Copyright 1999-2003 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

Bams' review of


Bamboozled (2000)
Rated R; running time 136 minutes
Genre: Drama (forget what the genre labellers are sayin'; this ain't no comedy.)
Seen at: Lowes Star Fairlaine (Detroit, Michigan)
Official site:
IMDB site:
Written by: Spike Lee
Directed by: Spike Lee
Cast: Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Michael Rapaport, Mos Def

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

You are about to read the most schizophrenically lengthy review I have ever written - which, ironically, marries it perfectly to the movie being reviewed: Spike Lee's controversial Bamboozled. Here we go...

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
Black TV writer Pierre DeLacroix (Damon Wayans) is charged by the White producer of the Continental Network Systems station Mr. Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport) to come up with an all-Black comedy show that will boost CNS's ratings. But when the "streetwise" Dunwitty rejects the Harvard-educated DeLacroix's plans to create "the next Cosby show", DeLa, along with his assistant, Sloane Hopkins (Jada Pinkett-Smith) decides to create a show so offensive that DeLa would be fired [and thus allowed to get out of his contract...since, after all, he has "a mortgage to pay". Don't ask how being fired will help pay that mortgage, though. Too much logic, and all].

Inspired by homeless Black street tap dancer Manray (Savion Glover) and his partner Womack (Tommy Davidson), DeLa and Sloane come up with the most heinous show imaginable: "Mantan the New Millennium Minstrel Show", in which Manray would play Mantan and Womack would play "Sleep 'n Eat"; they both would be made up in blackface ("Black actors in blacker blackface"), and called "Two Reeee-aaaal Coons". Manray and Womack, being in a state of poverty, agree to this (Womack more reluctantly so than Manray, who'll do anything "longas the hoofin's real"), but DeLa is ultimately undone when to his surprise not only does the "nigga"-spouting Dunwitty love the concept, the American TV audience eats it up. Sloane and DeLa have a hard time living with this - but not as hard a time as Sloane's brother Julius, aka Big Black Africa (Mos Def), a member of the MauMau rap group who takes Issue with the "comically" blackened minstrels, at the same time as he and his fellow malt liquor-guzzling self-righteous MauMaus use the word "nigga" as much if not more than the minstrels themselves.

And the schizophrenic part? Bamboozled worked for me on so many levels at first, that I was so utterly disappointed when it just kept going on and on, repeating itself without saying anything New, eventually running out of juice well before it was over. Had I stopped watching it at a certain point, I might've declared it a Masterpiece. As it is, I can neither fully praise, nor fully denigrate, this movie. And the funny thing is, {SOME} Black folks will try to take me to task for that very thing ["'Bamboozled' was dope!, you Oreo traitor!" ... "'Bamboozled' was wack!, you Bougie traitor!". Can't win for losing.]

As a visionary tale, Bamboozled knows few equals. Spike Lee nailed many of the dysfunctional Issues Black folks in America have as A People (and, of course, as the many sub-cultures within the larger, mostly-undefined Black Culture), and well as The Issue itself: what exactly does it mean to be Black in America? Is DeLa less Black than Julius because Julius is "keepin' it real"? Is Dunwitty - clearly a Caucasian - more Black than DeLa because Dunwitty considers himself "street"? Is the White MauMau Blacker than all of them? And when it gets right down to it, is there even such a thing as one single "Black Culture"?

Though Lee's targets were many, and wide (and, depending on who you ask - for instance, Hollywood's Finest Black Comedy Stars, many of whom loudly questioned Lee's "right" to do this movie - just plain off-base), I found his aim fairly accurate, for the most part. All the "nigga"-slinging, all the malt-liquor drinking, all the empty mau-mauing - even the mental separation of Us into "Blacks" and "Negroes" (or, telling it like it 'tis, "Niggers") that too many of us (me included) do...when Spike aimed, and hit, it spoke to many of the things I've long felt were cultural ills with Us here in this so-called Melting Pot. The most heinous ill being that WE so gladly supply the Cork, and willingly apply the ugly Blackface, to Ourselves.

But - and this isn't a small thing - being a Visionary is only half the battle; to have a successful movie, one must also have successful acting and directing, a tight storyline, and cohesive editing. And that is where Bamboozled ultimately failed.

Granted, a Spike Lee joint doesn't always follow the typical moviemaking blueprint of your standard motion picture. To that end, the weird jumpcuts, the unnatural-feeling scenes, and the strange editing, were Lee trademarks. But this film couldn't afford Lee's quirks and his inability to cut out the repetition on the one hand and "grow" the story on the other and an in-your-face storyline, all at the same time. That, on top of the unbelievability of both Mantan's and Sleep 'n Eat's Instant Revelations with no good cause (except, of course, the "wake up!" caused by looking at your cork-blackfaced image in the mirror, which should make anybody say "hmmm...maybe this isn't a good idea after all"), and Damon Wayans' bizarre choice of a one-dimensional portrayal of DeLacroix, almost killed the joy of the Bamboozled philosophy for me.

Great acting by Jada Pinkett-Smith, Michael Rappaport, and an interesting turn by rapper Mos Def as Big Black Africa, could not overcome Lee's lack of tight focus, the far-too-easy "instant" acceptance of the minstrel show by the audience, the completely incredulous "payoff" involving the MauMaus and Mantan (my eyes truly rolled), or Wayans' just plain bad acting - and worse, the bad decision to let him do the narrative voiceover. The "jolly nigger"-type collectibles, and the Black actors of the past who did what they had to do - and having done so, allowed a Spike Lee, a Damon Wayans, et al, to be where they are today - should have supplied the final narrative. Too bad they weren't really allowed to Speak.

THE "BLACK FACTOR"    [ObDisclaimer: We Are Not A Monolith]

"We Are Not A Monolith". It is my daily mantra. And it applies oh so well to Bamboozled. But what, exactly, does it mean?

It means that somewhere out there, there's a Harvard-educated, stick-up-the-butt, "Negro"-labelling, confused DeLa; and a status-seeking, hard-working, bougie, confused Sloane; and a tap-dancing, fast-talking, struggling-to-get-by Manray and Womack; and a malt liquor-drinking, gun-slinging, pseudo-revolutionary Julius.

And like it or not, they're ALL Black. Which, of course, lays waste to the one huge stereotype We seem to be portrayed as on the Idiot Box that Pierre set out to feed. If this, more so than the viewer's experience of the acting itself, was The Ultimate Point of Bamboozled, then bad acting/directing/editing or not, Bamboozled is indeed a Masterpiece. One that, when all is said and done, should be seen, no matter your color.

Bamboozled, conceptually, is something that Spike Lee should be applauded for. Would that the finished product were as great as the concept behind it. It pains me to say that; after all, I drove 88 miles to The Hood just to see a movie that a lot of theater owners in predominantly White neighborhoods were apparently too chicken to show. I desperately wanted to love this movie for both its message and the talent behind it. The message came through loud and clear; but judging Bamboozled on its creative merits alone, we have been Hoodwinked.



A greenlight for what visionary Spike Lee tried to Say; but...

...a cautionary yellowlight for the way director Spike Lee Said it.

Spike, I gotta go with what DeLa's mama said about him: you disappoint me.

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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed week of 10/20/00):

Bams' reviews:
Bamboozled | Pay It Forward | Bedazzled
The Legend Of Drunken Master

The Diva's reviews:
Bamboozled | Pay It Forward | Bedazzled

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