The colour blue in Get on the Bus is closely linked to a way of seeing, and more specifically a way of seeing through.
We first encounter blue through X’s handheld camera. Here, Lee intersperses brief shots of the men on the bus, as X sees them through the lens of his camcorder, into the “normal” film footage. The question X invariably leads with as he sticks his camera in their faces is “why are you going to the Million Man March?” As the men answer, frequently sharing a deeply personal story as they do so, the colour blue becomes associated with this idea of seeing through the men, beyond who they present themselves to be, into an inner space where they reveal intimate memories and experiences.
The blue of X’s handheld camera introduces us to notions of privacy and vulnerability, and subsequently Lee’s own cinematography becomes tinted with blue during especially vulnerable and intimate moments.
At a rest stop, blue appears when Jeremiah ducks into a bathroom to take a handful of pills:
West Indian Archie is one of Malcolm’s first mentors and father figures portrayed in the movie. Malcolm’s father died when he was six and up until when he meets West Indian Archie, he is fatherless. When we first see Archie, the power that he holds is evident in the scene. He is in a private booth, dressed nicely with his two right-hand men sitting on either side of him. His name is West Indian Archie, which distinguish’s his ethnic identity form his racial identity, something that some black immigrants do to further distance themselves from their black American counterparts. It is also indicative of their location as New York holds a substantial West Indian population. His name could also be parallel to his economic status. Caribbean immigrants tend to come to America with an economic goal, meaning Archie’s success could be a result of this ideology. Archie’s power (more…)
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.