Satire and Stereotyping in the Birth of a Nation and Bamboozled Essay

Words: 3022
Pages: 13

Spike Lee's film Bamboozled (2000), cinematically stages American mass entertainment's history of discrimination with humiliating minstrel stereotypes which was first brought to film in 1915 by D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation. ‘Blackface' minstrelsy is a disturbing legacy that began as a tradition in the early 1800s on stage, with white actors using burnt corks to darken their skin and "allowing them to portray African-American slaves, usually as lazy, child-like providers of comic relief" (4). This eventually evolved into Vaudeville-style parody shows consisting of songs, dances and comic skits. This tradition represented an accepted way of looking at African-Americans and was the first form of American mass culture that created …show more content…
The stereotype works because it is continually pronounced through repetition.

Griffith had a racist ideology and he is probably the reason for the longevity of minstrel stereotypes in American mass entertainment. Just as blackface implies the power of whiteness to construct and control blackness, so does Birth of a Nation's account of Reconstruction imply this same power: Whiteness controls blackness in the narrative and in the film's blackface form. Indeed, whiteness controls blackness even when blackness is out of control (hence the need for many African-American performers to apply burnt cork). The contradictory stereotype is the logic of white supremacy and the reason for the exclusion of blackness from self-representation and from performance. The power of stereotypes seem to undermine themselves and the minstrelsy takes on a more sinister meaning as they are applied to blackface and are articulated in Birth of a Nation.


Spike Lee's Bamboozled takes up minstrelsy's place in the history of mass entertainment to see if anything can be done with blackface in the new millennium. Set in the near future, the film's narrative is a slightly exaggerated national television network digging up amusement industry history to reap huge profits in the twenty-first