Magazine article Radical Teacher

Bamboozled

Magazine article Radical Teacher

Bamboozled

Article excerpt

Directed by Spike Lee. New Line Studios, 2001. 136 minutes.

W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the NAACP, once wrote, "It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two warring souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body."

I introduce my college level students to Spike Lees Bamboozled through discussing Dubois's theory of double consciousness and offering a brief introduction to the Pan-African movement, which first convened in Paris in 1919. Lee's protagonist, Black television writer Pierre Delacroix, is dearly influenced by the movement. Like Dubois, he attended Harvard, and also like Dubois, he uses the term "Negro." Yet he is a psychologically split character who takes on a French name in favor of his birth name and affects a stilted European accent. Students initially do not see Delacroix as enacting a historical construction of global Africaness. Like his white boss, who calls him "homie" and "brother," students feel Delacroix is "acting white."

When Delacroix's efforts at depicting the Black middle class are rebuffed by the network, he counters their narrow constructions of race by creating a program that is as racially provocative and exploitive as possible. He comes up with "Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show," a variety program in which the African-American characters wear minstrel-style blackface and live in a watermelon patch. The show becomes a hit, suggesting we are numb to the contemporary minstrel shows throughout our present day media.

The film contextualizes stereotypical constructions of race within a historical continuum of ideological and political oppression. …

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