by Afra Nariman
Director: Spike Lee
Stars: Damon Wayans, Savion Glover, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tommy Davidson, Michael Rapaport, Paul Mooney
Building upon the sub-genre of films which criticize institutions of media through satire, such as Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976) which is probably the other most famous example, Bamboozled ultimately conveys how important, and necessary, positive African-American representation is in film, television, and all forms of influential media; and shows us how horrifyingly detrimental negative representation is.
The entire history of film/TV (and other “medias” prior) has mirrored the racism of our country’s history. Representation, for all historically misrepresented or underrepresented people, is unfortunately an ongoing issue; and while there have been recent strides in putting such actors/actresses in front of the camera, in positive and influential roles, the ridiculous backlash that such casting has received from “fans” goes to show how relevant this discussion, and by association this film, still is.
One of Spike Lee’s most direct and personal films, Bamboozled is essential viewing; and I will take this opportunity to also mention the essential viewing of Marlon Riggs’ documentary, Ethnic Notions (1987), which observes the history of the racist caricatures in American film, TV, and medias that had a prevailing influence on pop culture for decades after they first appeared; and shows the lasting harm inflicted by negative representation, while further cementing the vitality of positive representation going forward.
In my review, I’ve used variations of the word ‘influence’ quite a few times. That’s what this discussion ultimately comes down to. Institutions of media, most importantly film/TV, have immense influenceon individuals — on hearts and minds — and also on a society’s culture. Therefore, the kinds of representation seen via these medias, do effect people’s real-world behaviors and beliefs, making it all the more important to care about issues of representation. Bamboozled directly communicates this, and Spike does not pull any punches in delivering his message. This is yet another forever-relevant work by him.
MY RATING /5:
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