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:
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.
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?