Inside Man: Race in 2006 America

In the movie Inside Man, Spike Lee embeds numerous, subtle interactions that act to frame individual characters of the film within the cultural politics of 2006 America.


Lee places American, post-9/11, anti-Muslim attitudes on full display in this movie through various interactions in the film. The first example of this is when Dalton Russell (Clive Owen) answers the door for the initial responding police officer and begins to poorly mimic a Middle Eastern accent (8:30) while telling him the bank is being robbed. This then immediately heightens the alarm for the officer who hastily shouts at passing civilians to clear the area while reporting the situation. This event calls upon the ‘Islamophobia’ that has become more widespread in post-9/11 America. This point is especially distressing, considering it is still present within the rhetoric of presidential candidates in 2016 (see:



Lee must be deliberate in critiquing this new wave of anti-Muslim notions as he shows more examples of this. At one point, a police officer mistakes a Sikh for a “Muslim” and therefore intensifies his response (36:24), and the use of ‘ragheads’ by Captain Darius (Willem Dafoe) in reference to the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics (1:17:43). Lee ridicules anti-Muslim notions by showing how the officers’ actions and verbiage are shaped by the potential of encountering a Muslim man in a crisis situation.


In this same way, Lee also approaches the racial politics of the black man in 2006 America. There are moments that invoke the everlasting quality anti-black racism seems to take in America: the inability to get a taxi (40:15), an extremely violent videogame with the typical ‘black-thug’ archetype as the main character (53:18), and the initial responding officer stopping himself from using the N-word (1:32:08). However, the most profound statement seems to come from the forceful resistance of the bank security guard against being thrown onto the NYPD bus (1:41:22). It is a visceral reaction that rejects the criminal designation that comes with being handcuffed and tossed in an NYPD bus. None of the bank robbers were black, so he may have had no reason to fear, but the history of police violence against black people – which Lee demonstrated in Do the Right Thing (1:34:44) – shapes this police interaction for the security guard.


In his blockbuster film Inside Man, Lee may not have made race central to the film. However, through subtle and overt interactions that illustrate the cultural politics of 2006 America, Lee presents race and racism as a ever-present social factor that shapes the interactions of individuals with one another.  


One thought on “Inside Man: Race in 2006 America”

  1. I remember watching this film soon after its release and, although I was much younger at the time, never even considered the racial implications of the small moments that you’ve identified in this post. It’s a testament to Lee’s ever-present conceptualization of racialized conflict, even within a film that feels like a blockbuster crime film.


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