Minstrel performance was one of the first beginnings of African American theater although it was not to sensitive on the content it became popular due to the fact that Europeans thought it was entertainment to see blacks typecast as lazy, stupid, Manish, wild, serving them and going out of their way to please their “boss” or “massa”. Although the minstrel shows were extremely popular, being consistently packed with families from all walks of life and every ethnic group, they were also very controversial. Racial integrationists labeled the production as falsely showing happy slaves while at the same time making fun of them, segregationists thought such shows were disrespectful of social norms, portrayed runaway slaves with sympathy and would undermine the race.
The typical minstrel performance followed a three-act structure. The troupe first danced onto stage then exchanged wisecracks and sang songs. The second part featured a variety of entertainments, including a pun-filled stump speech. The final act consisted of a slapstick musical plantation skit or a send-up of a popular play. Minstrel songs and sketches featured several stereotype characters, most popularized the slave and the dandy. These were further divided into sub-archetypes such as the mammy, her counterpart the old darky, the provocative mulatto wench, and the black soldier.
These buffoonish caricatures of African-Americans help support the notion of black inferiority. It’s hard for people who are close minded to reconcile the existence of a Barack Obama. American pop culture has presented us with varying depictions of black figures, families, and lifestyle. Some have been met with harsh criticism while others have been heralded as groundbreaking. In the 1970’s there was “Sanford & Son,” “Good Times,” “What’s happening?” and “The Jefferson’s.” The 1980’s saw “The Cosby Show” shake up the way in which blacks were presented on television by giving us a middle class, educated black family. Ultimately several clones diluted the effect “Cosby” had. During the 1990’s, the portrayal of blacks on television entered a dismal wasteland of bad sitcoms (“Homeboys in Outer Space,” “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer”) where blacks were reduced to goofy sidekicks. This is where revered director Spike Lee, no stranger to race and controversy, takes his aim in Bamboozled. In the movie, Lee satirizes the entertainment industry and their tactics as well as the portrayals and perceptions of blacks in entertainment including Minstrelsy. Lee’s Bamboozled is an attempt at satire that misfires in the eyes of critics and, as a result, is a piece that is viewed as racist. The movie was very raw and uncut and Lee took to the extremes to get his point across.
by Tishia M November 21, 2011
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