I’ve yet to find a Spike Lee directed piece that really settles in well with me. I’ve been through all the usual suspects, but none have tapped into that unique style he brings to the table. Do the Right Thing is the obvious choice, but I find the message misplaced and the heart not as frequent or established as some of his other joints. Still, American Utopia boasted just how great an artistic direction Lee has behind the camera, so I wasn’t going to give up hope just yet. His frequent pool of topics needs cutthroat innovation and such gut-wrenching discussion, that Bamboozled is thoroughly prepped to bring.
With such a resounding lead performance from Damon Wayans as a jaded, angered television producer, Bamboozled leans heavily on its charming stars and the irreverent controversy they bring to the table. Their intentional need to shock and destroy audience expectations isn’t just at the centre of our protagonist’s aims, but it’s also the goal of Lee, who lingers behind the camera, directing some of his most poignant, damning work to date. Exploiting two homeless tap dancers and grifters’ desire to appear on the screen and taste the rancid opportunities of fame, success, and fortune. It’s not just a criticism of hitting the big leagues of television, but also a dissection of entertainment, what makes an audience tick, and what riles up controversy.
Bamboozled showcases these elements often enough to provide an inspired narrative, commenting on a topic that hasn’t been highlighted all that much in the spotlight. A shame, too, if there’s one thing that needs taking down a peg or two it’s television programming and the impact it has not just on its audiences, but the stereotypes it cultivates and the damage it does. Lee, Wayans, and Jada Pinkett Smith lead a bold and praise-worthy charge against the darkest depths of the sitcom and its damaging compartmentalization of race, along with highlighting the rampant racism that makes executives click, tick, and greenlight hatefully charged ideas.
Lee has always had the talents behind the camera to bring a message to life, but always half bakes it or undermines himself with a throwaway moment. Bamboozled is a great criticism of media consumption, and how looking to cause controversy can sometimes be read incorrectly, as innovative, water-cooler television, rather than the wobbly routines he’s offered up in the past. An affront on the senses, trying to shake his audience to their very core, Bamboozled is in your face, provocative, and incredibly smart. A stunning collection of moments that detail just what happens when we give sustenance to the idiot box we keep in the corners of our living rooms.