In this scene Pierre confronts Dunwitty, outraged over revisions made to his pilot script without his consent. Dismissing Pierre’s anger, Dunwitty cites his own intimate knowledge of Black people as the source of his authority to approve a final cut of the show. For the second time in the film, Dunwitty asserts that he has superior knowledge of Black culture and that Pierre should defer to his better judgement. And for the second time, Pierre is unable to successfully challenge him on this point.
Dunwitty uses his knowledge of prominent Black figures and cultural imagery to degrade Pierre, whose identity has been molded by his long history of operating in predominately White spaces. In Dunwitty’s office, as seen in the above screenshot, portraits of Black entertainers and traditional African artwork and ceremonial objects are prominently displayed. To Dunwitty, these Black icons are fully representative of Black culture; they are the source and substance of his credibility. In fact, the first time he asserts his familiarity with Black culture at [7:25] he references his Black wife and biracial kids, who may as well be hanging on his wall among the other objects which fuel his self-righteous essentialism.
This scene is critical to our understanding of the movie because it illustrates a recurring dilemma of representation and authenticity. It is obvious to the watcher that Dunwitty’s claim to superior knowledge of Black culture is absurd, since Pierre is Black, and yet we cannot fully discount Dunwitty’s familiarity which popular Black icons and African history of which Pierre seems to be completely ignorant. How essential to and synonymous with Black culture are these entertainment and sports icons? Indeed, Blacks are proud of these figures despite the problematic nature of their fame. This dilemma is reproduced by Womack and Manray’s performances in the modern minstrel show. Both are proud to have a chance to perform at a level that had been previously inaccessible to them, and yet the nature of their performance is degrading and exploitative, similar to many of the non-fictional Black entertainers hanging on Dunwitty’s wall.
I believe that Pierre’s ignorance of famous Black entertainers is meant to signify his desire to create authenticity. Pierre is uninterested in adding to Dunwitty’s collection. He wants to create art that is not for White people. Rather, Pierre aims to expose the pernicious nature of Black representation and dismantle the notion of an essential Black culture comprised of African imagery and popular entertainers.