Inside Message in Inside Man

 

While it is easy to watch Spike Lee’s Inside Man as an entertaining-bank-heist thriller, it is interesting to note that Lee still uses the entertaining storyline to make comments about race in America. In a “blink and you’ll miss it” type of moment, I noticed that the pizzas that are delivered to the bank are from our favorite Bed-Stuy pizza joint: Sal’s.

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I felt that this was a reminder by Lee to understand that race is still in issue in this film, although it may be blanketed within scenes filled with action, deception and explosions. For example, Lee makes a comment about America’s post-9/11 views towards middle-easterners when the robbers release Vikram with metal container wrapped around his neck. When a police officer questions Vikram while he is still within his painter suit and his face is covered, he calmly asks him if that thing around his neck “is a bomb?” (36:20). As he asks this, Vikram’s hood is taken off to reveal that he is wearing a turban. The police officer’s guard immediately rises as he exclaims, “Oh shit! A fucking Arab!”(36:24), to which Vikram corrects him, saying that he is in fact a Sikh. Once the container is removed, Vikram is wrestled to the ground and the police take off and search his turban, which he wears in accordance to his religion. Vikram later complains to the detectives that he can’t go anywhere without being harassed, saying that even when he is a hostage, the police assume he is a terrorist because of his turban and the color of his skin.

Lee uses another scene to make a comment about silent racism. As a police officer is recounting the time he was held at gunpoint to Detective Frazier, he uses the slur “spic” to describe a latino boy whom he had an encounter with. When Detective Frazier reminds him that he must be conscious of the language he uses when describing others, the police officer works to correct himself when describing another encounter with a young black boy, calling him a “nni-African-American.” As the conversation comes to a close, the officer acknowledges that the Detective is right, not because of the derogatory meaning of the terms he uses, but because one “never knows who is listening” (1:32:40). I felt that this was Lee’s way of saying that these viewpoints are alive and well in America, but people may hold back on using racist terms because they know the words would paint them in a bad light.

These were the two most prominent examples within the movie that I could think of. Let me know if you guys interpreted the scenes differently or can think of any other examples.

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2 thoughts on “Inside Message in Inside Man”

  1. I just finished watching Inside Man and I believe there were many moments where I felt race and language were discussed on scene by the characters. Besides the ones you pointed out, I felt another good moment was when they were trying to decipher the language in the police truck. Originally, the officers assumed it was Russia because when Spanish or French can not be detected, most say the language they hear is Russian or German. When it comes to light the language is Albania, a woman decodes the message, letting the officers know that what they hear is a common message in Albania schools. Since the information is useless to the officers, they drop it until it brought up during an interrogation. During the interrogation, the suspect says he is from Queens with an Armenian last name. But the detectives try to say he is from Albania. Again confused and finding no useful information, the detectives let it go. I think Lee does a good job reminding us that the many lack international knowledge and often jump to conclusions based on first impressions or images. Even when wrong, we still may not take the opportunity to research and correct ourselves in the future. Thus, mistaken a Sikh for an Arab or Armenian for Albania will continue to occur.

    Thanks for your post.

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    1. I totally agree. See my post, “Black-on-Black Violence in Video Games,” in which I point out one more example of a “blink and you’ll miss it” classic Spike Lee moment: the scene in which the young African American boy plays a violent video game in which one African American kills another while the words “Kill Dat Nigga” flash on the screen. As I discuss in the post, the video game Lee shows is actually a real video game produced by 50 Cent in 2005.

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