A frustrated African American TV writer proposes a blackface minstrel show in protest, but to his chagrin it becomes a hit.
A blistering satire of network television’s pitfalls and prejudices, a humorous look at how race, ratings and the pursuit of power lead to a television writer’s stunning rise and tragic downfall. Pierre Delacroix, a young, Harvard-educated man, who is the sole person of color, writing for an upstart network with floundering ratings. Despite several attempts, Delacroix has yet to see any of his concepts go into production.
Bamboozled is a 2000 satirical film written and directed by Spike Lee about a modern televised minstrel show featuring black actors donning blackface makeup and the violent fall-out from the show’s success. The film was given a limited release by New Line Cinema during the fall of 2000, and was released on DVD the following year.
Directed by Spike Lee
Produced by Jon Kilik & Spike Lee
Written by Spike Lee
Pierre Delacroix (whose real name is Peerless Dothan), (Damon Wayans) is an uptight, Harvard University-educated black man, working for a television network known as CNS (for “Continental Network System”). At work, he has to endure torment from his boss Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport), a tactless, boorish white man. Not only does Dunwitty talk like an urban black man, and use the word “nigger” repeatedly in conversations, he also proudly proclaims that he is more black than Delacroix and that he can use nigger since he is married to a black woman and has two mixed- race children. Dunwitty frequently rejects Delacroix’s scripts for television series that portray black people in positive, intelligent scenarios, dismissing them as “Cosby clones”.
Facing the necessity of either coming up with a hit black-centric show or being fired, Delacroix decides to aim for the latter. Delacroix would be in violation of his contract if he resigned, but getting fired would release him from it and allow him to seek work at another network. With help from his personal assistant Sloane Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith), Delacroix decides to pitch a minstrel show. Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show is complete with black actors in blackface, extremely racist jokes and puns, and even offensively stereotyped CGI-animated cartoons that caricature the leading stars of the new show.
Delacroix develops the program believing that the network would reject such over-the-top racism and fire him immediately. Delacroix and Hopkins decide to recruit two impoverished street performers, Manray (Savion Glover, named after American artist Man Ray) and Womack (Tommy Davidson) — homeless squatters who regularly perform outside CNS’ headquarters building to star in the show. While Womack is horrified when Delacroix tells him details about the show, Manray willfully agrees to star in the show, seeing it as his big chance to become rich and famous for his tap-dancing skills.
To Delacroix’s horror, not only does Dunwitty enthusiastically endorse the show, it also becomes hugely successful. As soon as the show premieres on television, Manray and Womack end up becoming big stars while Delacroix, contrary to his original stated intent, defends the show as being satirical. Delacroix quickly embraces the show and his newfound fame; he even wins awards for creating and writing the show, while Hopkins becomes horrified at the racist nightmare she has helped to unleash.