“”Bamboozled”” marks Spike Lee’s 15th film, in 15 years, the prolific and always controversial director’s latest project throws a pipe bomb into the current debate of racism in Hollywood. His impressive body of work includes classics like, “”Do The Right Thing””, “”Clockers””, “”Malcom X””, and “”Jungle Fever””. Spike uses his films as a billy club to force America to look at its ugly history of racism and continually remind us how that legacy still serves as an undercurrent to the racial attitudes that we all harbor today, whether you are black or white.
In his latest effort, “”Bamboozled””, he takes on the continued racism and stereotyping in the television Industry. This “”intensely thought provoking”” satire, makes wince, while you laugh at it. “”Bamboozled”” manages to elicit several distinct emotions in you at a single time, anger, laughter, held back tears, and even defiance at the same time.This award-winning director who sparks controversy with just about every thing that does and says recently sat down with EclipseMagazine and a roundtable of journalists from other organizations. Hi reputation precedes him. We expected him to be angry and controversial, but was surprised [and a little disappointed] to see him relaxed, happy, and ready to go toe to toe with us. RoundtableDid you have any problems pulling the cast, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Damon Wayons, Savion Glover, Tommy Davidson, etc. together?SpikeNo, they read the script and wanted to do it. They thought they where very good parts and could contribute to the movie.Roundtable When you look at blacks in the media today, what do you see as today’s minstrel shows?SpikeWell, where are you from? (He asks the reporter, reporter responds, “”I’m from BET.com””) [Spike, laughs], you guys [BET] show a lot, those videos you guys show, gangster rap, are a form of minstrel shows. Bling, Bling… I call them like I see them.Roundtable The Rev. Calvin Butts in NY, went off on a particular video, TLC, can you give us an example, or examples of videos that you feel are minstrel or something that set you off?Spike[Referring to elements in Gangster Rap Videos] The Bentleys, the ever flowing Cristal, the standard shot of people throwing $100 bills at the camera, the scantily clad – not my words – “”ho’s and bitches””, constantly gyrating. Bling, Bling….Roundtable Other than Gangster Rap Videos, what other shows, Comedy, or otherwise would you consider minstrel?SpikeI think there are shows on television that are boarder line minstrel. I’d hope that this film would show that in this new millennium you wouldn’t have to wear blackface or put on a minstrel performance.Roundtable Can you be a little more specific?SpikeNo, I think that’s as specific as I need to be.Roundtable Was there a difference in between in footage quality between the narrative portions and the television show?SpikeWe shot the show on Film, while the rest of the movie was filmed on Digital Video.RoundtableThe film really does a good job of showing the behind the scenes workings of the “”industry””….SpikeWe were trying to show how the industry works, but also show that we are partly to blame for what gets put out there because we are a part of it. We accept these roles.RoundtableAfter viewing the film some of us talked and discussed the pain that we felt while watching this film. At times, it’s also really funny, when can you laugh and not laugh?SpikeThe film is Satire and we want people to feel uncomfortable laughing at it.RoundtableAre people laughing with us, or at us?SpikeIt depends on who is doing the laughing. You really can’t dictate how people are going to react to your film. All you can do is put it out there. I don’t think this film is, “”ha, ha, ha,”” I think that people should be uneasy while they watch this film.RoundtableHaving said that, do you want people to walk out of this film thinking about their relationship to other people, their race, etc.?SpikeEverything, their relationship to the images, what they watch, what they think is funny, and to understand the history of racism in the Industry, etc…RoundtableIn a recent interview, someone asked you why there was no solution outlined or suggested in the film. SpikeI’ve seen this before, when “”Do The Right Thing”” was criticized because it didn’t offer any solutions. At the end of the film, you leave us hanging out in the wilderness without any answers. I think it’s a cop out to diminish the work.RoundtableThere was a lot of violence in this film. Did you have any reservations about including it?SpikeNo, I think the violence in the film is a comment on violence. It’s not exploitation or promotion of violence.RoundtableWho do you blame for the current slate of minstrel shows? The black actors who consent to do them or the producers who produce them?Spike There is enough blame to be spread around. The best thing about this film for me, is that I have tremendous respect for the original black actors who were forced to do minstrel shows and put on black face in the past. While at the same time, it’s made me even more critical of us [and I include myself] for what we do now, because we have a lot more choices in what we can do today.RoundtableFive years ago it used to be that African Americans where always the villains and that time they were completely a moral, one-dimensional killers drinking 40’s and doing drive-bys. Nowadays, it seems like Hollywood is over compensating by having white actors play the bad guy roles, the only difference is, now the villains are nice and cuddly, fully three dimensional characters. The type of guys you want to bring home to mother. For example, the Bruce Willis, character in “”The Whole Nine Yards””, is a killer, but a “”loveable killer””. Do you think that now that white actors are taking on bad guy roles Hollywood is more sensitive to how the character is portrayed than they were in the past, when black actors would play the bad guy?SpikeWell, they have always done that. For the most part, whether you are a black or white actor, the villain has always been the choice role. What has to change is the diversity of the writers.RoundtableNow that Hollywood, seems to be scared to have a black actor play a bad guy, while at the same time they don’t want them to play the hero either, do you think there are less roles for black actors today?SpikeIt depends on who the Heroes are. I think Denzel’s character in “”Remember The Titans”” is a hero. I don’t want to make any blanket statements, but I don’t think we have the range of roles that every one else does.RoundtableFrom a hip-hop point of view, we were talking earlier today about it becoming it’s own form of minstrel.Spike[laughing, and interrupting] wait, wait, I didn’t condemn all hip-hop, it’s the Gangster Rap that I don’t like. RoundtableDo you think there is anything on television now that serves as a good counter balance to the negative stereotypes?SpikeWell, I was watching the Yanks game, so I haven’t seen Gideon’s Crossing yet.RoundtableSomeone mentions that it has some annoying gospel music….SpikeIsn’t it funny, that whenever you see black people on television that they have gospel music playing, even on “”City of Hope””. [joking] Every single time… I mean, I’m not saying that we don’t love gospel, but we have a range of musical interests.RoundtableHow do you respond to the Time Magazine article that says that “”Spike Lee’s, Bamboozled, shames us all, you have rage for the powerful, and contempt, for the masses””…SpikeI have compassion for the masses, while at the same time you have to show people the truth. I think shame comes from the institution of television and film. If you look at the final montage of this film, it shows the legacy of the Industry. It’s funny if you look at the Academy Awards, they always have the 3-5 minute montage that shows the history of film. You may get a shot of Whoopie, or Denzel getting whipped, or Mookie throwing the garbage can through the window, but I say we start a petition to make the Academy Awards show the final montage of “”Bamboozled.””RoundtableSpeaking of the “”Bamboozled”” montage, why didn’t you continue it to the present day and show a linkage, did you think it would be too heavy a statement?SpikeNumber one, we feel that we do that to some extent with our commercial [they do a spoof of designer Tommy Hillfinger, calling his stuff Tommy ‘Hillnigger’] and the mou-mous [a spoofed gangster rap group]. Number two, there’s no way those groups would allow their videos, and clips be used in a montage like this. RoundtableWhy didn’t you handle this subject in a Documentary form?SpikeHow many people see documentaries?RoundtableHow much of Michael Rapaport’s character came from your direction and how much came from within him?Spike Michael Rapaport is nothing like that character. He’s very cool people, he grew up in Brooklyn, New York, he gets outraged when young white kids come up to him and say “”what’s up, my nigger.”” Unfortunately there are a lot of Dunwittys [Rapaport’s Character] out there, especially in this Industry and also running a lot of these rap labels. To get back to an earlier point, I don’t think every black person in my films has to be 100 percent “”angelic””, that you can’t have a crack head in the film, to me that wouldn’t be very realistic. My point is, there has to be a balance and I would like to see the characters be fully three-dimensional. As I said before, most villains have the meatiest parts.Roundtable You said that you were convinced that there are white people in Hollywood who think they know black people, better than black people themselves. Do you think that it’s possible for a white person, to know a black person better than another black person?Spike[laughing] I think that if I where white, and I thought that was true, I wouldn’t tell a black person that.RoundtableDo you think Generation X will understand what you were trying to accomplish with Generation X?SpikeI think they will.RoundtableIn the film, what do you think made the minstrel show so successful, was it the hype, or do you think the audience where naturally drawn to it?SpikeA combination of both.RoundtableWhat is your definition of a “”Minstrel”” show?SpikeIt’s something that everyone needs to make up their own mind, it’s not something that you would find a clear definition of in the dictionary.RoundtableHow do you respond to the following statement, “”this is a film that white people, definitely need to see, but black people can pass””… Their are black people who feel that “”we’ve seen this already before””, that “”we know our history”” and it’s “”too depressing to watch””.SpikeI disagree. I think everyone needs to see this film. A lot of black don’t know our history.RoundtableWhat part of the film affected you the most?SpikeFor the actors, Damon and Savion said it killed them to put on the black face every day. That it scared them emotionally. You can see them getting dehumanized and see their real emotion. For me, I’d say the end when we killed one of the characters. RoundtableWhat are your plans for the future, and what do you think of the Internet’s ability to bring new programming to the masses?SpikeIn the next few months we will be making some announcements about several new television projects that we are working on. I’m tired of all the comedies on television so we are creating new dramas. I don’t really see the Internet being a replacement for television, it’s fine for short films, but I don’t see a lot of people watching that little screen for an extended period, maybe in the future, but not now.RoundtableDid Savion’s statement “”as long as I’m hoofing and making money, it’s all good”” mean that young people only care about making money and not the consequences of what they do?SpikeThat’s not just young people. I think it’s up to each individual artist to make their own decisions as to what they think is right for them.Fini