Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Bamboozled and the Token Rich Kid

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I think that Stuart Hall would be frustrated with Bamboozled, especially the portrayal of the rap group headed by Sloan’s brother Big Black Af. Stuart Hall describes three of what he calls “base-images of the grammar of race” (pg. 164). The three base-images are the slave figure, the native, and the clown or the entertainer. Each of these base-images is present in Bamboozled although only two of them appear in the minstrel show.

The image of the slave figure is present in Tommy Davidson’s character Sleep’n Eat (Womack). “Dependable, loving in a simple childlike way – the devoted ‘Mammy’ with the rolling eyes, or the faithful field-hand or retainer,” (pg. 164). On the minstrel show Sleep’n Eat serves the purpose of comic relief, he tells jokes that are basically centered around how “black” or primitive and uncultured he is. The anecdote about how his wife is also his grandmother and he is his own grandfather is particularly telling. The comedy and material surrounding Sleep’n Eat is focused on his primitiveness.

The discourse surrounding Mantan (Savion Glover) is also focused on his primitivism. Mantan embodies the clown or entertainer image which Hall discusses. “A third variant is that of the ‘clown’ or ‘entertainer’. This captures the ‘innate’ humor, as well as physical grace, of the licensed entertainer – putting on a show for The Others.” (pg. 164). On the minstrel show Mantan doesn’t do much aside from dance, his part of the entertainment of the show is to stun the audience with his “physical prowess” in the form of tap dancing. Mantan is expendable, as evidenced when Thomas Dunwitty comments “you think you’re special? Niggers like you are a dime a dozen.” Mantan is only around because of his dancing ability which is attributed to his race, his blackness, rather than any skill of his own.

The final image that is prevalent in  Bamboozled that Hall discusses is that of the native. The native is portrayed by Sloan’s brother Big Black Af, or Julius Hopkins and his rap group Mau Mau.

“Another base-image is that of the ‘native’. The good side of this figure is portrayed in a certain primitive nobility and simple dignity. The bad side is portrayed in terms of cheating and cunning, further out, savagery and barbarism…These ‘natives’ always move as an anonymous collective mass – in tribes or hordes. And against them is always counterposed the isolated white figure” (pg. 164)

The first scene with Big Black Af is when he shows up on the street outside of his sister Sloan’s house. Sloan and Af have an argument about race and how they fit into the world. In this first scene I liked Af, I viewed him “in a certain primitive nobility” he talked in Ebonics but he had the ability to have an intelligent conversation. Af’s group was also shown in a somewhat positive light initially. The group is shown as hanging out having a good time rapping about social issues they find important, again a certain primitive nobility.

As the movie progresses the violence emerges in Mau Mau and we get to the point where the group kidnaps Mantan. This final scene with Mau Mau was the most disturbing of the movie for me. The killing was not quick and clean it was broadcasted torture, “cunning, further out, savagery and barbarism.” Each of the base-images presented by Hall are apparent in the final bits of the movie. I don’t think Hall would appreciate the continued portrayal of these images, even in a situation such as Bamboozled. I believe that Hall would find this movie to be more counter-productive than productive. In order to examine and dismantle these images we must dredge them back up but the violence and hate exhibited in Bamboozled leaves me with a negative feeling about race rather than a hope for the future.

(This is a link to the full episode) The episode is about the token black kid (aptly named Token) who also happens to be the token rich kid. Rich black celebrities come to South Park and hilarity ensues.


One thought on “Bamboozled and the Token Rich Kid

  1. Tom, I think you’re right about highlighting the presence of these stereotypes, but isn’t Lee trying to satirize the deployment/celebration/acceptance of those stereotypes? Would Hall appreciate Lee’s attempt to make what’s usually inferential into something explicit (and make us think about that)?

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