Jonathan Prince on 29 Oct 2000 19:40:38 -0000

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<nettime> Bamboozled reactions

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- jp


Last week in the Washington Post an interesting fight broke out 
between a movie reviewer, a columnist and a film director.

Spike Lee's new film Bamboozled has hit a lot of raw nerves about 
America's racism, past and present - as Spike Lee loves to do, and 
does well. What is interesting are the personal attacks Lee receives 
and the fascinating confessions from others that he evokes.

Stephen Hunter in his October 20th review in the Washington Post 
writes about Spike Lee:

'' Spike Lee is saying to white people: You defined us as coons and 
we could succeed only by living up to that image. We had to become 
tap-dancing, song-singing, slow-talking tar babies, and then you 
laughed at us because we were what you said we were. That is why we 
hate you. (He hates white people: it would be inaccurate to say he 
doesn't.) .... Possibly [Spike Lee] is the most bamboozled of them 
all. ''

Spike Lee replies in a Letter To The Editor on October 28:

'' Because I choose to hold up a clear mirror that reflects a 
shameful, hateful legacy of racist imagery in the great American 
cathedrals of movies and television, Spike Lee hates white people? 
Does Steven Spielberg hate Germans? Do Francis Ford Coppola and 
Oliver Stone hate the North Vietnamese? Do David Lean and Terence 
Mallick hate the Japanese? Did Stanley Kubrick hate the Russians? The 
answer to all the above is no. They are all artists, telling us a 
story, trying to put into order a chaotic world. That's what artists 
do, but I guess black artists aren't afforded that liberty. ''

But on October 26, Washington Post columnist, Richard Cohen, writes 
from the Op/Ed page what may be a counter attack on Stephen Hunter's 
review. It starts with a confession and then adds some historical 
context - even some perhaps unintended context to the 2000 campaign.

'' When I was a boy, I was a racist. I did not know it at the time, 
of course, but that's the way I would be viewed today. At family 
events, I did Al Jolson imitations. I would go into a corner, get 
down on one knee and, arms outstretched, sing "Mammy." I was a white 
kid in imaginary blackface. It brought down the house. ''

'' It's hard now to appreciate just how vilified, mocked, denigrated 
and just plain ridiculed black people were on the stage and, later, 
in film. Racism was so pervasive, so unexceptional, that it was just 
seen as an unremarkable part of the American social fabric. Blacks 
not only donned blackface, they often composed and sang songs with 
lyrics that mocked African Americans. ''

'' It probably does not matter that Lamar Alexander had no idea that 
his campaign theme song, "Alexander's Ragtime Band," had racist 
origins or that Al Gore's "You ain't seen nothin' yet" is a homage to 
Al Jolson. ''

'' Bamboozled ... is a remarkable, gripping film that delivers a 
searing message. Go see it. ''

I have not seen Bamboozled yet, but I think I'll take Richard Cohen's advice.

- jonathan

Jonathan Prince          : The More Evil  : Of Two Lessers...    :
  'Political designed to make lies sound
  truthful and murder respectable, and to give an
  appearance of solidity to pure wind.' - George Orwell

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