick or treating in Millenium Minstrel Show masks, showing how popular the show has gotten.
There is also a rap group in the film called The Mau Maus led by Mos Def. I don’t want to give too much away but eventually the group becomes a terrorist organization who do something similar to the videos ISIS have made in recent years, doing a live broadcast on their web site.
One of the main reasons I believe this film was a critical and financial failure when it was released is because everything about it is far too raw for the average viewer. Even the look for a majority of the film is incredibly raw. Spike Lee shot most of the film on handheld cameras, which makes it feel as if you’re watching a reality show. The minstrel show sequences and advertisements for the show were shot on Super 16 film stock. These two sides of the film are what I believe truly unsettle viewers, seeing the film presented in a fashion like a reality show and then being shown in a minstrel show in beautiful color with great camera angles. Never has a minstrel show been presented with such quality which I feel adds to the horror of the satirical nature of this film.
Bamboozled can best be described as cut throat satire. It’s not laugh out loud satire, but it certainly mocks and puts a spotlight on racism that usually attempts to hide and disguise itself, wishing you to believe it’s not real, it no longer exists.
If you have the chance, I would certainly recommend seeing Bamboozled. It’s a raw experience that few films offer.