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"Blackface and minstrelsy serve as the theme of Spike Lee's film Bamboozled (2000). It tells of a disgruntled black television executive who reintroduces the old blackface style in a series concept in an attempt to get himself fired, and is instead horrified by its success."--Sholem Stein

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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 word "Bamboozled" means "purposefully confused, tricked or led astray".


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.

In the meantime, an underground, militant rap group called the Mau Maus (presumably named after Mau Mau), led by Hopkins' older brother Julius (Mos Def), becomes increasingly angry at the content of the show. Though they had earlier auditioned for the program's live band position and were rejected, the group plan to bring the show down using violence.

Eventually, Womack quits, fed up with the show and Manray's increasing ego. Manray and Hopkins grow closer, which angers Delacroix. Delacroix tries to break up Manray's relationship with Hopkins by accusing her of sleeping with Manray to further her career. Delacroix reveals that Hopkins only got her position as his assistant by sleeping with him. The move backfires and drives Manray and Hopkins even closer.

Hopkins creates a tape of racist footage culled from assorted movies, cartoons, television shows, and newsreels to try to shame Delacroix into stopping production of the show, but he refuses to view the tape. After an argument with Delacroix over all these differences, as well as realizing he is being exploited, Manray defiantly announces that he will no longer wear blackface. He appears in front of the studio audience, who are all in blackface, during a TV taping and does his dance number in his regular clothing. The network executives immediately turn against Manray, and Dunwitty (who is also wearing blackface) personally fires him from the show and throws him out of the studio.

The Mau Maus kidnap Manray, and then announce a plan to publicly execute Manray on a live webcast. The authorities work feverishly to track down the source of the internet feed, but Manray is nevertheless assassinated while doing his famous tap dancing (as a sort of sacrificial figure at his death). At his office, Delacroix (now in blackface make-up himself, mourning Manray's death) begins to fantasize the various coon-themed antique collectibles in his office staring him down and coming to life and goes into a rage, destroying many of the racist collectibles.

The police quickly catch The Mau Maus, shooting them down in a hail of bullets. The camera lingers on their corpses, especially female rapper Smooth Blak's (Charli Baltimore) corpse. They leave only one survivor, a white member known as "One-Sixteenth Black" (MC Serch), who tearfully proclaims that he is "black" and demands to die with the rest of his group instead of being arrested.

Furious, Hopkins confronts Delacroix at gunpoint with her brother's revolver and demands that he watch the tape she prepared for him. Delacroix, after watching the tape, tries to get the gun, but is shot in the stomach. Hopkins, horrified, flees while proclaiming that it was Delacroix's own fault that he got shot. Delacroix, after positioning the gun to make the gunshot wound to the stomach appear self-inflicted, watches the tape as he lies dying on the floor.

The film concludes with a long montage of racially insensitive and demeaning clips of black characters from Hollywood films of the first half of the 20th century. Some of the films used in the sequence are The Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, Gone with the Wind, Babes in Arms, Holiday Inn, Judge Priest, Ub Iwerks' cartoon Little Black Sambo, Walter Lantz's cartoon Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat, the Screen Songs short Jingle Jangle Jungle, the Merrie Melodies short All This and Rabbit Stew, and, from the Hal Roach comedy School's Out, Our Gang kids Allen "Farina" Hoskins and Matthew "Stymie" Beard. After the montage, as the cameras point to Delacroix's dead body on the floor, the camera then shows Manray doing his last Mantan sequence on stage.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Bamboozled" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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