In the first few minutes of Bamboozled, Pierre Delacroix walks through a white door into a room with white walls and many white people. He is the sole person of color in the room. As soon as he enters, Pierre is berated by his boss, Thomas Dunwitty, for arriving late. He walks to the open seat at the end of the room, which is at the opposite end of the table from his incensed boss. There are at least 15 other people in the room, but for about two minutes Spike Lee shows only these two characters, who spar about who should be responsible for Pierre’s tardiness.
The dialogue between the characters is intriguing on its own (Pierre explains that if he had known of the morning’s meeting, “I would have cancelled my Pilates session this morning,” a statement that merits its own in-depth analysis), yet Lee chooses to add intrigue and power to the scene by abruptly switching between multiple cameras to create an intense back-and-forth between the two men. He also uses these different cameras to show his characters in different angles. As I show in the two screenshots above, every time Pierre is shown face forward (rather than in profile), the camera is above Pierre and angled down. As a result, Pierre looks smaller and less powerful. On the other hand, every time Dunwitty is shown face forward, the camera is below him and angled up. This makes Dunwitty look imposing and powerful.
Here Lee visually demonstrates that Pierre is less powerful than his white boss, and that, despite his success relative to African Americans such as Manray and Womack, his work environment debases rather than values him. We soon learn that part of the reason Pierre is unable to advance in his career is that he refuses to create shows that rely on negative stereotypes of African American. As a result, Pierre’s boss claims Pierre’s ideas are “too clean; too antiseptic.”
This all changes when Pierre decides to (in protest, at least initially) create “Mantan: The New Millennium Minstrel Show.” Once he begins constructing the show based on racist archetypes of dumb, subservient African Americans, his career progresses. He begins to sit at the head of tables rather than the end. He is given power over his white colleagues. My third screenshot shows the product of this evolution. Pierre is now shown through a camera lens that is slightly below him and titled up, and the shot includes the well-kept patio and garden that now sits behind Pierre. In addition, Sloan, Pierre’s black female assistant, is included in the frame on the left of Pierre. Sloan is shorter than Pierre and seems to be sitting on a lower chair, making Pierre look even bigger and more powerful. While Pierre seems totally at ease, Sloan looks nervous and unhappy, and continually fiddles with her pen as an outlet for her anxiety.