The debates over race and representation of African Americans in films have been highly contentious for over a century. Blacks have generally been perceived and stigmatized, throughout history, as trouble makers and intellectually limited, amongst many other demeaning labels attached to them. These labels are connected not only to the history of colonization but also, importantly, to the exploitation of stereotypes through cinematic clichés which have imposed themselves easily and significantly on the popular imagination.
In the film Bamboozled, Spike Lee satirically attacks the way in which African Americans have historically been misused and misrepresented on screen. The director attempts both to entertain and to educate his audience about the history of African American representation within popular culture.
The characters in this movie stand for different perceptions of the African American identity, representing different images of blackness. Some of the characters reestablish the negative stereotypes that already exist about black people, while others are seen as straying too far from the typical black experience, because they believe that the difficult black experience is something to be ashamed of.
The main character of the movie is Pierre Delacroix, a black TV writer and Harvard graduate who identifies with whites more than blacks. Attempting to expose the racist attitude of the entertainment industry, Delacroix comes up with the idea of creating a modern minstrel show, intending to get fired for ridiculing his boss’s demands. Delacroix is the type of person who, apart from trying to succeed in ‘a white man’s world’, he also tries to actually become a white man.
Through this character, Lee represents the African American who desperately craves for acceptance by white America, and sees the attitudes of other members of his community as “damaging” or “frightening”.