Divisive is a word that often comes up in the filmography of Spike Lee, a filmmaker whose work constantly revolves around American racial politics and its effects on people of color. Even given bombshells like Jungle Fever, School Daze, clockers, and Do The Right Thing, few of his films can split a room the way that Bamboozled can; a story about TV executive Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans) pitching an idea of a “New Millennium Minstrel Show,” complete with black actors in blackface makeup, in order to get fired – only for his cluelessly racist white boss (Michael Rappaport) to actually make it – asks for no forgiveness or pity from its audience.
Spike Lee’s satire on the way Black people are portrayed in American culture turns 15 years old today, and there’s a lot to remember about this flick. Whether that be a fantastic supporting cast, including Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) as the leader of a group of faux-revolutionaries the Mau Maus, Jada Pinkett Smith as Delacroix’s level-headed assistant, and Savion Glover and Tommy Davidson as a pair of street performers brought to the show to play the roles of Mantan and Sleep-N-Eat respectively, or the battering ram bluntness of Spike Lee’s satire, Bamboozled still confounds and divides audiences and college lecture halls 15 years later; most of us in the office can barely make it through the film in one sitting. No other introduction is necessary, but these eight facts might enhance your experience of Spike Lee bringing America’s secret shame to task.
1. India.Arie’s first appearance on record
Bamboozled’s accompanying soundtrack featured work from Erykah Badu, Goodie Mob, Chuck D, and Angie Stone, but also served as R&B songstress India.Arie’s first appearance on any album. While five of the six tracks appear on her debut LP Acoustic Soul (“In My Head,” “Strength Courage and Wisdom,”I See God In You,” “Promises,” “Back To The Middle”), this soundtrack still predates Soul by six months.
2. MC Serch was One-Sixteenth Blak
The Mau Maus were Spike Lee’s vision of a contradictory hip-hop group, one that talked about revolution while sipping 40 ounces; they’re the ones who rebel against the TV studio making Mantan and even kidnap Mantan himself. The group is full of famous MCs, but Mos Def’s leader Big Blak Afrika and Canibus’ Mo Blak aren’t even the most memorable ones. One Sixteenth Blak, the sole white member of the group (and the only one left alive and taken into police custody at the end of the movie) was played by none other than Jewish rapper MC Serch, executive producer of Nas’ Illmatic and former member of 3rd Bass.
3. The Roots were the house band The Alabama Porch Monkeys
Long before their permanent spot as Jimmy Fallon’s house band, The Roots were featured in a small role in Bamboozled as the in-house band for the New Millennium Minstrel Show. In 2013, lead MC Black Thought talked to Combat Jack about how Nas gave an interview saying that he wasn’t happy with The Roots playing that role, which started beef between the two legends. Thankfully, the two later squashed the beef and have performed together on stage several times since then.
4. Mantan was named after Mantan Moreland
Savion Glover’s character Manray is a tragic figure whose stage name comes from the vaudeville actor Mantan Moreland. Best known as the bug-eyed butler in the Charlie Chan film series (damn, these movies were racist), he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1973. He couldn’t hold a candle to Savion when it comes to dancing, though.
5. Most of the cast had never seen much of the vintage racist footage used in the supercut at the end
The movie ends with a supercut of different racist cartoons, TV shows, and movies from the distant past as a way to sear the message into your brain, but the most surprising thing about this was that much of the cast had never seen these clips before. According to Spike, “a lot of the cast, crew and studio executives had never seen the historical footage before…They had never seen Bugs Bunny in black-face. They had never seen Judy Garland or Mickey Rooney in black-face. They weren’t aware of the depths of degradation in cartoons, movies and television shows, the misrepresentation of a people. Now people look at this stuff and don’t know what to feel. There’s a lot of ignorance about the history of media images.”
6. Most of the dolls in Delicrox’s office came from Spike Lee’s personal collection
Spike’s collection of dolls probably makes his house mighty uncomfortable to sleep in. I don’t want that bank staring at me while I’m sleeping on the couch.
7. The film was shot on Sony XV 1000 handheld digital cameras.
This is by no means a fast movie, but Spike Lee wanted to get the TV feeling from as much of the movie as possible, so he had his crew film most of the movie on handheld Sony cameras (the New Reality Minstrel Show sections were filmed using actual film cameras).
8. The Mau Maus were named after a real rebellion.
The Mau Maus from the movie took their name from the African anti-colonial movement located in Kenya from the early 1950s to the late 1960s. Their sole intent was to rid European, particularly British, settlers from Kenya. The Maus Maus actions, which got them outlawed, regardless helped Kenya become the 34th African state to claim independence after electing Jomo Kenyatta its first president.