Spike's Minstrel Show

Spike Lee is at it again. Next week his 11th and possibly most controversial movie, "Bamboozled," will open to audiences across the country, and tongues are already wagging. An advertisement for the movie, featuring a black man in blackface eating watermelon, was rejected by The New York Times. "Bamboozled,'' which stars Damon Wayans and Jada Pinkett Smith, follows the life of a black television writer who, under pressure to drive up ratings, creates a black minstrel show. Convinced the show will offend everyone and not make it on air, he instead watches the show take off. The movie lurches from satire to melodrama, with overlapping plot lines and confusing characterizations, and though some of Lee's criticisms are unclear, they are sure to spark heated debate. NEWSWEEK's Allison Samuels sat down with Lee.

SAMUELS: Why did you make "Bamboozled"?
I wanted to do something about the images of black people for a long time, and the NAACP's push last year [to have more blacks represented on TV] just happened to occur at the same time. I think a lot of the white people in Hollywood are convinced that they know black people better than anyone. That's why I have a white character say in the film to a black writer, "I know niggers better than you.''

The center of the film is a minstrel show. The characters on the ads for the film are of very degrading images of black people. Why go to such extremes?
I don't think these things should be swept under a rug just because they are offensive. The New York Times shouldn't not run them because they're offensive. They're real. And this is what the film is about. A minstrel show could happen again. The networks will do just about anything to get ratings.

Can we assume that you're saying UPN and the WB don't help the images of blacks?
I was watching the show "Girlfriends" last week, and I mean, is that the only thing black women can talk about is getting f--ked? And then the show had black men holding their johnsons and looking into the camera smiling. What white show has white men grabbing their nuts and smiling into the camera? And why do all the black people have to sing and dance in the opening sequence? The subtext is, "Lord, we're so happy we on TV."

What does Hollywood say to someone like you?
They throw things like BET in your face. Then all you can do is shut the f--k up because all BET does is show videos 24/7.

But "Bamboozled" isn't just harsh on the white media. It's tough on blacks as well.
My people have to wake up and realize what's going on and our responsibility in it. I mean, back in the day we didn't have a choice. Hattie McDaniel and Bojangles didn't have a choice. Nowadays we don't have to do this stuff. So anything you do is on you.

You take pretty big shots at actors Ving Rhames and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the film for the way they accepted their awards. [Rhames gave his Golden Globe to veteran Jack Lemmon; Gooding did a back flip at the Oscars.] That bothered you a lot?
When you give your award to a man you never met in your life, what do you expect? That sent chills down my spine, to see him do that to an award he earned. The same with Cuba spinning on his head. What was that? But you notice neither has stopped working since. That kind of entertainment will keep you working.

You've been fighting and saying these things a long time. Does it get frustrating?
You know what's frustrating? Ignorance. Like white people asking, why does Spike hate white people? That's ignorant to me. My films deal with the problems blacks have as well, but it always comes back to the silly notion of me hating white people no matter what I do.