bamboozled

Black Sell-Outs

WillieD_Coon

Willie D has recently taken a shot at some of his own people for “cooning.” He criticized Charles Barkley for talking down on his own race in order to please white people. Willie D claims that Charles Barkley was bought out and turned his back on his people for money from TNT. The money and the fame Charles Barkley has accumulated caused him to forget where he came from. He then proceeded to say “you kissed a man in the mouth for real dudes that’s a no no, when you gonna come out the closet you fucking homo,” questioning Barkley’s sexuality. He called Barkley a “dumb nigga” for commenting about slavery not being that bad.

He later proceeded to call out Steven A Smith for and Raven-Symone for “cooning for capital.” He also attacked a lot of other media personality.

I strongly suggest we listen to this song. We can see that even the year of 2016 we still have conflict on “how to be black in America.” What acceptable before for both black men and women. This song can be compared to many movies that we have seen such as Bamboozled, Hollywood Shuffle, and Get on the Bus.

Most importantly, I feel like this song is a great response to Chiraq. Especially since I just saw a documentary done about destroyed black lives. Basically, Spike is saying when black people kill each other we shouldn’t take it serious. Instead we should be satirical about it.

Chris Rock, Bamboozled

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Chris Rock hosted the 2016 Oscars amidst the controversy of #OscarsSoWhite, and used his beginning monologue to address the controversy directly. Rock has often been unapologetically outspoken about racism in the entertainment industry, and even walked on to “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, the most iconic song from Do The Right Thing. Consequently, it’s pretty clear that Chris Rock is acutely aware of issues facing entertainers of color and used his platform as host of the Oscars to make a point about what it means to be black in Hollywood.

However, I couldn’t shake a Dave Chapelle-esque feeling from his monologue (and the reactions by the audience) that reminded me of the Bamboozled. Chris Rock made many jokes that only he, as a black entertainer, could make as the host of the Oscars. He was clearly making the jokes to make a point– specifically uncomfortable ‘jokes’ about lynching and police brutality– but these jokes were met with applause and bellowing laughter from the largely white audience audience. Yet, the very POINT of the controversy is that almost the entire audience (as well as nominees) are white, and Rock knows this. Thus, the audience laughing at Chris Rock’s jokes was essentially a group of mostly white people (the same people that chose not to participate in the boycott) laughing at jokes about lynching, and perhaps feeling okay about it because Chris Rock was the one to make the joke. They were laughing at jokes about race made for white people, and missing that as the very point.

This reminds me of Bamboozled in that Delacroix created the modern day minstrel show with the assumption that audiences would understand how ridiculous it actually was, but instead actually gave legitimacy to the show as a black creator unintentionally. I don’t mean that Chris Rock did anything like Delacroix in Bamboozled, but the reaction by the Oscar’s audience felt the same to me– Rock was making a point about the treatment of actors of color in Hollywood through jokes that a white host NEVER could (or should) make, but I was left wondering if the audience was laughing for the right reasons, and an uncanny and nagging feeling that they weren’t. It reminded me of the moment in Bamboozled (pictured above) when the audience is trying to decide whether it’s okay to laugh at blackface, right before they give in and laugh genuinely.

Watching a montage of “white people reacting to Chris Rock” depicting a mix of uncomfortable, saccharine faces and real, genuine laughter at some of his most controversial jokes was very poignant to me.

Montage:    http://jezebel.com/white-people-react-to-chris-rock-1761956025

Lynching joke:   http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/oscars/king-chris-rock-oscar-opener-lynching-jokes-article-1.2547017

Roadblocks in Hollywood

I recently stumbled across an article, “What it’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood (if you’re not a straight white man.)” and wanted to bring us back to the earlier discussions of Hollywood Shuffle and the exploitation of people and races through the entertainment industry. As Bobby struggled to find accessibility into this industry, many actors, male, female, African American, Latino, Asian, and more, continue to be confronted with the same roadblocks even today.

Hollywood Shuffle identified a theme of black actors having to assume a specific role, rather than being afforded the same freedoms white actors have of playing a character. The sheer availability of roles for black actors were limited to stereotypical depictions of criminals, slaves, pimps, or butlers, and denied black actors the ability to play anything outside of that. This doesn’t only limit the entrance for Black actors into this particular industry, but creates an environment where African American actors are treated as indispensable, as interchangeable goods rather than people. When Bobby finally realizes he can’t stomach perpetuating the inaccurate stereotypes of “blackness” on the screen, he is quickly replaced by a number of men on the set- including the man who recognized the racialization of the industry as “bullshit”.

The article presents quotes from a number of established actors and actresses in the industry and confront the realities of finding success as a minority. There are issues with “sell-ability” of a particular race, where the only opportunities for people of color continue to lie in assuming a fixed role. There is no room for those who reject perpetuating inaccurate stereotypes. Asians depicted with thick accents just for the sake of it, Latinas are hyper-sexualized, while Latino men are crooks. There are also persisting issues with those who drive the industry; accomplished women and minorities are beginning to fulfill roles as actors, producers, directors, but are still required to answer to wealthy white executives who make final decisions.

The difficulty of pursuing a dream while being degraded doing it is confronted in Bamboozled. We see Delacroix and Mantan grappling with whether the pursuit of their careers is worth the exploitation and degradation they face while performing and executing their performances. The idea that you have to sacrifice one for the other, identity for your dreams, is an unfair stipulation of the entertainment industry, and one that is only asked of by minority actors and actresses.

“The gatekeepers are not usually people of color, so they don’t understand you should be looking for way more colors of the rainbow within that one ethnicity.”

 “…just because the surname is Latino, that automatically means you have an accent. I’ve been told that I wasn’t Latino enough, which was code for street enough.”

 http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/02/24/arts/hollywood-diversity-inclusion.html?_r=0

Bamboozled | Posing the Question

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The scene in which the police shoot and kill all but one of the Mau Maus happens almost exactly at the 2 hour mark of the film. It opens just like many of the scenes in Bamboozled do: innocently enough, but with that disorienting undercurrent created by many of the techniques Spike Lee uses in the film – Dutch angles, cutting in the middle of action/dialogue, the graininess of the digital camera, the liberal use of fuzzy shadows.

Lee employs this close-up of Mos Def at the same time as he introduces a new source of light into the shot (the harsh white lights of the police cars). Here there is a tension between stability (zooming into Mos Def’s face, lingering on it, allowing it to anchor the frame) and instability (the suddenness of the lights and the arrival of the police). It’s a reaction shot (“Shit.”) that by standard rules of editing should be followed by a shot of what Mos Def is looking at, from his point of view. Instead, on the cut the camera moves down to the feet of the Mau Maus, and the horrific shooting unfolds in a series of frantic cuts. Mostly because of the placement of the police lights there is enough spatial coherence that we can tell where the Mau Maus are, but when the camera is placed across the street the police are indistinct shadows, anonymous in the frame just as they are made anonymous (i.e. permitted to kill Black people, “just doing their job”, “upholding law and order”) by their uniforms. The close-up here is a brief moment of realisation, where the viewer and the characters suddenly become aware of the horror that is about to come. In this way it’s the other side of the coin from another major close-up in the film. That final shot of Manray in blackface – eyes wide and haunted, mouth contorted into an exaggerated smile – that’s a different kind of horror, the horror of what has already happened.

A large part of this scene revolved around the white member of the Mau Maus, “One-Sixteenth Blak”, demanding to know “Yo, why didn’t you kill me?!” I remember someone in class bringing up this moment as one that made him hyperconscious of not being able to laugh as it played out. I felt a very similar way. This sequence reminded me eerily of a quote from Frank Wilderson: “The most ridiculous question a black person can ask a cop is, ‘why did you shoot me?’ How does one account for the gratuitous? The cop is at a disadvantage: ‘I shot you because you are black; you are black because I shot you.’” In other words, the white Mau Mau has the power to pose the question to the police because for him being shot would have been one experience among many in his white social existence; it could happen or it could not happen, and in no way would it constitute his identity. On the other hand, it would be ridiculous for the Black Mau Maus to get up from the pavement and pose the question to the police of why they had been shot, especially at this point in a film that reminds us again and again that violence (cultural, aesthetic, and physical) against Black people is not a faraway possibility or a distant memory but a concrete, present reality. This moment along with the final shot (“always keep ’em laughing”) are for me the most pessimistic moments in a deeply pessimistic film.

Baboozled

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In this scene, Manray dances for the producers for the first time. To me, the cinematography is notable in that it explicitly highlights the “performance” theme of the film– Manray stands on the table like stage, surrounded by onlookers. Sloane is visibly uncomfortable while the other man is enjoying the performance, yet they are almost peripheral to Dunwitty, as Manray’s performance is physically directed towards him. The viewer actually cannot look at Manray without looking at Dunwitty’s head. Manray’s dance is not only a performance in that he is dancing for the three people in the room, but it is also in the very performance of the racist caricature that becomes the center of the rest of the film. In some sense, his performance becomes his identity. It’s also interesting to note the three screens (two TVs and one computer) facing Manray dancing, almost as if to capture or at least judge his performance as well. However, what also faces Manray are the pictures of great black performers in history. The black and white picture of Willie Mays actually stands out the most in the shot. This emphasizes notions of performance but also juxtaposes Manray’s performance with that of other black entertainers and emphasizing its strangeness and almost a sense of judgement/shame.

Lastly, Delacroix is not featured in this shot, yet he is known to be in the room during the performance. (He emerges when Manray stops dancing). This emphasizes Delacroix’s ‘behind the scenes’ role in the show, but his role as its creator, as he is presenting his creation to an audience (particularly for the approval of a white audience). We see later in the film, however, that Delacroix’s behind the scenes role is crucial to the success of the film; as stated by a female TV producer later, the show only works because Delacroix created it and he’s black (“so it can’t be racist”). With this reading, the fact that Sloane and the other black man are placed behind him (along with the pictures and statues), all facing Dunwitty, seems to purport that they authorize Manray’s performance as okay as they physically “stand behind” him.

Bamboozled | Apprehension and Deliberateness

 

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I pulled this image from a scene that begins at time 49:11. This is the first moment where both Manray and his show partner depicted here, Womack, put on black face. I was initially struck by the juxtaposition of their deliberate, calculated actions throughout the scene with the apparent complicated emotions they experience as they put on black face.

It’s interesting that Sloane’s voice is the one we hear giving the actors instructions throughout this scene, given how complex her character is. She is careful to consider the past, offering the ways of creating black face that have been utilized throughout its long, complicated history. This element of the scene speaks to a consideration of the passage of time. We see how black face (and its relevant problems) persists, but its interesting that these actors still play a sort of homage to those who came before them by being so careful in their creation. The actions are strikingly precise, but this shot details the internal dilemma the actors experience, specifically Womack here. The pairing throughout this scene with Womack and Manray helps to foreshadow some of what’s to come with Womack’s hesitation being more apparent.

The actual composition of the scene highlights these complications. The soundtrack that enters is the same one that plays over Manray’s final decision not to perform in black face. In this scene, the music connects to a lack of agency, a sign of giving in. The signification of this music later flips and connects to an empowering moment in Manray’s final stand. In terms of visuals, this shot and scene are dimly lit. The light focuses solely on Manray and Womack’s hands, highlighting the careful act but also their emotions as they carry it out. In this particular shot, the light focuses on Womack’s eyes. We see him gazing back at himself, and how apprehensive and troubled he is by his own actions. This scene hearkens back to the question of what it means to participate in a system that degrades you. Womack and Manray are hesitant to do so, but nonetheless still do perform, and in a way that strangely commemorates this troubled history. I think that the coupling of apprehension and deliberateness in this scene poses the internal chaos inherent in participation in a degrading system.

Bamboozled| Mantan’s Final Show

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I chose this particular scene (1:57) in the movie because it was the final progression of Mantan’s career. Mantan finds himself under orders for the entirety of the movie. He’s first managed by his friend Womack, then by Delacroix, and finally under orders of by the Mau Maus. As he continues to sacrifice his own values for the pursuit of his dreams, the lighting in this film dramatically changes. The film opens with Manray dancing on a home made stage of wooden planks in broad daylight, but as it progresses more and more of the scenes take place in the shadows, and ends in almost complete darkness. In this screenshot we see Mantan cowering in the corner on another wooden plank stage, similar to the one he began his career on. His audience is in the shadows, and you can only see their pointing arms and guns. The shot composition in the scene is interesting as it mimics Mantan’s prior performances on the Minstrel show. He’s the only character out of the shadows with the Mau Mau is his audience in blackface. A television in the background also mirrors the documentation of his last performance.

As the Mau Maus mock him before the final performance, they brand him as a disgrace, as some one who exploited his own race for the white entertainment industry. Mantan began the movie in poverty and dreamt of achieving fame, and this scene raises the question of whether or not the pursuit of his dream was worth the sacrifices he made for not only himself but his entire race. Further, who’s responsibility was it to determine these shows as morally apprehensible: Mantan as the performer, or the viewers indulging in this degrading form of entertainment?