Bamboozled is a 2000 satirical film written and directed by Spike Lee about a modern televised minstrel show featuring black actors donning blackface makeup and the violent fall-out from the show's success. The word bamboozled means "taken in by elaborate methods of deceit; hoodwinked." The film was given a limited release by New Line Cinema during the fall of 2000, and was released on DVD the following year.
One of Lee's tricks on the audience for his movie is that the performances of the show within a show are rendered with excellent musicianship, sharp timing, exciting dancing, all within the most stereotypical settings of cotton fields and watermelon feasts.
The script expresses rage and grief at media representations of black people, largely through the eyes of its moral center, Sloan Hopkins (played by Jada Pinkett Smith). It also satirizes many icons of black culture including Ving Rhames, Will Smith (real-life husband of Jada Pinkett Smith), Johnnie Cochran, and Al Sharpton (Cochran and Sharpton appear as themselves in the film, protesting against the television series).
The movie also stars Savion Glover as "Manray" (stage name Mantan, after Mantan Moreland), Tommy Davidson as Womack (stage name Sleep n' Eat, after Willie Best), Thomas Jefferson Byrd as Honeycutt, and Mos Def, Canibus, MC Serch and Charli Baltimore as four of the activist/hip hop group The Mau Maus. Mos Def's character, who calls himself "Big Blak Afrika" (refusing to spell the word "black" with the "c" because "they don't even pronounce that shit!") is also Sloan's unemployed older brother, Julius.
Facing the necessity of either coming up with a hit black-centric show or being fired, Delacroix decides to aim for the latter. If the network fires him, he rationalizes, it will release him from his employment contract, allowing him to seek work at another network. With help from his personal assistant, Sloan Hopkins (played by Jada Pinkett Smith), Delacroix decides to pitch a minstrel show, complete with black actors in blackface, in the belief that the network will reject such over-the-top racism and fire him on the spot.
Delacroix and Hopkins recruit two impoverished street performers, Manray and Womack, to star in the stage show. While Womack is horrified when Delacroix tells him about the show, his best friend Manray willfully agrees to star in the show, seeing it as his big chance to become rich and famous.
To Delacroix's horror, not only does Dunwitty enthusiastically endorse the show, it also becomes hugely successful. Manray and Womack become big stars while Delacroix, contrary to his original stated intent, defends the show as being satirical. Delacroix quickly embraces the show and his newfound fame, while Sloan becomes horrified at the racist nightmare she's helped to unleash. In the meantime, a frustrated rap group called the Mau Maus, led by "Big Blak Afrika" (Mos Def), becomes increasingly angry at the content of the show, and plans to use violent criminal action to express its disapproval. Eventually, Womack finally has enough of the show and its racist nature, as well as Manray's increasing ego due to his new-found stardom and quits after a heated argument with Manray. This causes Manray and Sloan to grow closer, which angers Delacroix. Delacroix tries to break up Manray's relationship with Sloan by accusing her of sleeping with Manray to further her career. Then Delacroix reveals that Hopkins only got her position as his assistant by sleeping with him (Delacroix).
The move backfires and drives Manray and Sloan even closer together. Sloan creates a tape of offending racist footage culled from assorted movies, cartoons, and newsreels to try to shame Delacroix into stopping production of the show, but he refuses to view the tape. After an argument with Delacroix over all these differences, as well as realizing he is being exploited, Manray defiantly announces that he will no longer wear blackface. He appears in front of the studio audience during a TV taping and does his dance number in his regular clothing. The network executives immediately turn against Manray, and Dunwitty personally fires him from the show and throws him out of the studio.
After the studio kicks Manray out, Sloan's brother Julius aka Big Blak Afrika and the Mau Maus kidnap him. They then announce a plan to publicly execute Manray on a live internet webcast. The authorities work feverishly to track down the source of the internet feed, but Manray is assassinated (as a sort of sacrificial figure at his death). The police quickly catch The Mau Maus, shooting them down in a hail of bullets. They leave only one survivor, a white member known as "One-Sixteenth Black", who tearfully proclaims that he is "black" and demands to die with his groupmates instead of being arrested. Furious, Sloan confronts Delacroix at gunpoint and demands that he watch the tape she prepared for him. Delacroix refuses and tries to get the gun, but is shot in the stomach. Sloan, horrified, flees while proclaiming that it was Delacroix's own fault that he got shot. Delacroix, after positioning the gun to make the wound appear self-inflicted, watches the tape as he lies dying on the floor.
The film concludes with a long montage of racially insensitive and demeaning clips of black characters from Hollywood films of the first half of the 20th century. Among the films used in the sequence are The Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, Gone with the Wind, Babes in Arms, Holiday Inn, Ub Iwerks' cartoon Little Black Sambo, Walter Lantz's cartoon Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat, the Merrie Melodies short All This and Rabbit Stew, and, from the Hal Roach comedy School's Out, Our Gang (Little Rascals) kids Allen "Farina" Hoskins and Matthew "Stymie" Beard.
Most of the movie was shot on Mini DV digital video using the Sony VX 1000 camera. This kept the budget to $10 million USD. The "Mantan Show" sequences are shot in Super 16 film stock, which makes them appear to have a vastly more digestible look than the rest of the film.