Progression or Regression?

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Inside Man is teeming with interracial racial stereotypes. Unlike some of the other films by Spike Lee, some of the discriminatory statements are very outright and evident. For example, the cop sees Vikram’s turban and shouts “Aw shit, a fucking Arab”, while the hostage claims, “No, I’m a Sikh.” The scene is accompanied by non-diegetic sounds of police officers shouting, “what is that? Is that a bomb?”

In another instant, Detective Frazer talks to Sergeant Collins, Collins says, “This one little spick is getting his clock cleaned by another one.” Frazer calls Collins out and responds, “just do me a favor sergeant and tone down the color commentary”, to which Collins responds with “the nnn— African American kid…”

The thing that distinguishes Inside Man is not just the explicit racial stereotypes but also both the characters and the audiences’ ability to call these people out on them. When the police officers discriminate against Vikram, Spike Lee allows the audience to react to such vulgar treatment. When the audience finds out that the kid’s video game allows players to gain points by “doing dirt” like jacking a car or selling crack (all of which are discriminatory stereotypes) and tells players to “kill that nigga” on the video screen, the audience reacts in repulsion. Similarly, when Collins discriminates with his words, Frazer is similarly able to call him out as a result of his discomfort with the language.

Lee produces a bombardment of various discriminatory themes throughout the film as opposed to lingering on one or two themes. This makes me wonder whether this film represents a progression or regression of racial stereotypes and racial treatment in society. Interracial discrimination is much more explicit and evident, yet, both the audience and the characters within the film have the inclination, courage, and ability to call out the discrimination. We are hit with something that is much more explicit, things that would not and should not be said out loud. At the same time, we are given the power to degrade and criticize something that takes power away from us.


One thought on “Progression or Regression?”

  1. I appreciate you looking at the film in the context of Lee’s other works. But I’m not sure I would call it either a progression or retrogression. When I think about the prejudiced language in this film, it seems tame in comparison to moments from Do The Right Thing–when the different characters rapid-fire drop some heavy language–and School Daze. Lee does seem to display and use such language differently in those films though. Is there a way that these fit into your reading of Inside Man?


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