This week, we’ve explored the films of Spike Lee.
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 film was given a limited release by New Line Cinema during the fall of 2000, and was released on DVD the following year.
Pierre Delacroix (whose real name is Peerless Dothan), (Damon Wayans) is an uptight, Harvard University-educated black man, working for a television network known as CNS (for “Continental Network System”). At work, he has to endure torment from his boss Thomas Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport), a tactless, boorish white man. Not only does Dunwitty talk like an urban black man, and use the word “nigger” repeatedly in conversations, he also proudly proclaims that he is more black than Delacroix and that he can use nigger since he is married to a black woman and has two mixed- race children. Dunwitty frequently rejects Delacroix’s scripts for television series that portray black people in positive, intelligent scenarios, dismissing them as “Cosby clones”.
Facing the necessity of either coming up with a hit black-centric show or being fired, Delacroix decides to aim for the latter. Delacroix would be in violation of his contract if he resigned, but getting fired would release him from it and allow him to seek work at another network. With help from his personal assistant Sloane Hopkins (Jada Pinkett Smith), Delacroix decides to pitch a minstrel show. Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show is complete with black actors in blackface, extremely racist jokes and puns, and even offensively stereotyped CGI-animated cartoons that caricature the leading stars of the new show. Delacroix develops the program believing that the network would reject such over-the-top racism and fire him immediately. Delacroix and Hopkins decide to recruit two impoverished street performers, Manray (Savion Glover, named after American artist Man Ray) and Womack (Tommy Davidson) — homeless squatters who regularly perform outside CNS’ headquarters building to star in the show. While Womack is horrified when Delacroix tells him details about the show, Manray willfully agrees to star in the show, seeing it as his big chance to become rich and famous for his tap-dancing skills.
To Delacroix’s horror, not only does Dunwitty enthusiastically endorse the show, it also becomes hugely successful. As soon as the show premieres on television, Manray and Womack end up becoming 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; he even wins awards for creating and writing the show, while Hopkins becomes horrified at the racist nightmare she has helped to unleash. In the meantime, an underground, militant rap group called the Mau Maus (presumably named after Mau Mau), led by Hopkins’ older brother Julius (Mos Def), becomes increasingly angry at the content of the show. Though they had earlier auditioned for the program’s live band position and were rejected, the group plan to bring the show down using violence. Eventually, Womack quits, fed up with the show and Manray’s increasing ego. Manray and Hopkins thus grow closer, which angers Delacroix. Delacroix tries to break up Manray’s relationship with Hopkins by accusing her of sleeping with Manray to further her career. Delacroix reveals that Hopkins only got her position as his assistant by sleeping with him. The move backfires and drives Manray and Hopkins even closer.
Hopkins creates a tape of racist footage culled from assorted movies, cartoons, television shows, 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, who are all in blackface, during a TV taping and does his dance number in his regular clothing. The network executives immediately turn against Manray, and Dunwitty (who is also wearing blackface) personally fires him from the show and throws him out of the studio.
The Mau Maus kidnap Manray, and then announce a plan to publicly execute Manray on a live webcast. The authorities work feverishly to track down the source of the internet feed, but Manray is nevertheless assassinated while doing his famous tap dancing (as a sort of sacrificial figure at his death). At his office, Delacroix (now in blackface make-up himself, mourning Manray’s death) begins to fantasize the various coon-themed antique collectibles in his office staring him down and coming to life and goes into a rage, destroying many of the racist collectibles. The police quickly catch The Mau Maus, shooting them down in a hail of bullets. The camera lingers on their corpses, especially female rapper Smooth Blak’s (Charli Baltimore) corpse. They leave only one survivor, a white member known as “One-Sixteenth Black” (MC Serch), who tearfully proclaims that he is “black” and demands to die with the rest of his group instead of being arrested. Furious, Hopkins confronts Delacroix at gunpoint with her brother’s revolver and demands that he watch the tape she prepared for him. Delacroix, after watching the tape, tries to get the gun, but is shot in the stomach. Hopkins, horrified, flees while proclaiming that it was Delacroix’s own fault that he got shot. Delacroix, after positioning the gun to make the gunshot wound to the stomach 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. Some of the films used in the sequence are The Birth of a Nation, The Jazz Singer, Gone with the Wind, Babes in Arms, Holiday Inn, Judge Priest, Ub Iwerks’ cartoon Little Black Sambo, Walter Lantz’s cartoon Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat, the Screen Songs short Jingle Jangle Jungle, the Merrie Melodies short All This and Rabbit Stew, and, from the Hal Roach comedy School’s Out, Our Gang kids Allen “Farina” Hoskins and Matthew “Stymie” Beard. After the montage, as the cameras point to Delacroix’s dead body on the floor, the camera then shows Manray doing his last Mantan sequence on stage.
2002 25th Hour
25th Hour is a 2002 American drama film directed by Spike Lee and starring Edward Norton. Based on the novel The 25th Hour by David Benioff, who also wrote the screenplay, it tells the story of a man’s last 24 hours of freedom before going to prison for 7 years for dealing drugs.
A canary yellow vintage Super Bee pulls up short on a New York City street, and Monty Brogan gets out with his buddy Kostya to look at a dog lying in the road. The animal was mauled in a dogfight and Monty intends to shoot him but changes his mind after he looks him in the eye and decides to take him to a nearby clinic instead.
Fast forward to late 2002. Monty is about to begin serving a seven-year prison sentence for dealing drugs. He sits in the park with his dog, Doyle, on his last day of freedom. He plans to meet childhood friends Frank and Jacob at a club with his girlfriend Naturelle. Frank Slaughtery is a hotshot trader on Wall Street and Jacob Elinsky is an introverted high school teacher with a crush on one of his 11th grade students.
Monty visits his father, James, a former firefighter and recovering alcoholic who owns a bar, to confirm their plans to drive to the prison the following morning. Monty’s drug money helped him keep the bar, so a remorseful James sneaks a drink when Monty goes to the bathroom. Facing himself in the mirror, Monty lashes out in his mind against everyone else: all the New York stereotypes he can think of, from the cabbies to the firefighters, the corner grocers to the mobsters, as if he hates them all. Finally, he turns on himself, revealing that he is actually angry for getting greedy and having not given up drug dealing before he was caught.
Monty sold drugs for Uncle Nikolai, a Russian mobster. Kostya tries to persuade Monty it was Naturelle who turned him in, since she knew where he hid his drugs and money. Monty refused to turn state’s evidence against Nikolai but he’s not sure what Nikolai will do at the club that night. He remembers how he met Naturelle when she was 17, hanging around his old school, and how happy they were before he was arrested. He asks Frank to find out if it was Naturelle who betrayed him.
At the club, Jacob sees his student, Mary, so Monty invites her in with them. Discussing what kind of a future Monty can have after prison, Frank says they can open a bar together, even though he told Jacob he believes Monty’s life is over and he deserves his sentence for dealing drugs. Frank baits Naturelle by accusing her of living high on Monty’s money, not caring where it came from, but she reminds him that he knew as well and said nothing. Jacob, meanwhile, finds the courage to kiss Mary, but both appear to be in shock afterwards and go their separate ways.
Monty and Kostya go down to talk with Uncle Nikolai, who gives Monty advice on surviving in prison. Nikolai then reveals it was Kostya, not Naturelle, who betrayed him, and offers Monty a chance to kill Kostya in exchange for protecting his father’s bar. Monty refuses, reminding Nikolai that he asked Monty to trust Kostya in the first place. He walks out, leaving Kostya to be killed by the Russian mobsters.
After he tells Naturelle that he’s sorry he mistrusted her, Monty has one last thing to do. He goes to the park, where he asks Jacob to look after Doyle. Then he admits that he is terrified of being raped in prison, whereupon he asks Frank to beat him, saying if he goes in ugly he might have a chance at survival. Frank refuses, so Monty deliberately provokes him until Jacob intervenes and Monty attacks him. Frank is goaded into taking out his frustration, leaving Monty bruised and bloody, with a broken nose. Frank is in tears as Monty gets up and goes home.
Naturelle tries to comfort him as Monty’s father arrives to take him to Otisville. On the drive to prison, James suggests they go west, into hiding, giving Monty one last vision of freedom. Once again Monty sees a parade of faces from the streets of the city, followed by a vision of a future where Monty avoids imprisonment, reunites with Naturelle, starts a family, and grows old. As the fantasy ends, we see Monty, his eyes closed and face still bruised, sitting in the passenger’s seat of the car, which has driven past the bridge to the west and towards prison.
2006 Inside Man
Inside Man is a 2006 American crime drama film directed by Spike Lee, and written by Russell Gewirtz. The film centers on an elaborate bank heist in Manhattan, New York during a 24-hour period. It stars Denzel Washington as Detective Keith Frazier, the NYPD’s hostage negotiator; Clive Owen as Dalton Russell, the mastermind who orchestrates the heist; and Jodie Foster as Madeleine White, a Manhattan power broker who is hired to act as a “fixer” in response to the heist; Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor are also featured.
Gewirtz spent five years developing the film’s premise before working on his first original screenplay. After he completed the script in 2002, Imagine Entertainment purchased it to be made by Universal Studios, with Imagine co-founder Ron Howard attached to direct. After Howard stepped down, his Imagine partner Brian Grazer began looking for a new director to helm the project. After Menno Meyjes turned down the chance to direct, Grazer hired Lee to helm the film. Principal photography for Inside Man began in June 2005 and concluded in August of that year; filming took place on location in New York City.
The film premiered in New York on March 20, 2006 before being released in North America on March 24, 2006. Upon release, Inside Man received a generally positive critical response and was a commercial success, grossing over $184 million worldwide.
When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts is a 2006 documentary film directed by Spike Lee about the devastation of New Orleans, Louisiana due to the failure of the levees during Hurricane Katrina. It was filmed in late August and early September 2005, and premiered at the New Orleans Arena on August 16, 2006 and was first aired on HBO the following week. The television premiere aired in two parts on August 21 and 22, 2006 on HBO. It has been described by an HBO executive[specify] as “one of the most important films HBO has ever made.” The title is a reference to the blues tune, “When the Levee Breaks”, by Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie, about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.
The documentary was screened at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on August 31 and September 1, 2006. It won the Orizzonti Documentary Prize and one of two FIPRESCI awards. In addition, it was shown at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival on September 15 and September 16, 2006. It won three awards at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards and received a Peabody Award.
The documentary is based on news video footage and still photos of Katrina and its aftermath, interspersed with interviews. Interviewees include politicians, journalists, historians, engineers, and many residents of various parts of New Orleans and the surrounding areas, who give first hand accounts of their experiences with the levee failures and the aftermath. The first installment opens with a photo and film montage of historic and recent New Orleans scenes, with a soundtrack of Louis Armstrong performing Louis Alter’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”. At the end of the last episode is a similar montage with Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans” on the soundtrack.
The film’s original score is by Terence Blanchard, a New Orleans-born trumpeter who appears in the film, with his mother and aunt, as they return to their flooded home.
In the style of Michael Apted’s Up series (a documentary series that interviews Apted’s subjects every seven years), Lee has planned to interview his featured subjects in Levees at least once more. In August 2010, HBO aired Lee’s documentary series, If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise, which chronicles how New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area have fared in the five years following Hurricane Katrina.