Inside Man

Inside Man | What is a “Black Film”?

I thought this question – is Inside Man a “Black film”? – that was raised in class on Thursday, is one worth thinking about.

Lee locates the action of Inside Man squarely in a post-9/11 America, and as with Do the Right Thing the wider social reality that the characters live in is signaled by what is in the background.

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This environment is also home to the new racial landscape of the 21st century. For a Spike Lee movie that is supposedly not about race, one racially-charged incident in particular stands out. A worker in the bank, Vikram Walia, is one of the earliest hostages to be released. As soon as his mask is removed, however, he is met with instinctive suspicion and fear by the police officer with a rifle trained on him:

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“Oh shit, a fucking Arab!” – even as he is a hostage, even as his hands are tied behind his back, even as he is, in fact, a Sikh American, Vikram is visually typed, by his turban and beard, as a Muslim terrorist who inspires fear. Almost immediately, Vikram is tackled to the ground, and his turban, which he wears for religious reasons, is stripped off and taken from him. He later talks with Frazier and the other detectives, and insists on speaking up about his anger at being racially profiled and roughed up, not just in this case, but on a regular basis.

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Intellectual Emancipation



The man in prison tells Malcolm Little “I can show you how to get out of prison.” On the surface level if one sees a man approach another man in prison about showing them how to get out you would assume that they were planning to escape. However, he followed by saying “you can’t bust out of here like they do in the movies, because even if you get out of prison, you are still in prison.” He is basically saying that a prison does not only exist in the physical world, but you can also be imprisoned mentally. He encourages Malcolm to free himself mentally. The next scene he tells him to think of the definitions in the dictionary in the opposite way. He is making him think critically about the way he processes information. He liberates himself mentally and gains the courage to challenge the pastor when in “church” and being taught that Jesus is white. This isn’t the first time Spike Lee introduces us to the moral of intellectual emancipation. I can remember in Inside Man when in the opening scene the man says “there is a difference between being in prison and stuck and a tiny cell.” Although the physical boundary exist in both situations, the way you think about them from a mental standpoint determines how you would describe the situation.

Link to my blog post about Inside Man:

The World is a Prison



“There’s a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being imprisoned.”

The most interesting part of Inside Man was the opening scene. The dark background with the only light present being on the face of Dalton Russell made me pay very close attention to his words. What captured my attention was the statement “There is a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being imprisoned.”

Emancipate yourself mentally. Your surroundings cannot confine your mental capabilities. Followed by what it is like to be a black man in America were my first thoughts.

In the film we witness these events in chronological order: Dalton commits a crime, the police arrive, Dalton comes in contact the police, he is physically imprisoned, and then he is free.  While in this small cell he had a purpose. The purpose was to come out of that small cell with something he didn’t have before, something that HE wanted.

Where I come from, as black men, we are often imprisoned. A black man who is a criminal is imprisoned by being sent to jail. A black man like myself is imprisoned by my environment. Confined to the small area I live in. Does being released to the streets make a once imprisoned man free? Does being moved from a poverty-stricken neighborhood on Chicago’s west side to Amherst College make me free?

I’ve learned that freedom is not determined by my surrounding. Freedom is determined by my feelings. This quote made me realize why I feel free. I am not in a state of confinement or captivity.  This quote taught me that the same thing that makes a man feel stuck in a tiny cell can make him feel imprisoned. What comes to your mind when you here this quote?

Inside Man | Bollywood Music


What I would like to focus on, looking at Inside Man, was the opening and closing song of “Chaiyya Chaiyya” written by Bollywood heavy-hitters A. R. Rahman in collaboration with Gulzar. Given the distinctly American blockbuster-crime-thriller-cop-movie feel of the film, I was very surprised to hear a popular Bollywood song as part of the film’s opening sequence. Written originally for the Bollywood romantic thriller Dil Se, I have a hard time seeing how this song relates to the rest of Inside Man. The two romance sub-sub-plots of Denzel Washington and Clive Owens’ respective love interests are so irrelevant to the larger plot that they barely bear mentioning, and  had no real effect or impact on the narrative arc of the film. Why then a song whose lyrics are all about passionate love and lovers, walking in the shade together? Is this trying to make sense of an ending where Denzel is about to propose to his girlfriend with the diamond Clive slips to him? An ending that feels disconnected from the rest of the film?

The closing version of the song comes inserted with Punjabi MC’s English rap. He talks about New York, Bollywood loving stories straight out of a film: “that was the moment she pulled the world together / now all I gotta do is show my love back” is a lyric that resonates with the other Hindi lyrics of the song, but not with the film overall. I wanted to bring this up because in previous Spike Lee films, the song at the opening/closing credits provided a valuable lens through which to examine the movie, but I struggle to do the same here.