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Movie Review: Bamboozled

In case I haven’t mentioned it before on the Underground Film Journal, I currently work for a mainstream TV listings website called Gist.com. It’s not a bad gig. My title is “Listings Editor” even though I don’t really edit anything, but I do work with the listings. I kind of have a bunch of different responsibilities so I can’t really tell you what I do all day without a long, complex, boring explanation. However, I do write the occasional article and mini-review for them. So, if you want to know what “mainstream mikE” sounds like, go surf the site and find something I wrote, which is mostly sci-fi related stuff, such as THE X-FILES, STAR TREK: VOYAGER or DARK ANGEL. Also, if you’re into TV, Gist is pretty cool site. It’s a good product.

While the work I do for Gist straddles the line between the technical and editorial departments, my desk is in the editorial section of the Gist office and I’m glad I sit with the writers and not the technicians. I feel a better affinity with the writers. I’m also not the most social person in the office, but I’m polite and friendly and tend to get along, at least on a casual basis, with almost everyone.

I’m sure the Gist Editorial Department is not unlike any other department in any other office or any other work-related situation. That is, it’s like high school with its cliques, gossip and daily annoyances and grievances. In that regard I am glad I am not a social person because that keeps me away from most of the bullshit. However, there are times when I get stuck in the middle of conflicts between two people of different cliques that I am both friendly with. Which is kind of what happened the other day.

Basically what happened is that one of these friends, who is male and who I will call Fred in this story, was watching an explicit show about gay men on the Showtime cable network so that he could review it for Gist.

One day I am at my desk minding my own business, where I am most of every day, when Fred comes into my cubicle to tell me how uncomfortable he was watching this show about homosexuals. Not that Fred has anything against homosexuals, but apparently this show has some intense man-on-man sex scenes. I’ve seen my share of somewhat graphic gay films and I have to admit that watching two men make love or even just make out makes me very uncomfortable, too, so I could understand what Fred was experiencing.

However, Fred had to start describing to me, in as much detail as he could, what was happening in the sex scenes he was watching. Since this wasn’t something I was in the mood to listen to, I mostly tuned Fred out. The only thing I vaguely remember is something about a guy licking another guy’s back down to his butt cheeks, or something like that. Fred then went on to say that he didn’t have any male gay friends and he wondered out loud to me if what he was watching in the show was actually how gay men made love to one another. I don’t have any male gay friends, either, and even if I did I probably wouldn’t know what kind of sex they had mainly because I don’t think I’d care.

This gay show had rattled Fred so much, too, that he had to go share his thoughts, feelings and musings with just about every other person in the editorial department individually. Now, me, I rarely get offended by anything. Not a whole lot bothers me. While I didn’t really want to hear about gay sex in the middle of my workday and I acted completely uninterested so that Fred would just leave me alone, I can’t say I was “offended”. Did I think it was appropriate? Sort of. But that’s Fred. He’s very inappropriate, but I understand that about him and put up with it. But of course, not everyone in the editorial department will put up with the things I do.

Robin, who is female and younger than me and much younger than Fred, was offended. She didn’t tell Fred that she was offended as he described to her and asked her about gay sex, but later she went to our boss and complained about sexual harassment. Robin also complained that Fred had made other inappropriate sexual comments around here, which I can’t verify but which I don’t doubt either. Not that Fred ever means any harm, but sometimes he just doesn’t know better.

Fred’s take on the situation is that he was only discussing an issue with a fellow journalist. It didn’t matter to him that the issue was gay sex. He certainly didn’t mean to offend or intimidate anyone. But, in this context, were his comments offensive? And did Robin have a reason to complain?

At first, I thought “No”. Fred honestly was just polling people out of journalistic curiosity about a legitimate show that will be airing on TV and for a legitimate article that he was writing. I was even surprised that Robin complained. It didn’t sound like something she would do.

But then I thought that I was reacting from my own biases. I chat with Robin from time to time, but she’s not really a “friend” friend so I couldn’t really say what she might find offensive or not. Anyway, if Fred’s comments were making Robin uncomfortable, she of course had every reason and right to report it to her superior, no matter what Fred’s actual intentions were. Why would he discuss sex, any kind of sex, with a female coworker anyway, especially one he doesn’t know or even particularly like? It just sounds like a recipe for disaster.

BAMBOOZLED is an offensive film, but intentionally so. It’s Spike Lee’s most political and uncomfortable film yet, which is saying something considering his previous work. Of course, tho’, Spike deals with racial issues and not sexual ones like I’ve been going on about above. Well, actually there are some sexual matters in the film as well, but I won’t get into that.

The basic plot is that an African-American TV writer who gets criticized for writing “too white” decides to get revenge on his boss by creating a modern-day minstrel show, including black actors who perform in blackface. The only problem is that the show actually becomes a big hit for the network and isn’t a national embarrassment as the writer originally intended. The sad thing is, and I guess is that this is credit for Spike’s writing and directing, is that this premise seemed entirely plausible.

There was something really painful about watching Savion Glover’s gleeful smile with the oversized red lips surrounded by an ultra-black, inhumanly dark face. His character is a dupe and agrees to appear in blackface on national TV with no knowledge of history or any sort of understanding why it might be wrong. And it becomes even more frightening in the film when the general population starts wearing the blackface like sports fans wearing the jerseys of their favorite teams.

As far as the concept goes, the film is a definite winner. However, I can’t classify BAMBOOZLED as a great film due to some technical issues I had with it. It was shot very badly on video and Damon Wayans’ affected accent as an “educated black” gets really grating after about 5 minutes, much less lasting through a 120+ minute film. Regardless, tho’, it’s a film people should check out.