Satire and Stereotyping in the Birth of a Nation and Bamboozled

3034 Words Apr 6th, 2006 13 Pages
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…
For example the audience may believe that the masked Ku Klux Klan riders were "white" behind their masks and have in reality may have tried to forget that many of the fleeing African Americans were actually "white" actors.

American whiteness as articulated by Birth of a Nation is built on stereotypes, and this is precisely why minstrelsy might have the power to resist racism. Minstrel performances relied on stereotypes to evoke their opposites. It is possible to assume that the discourse of mass entertainment from its minstrel days to current film and possibly beyond, recognizing and accepting blackface conventions and stereotypes were key, almost necessary conditions of American whiteness. "Minstrelsy took the productive ambivalence inherent to the stereotype and magnified it to increase the stereotype's inevitable undoing of itself" (4). But in Birth of a Nation, the determining concept of the stereotype that makes sense is disrupted by the inevitable context provided by narrative: in the film's narrative, African-Americans are seen gently working and playing for their master's benefit prior to the Civil War. This stereotypical representation draws on myths that blackface minstrelsy seemed to ally to the politics of white supremacy; it worked to promote propaganda. Prior to the Civil War, the film explains African-Americans were docile and happy on the plantation because of slave laws imposed by
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