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What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations

Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles (1974) ranks #6 in the top 100 comedies of the twentieth century, according to the American Film Institute, with Brooks’s Young Frankenstein ranked #13 and The Producers #11. Brooks is less interested in social commentary or satire than in laughs and yet Blazing Saddles does contribute to the awareness of racial discrimination. Spike Lee’s Bamboozled has one aim, not to amuse but to smash racial stereotypes that linger on in the collective unconscious in spite of all the progress made in civil rights and the rolling back of racial prejudice.

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Blazing Saddles is a scattershot comedy that sets out to offend as many people as possible even as it makes us laugh at the clichés that have been drummed into our heads by countless Hollywood films and television situation comedies. It is anachronistic, referential and rude. The characters’ names are jokes in their own right, from Governor Le Petomane who is named after a French vaudeville performer to Lily von Shtüpp, the Teutonic Titwillow, based on Marlene Dietrich. If the film had to be put into one category it would be a satire on Hollywood but its secondary purpose is to debunk the racial prejudices that are so often mistaken for universal truths.

Stereotypes are Brooks’s special target, whether it is the Yiddish-speaking Indian chief, the colorful Wild West character Gabby Johnson, or Buddy Bizarre directing the dance sequence on the Hollywood set. Bart, the black railroad worker who is due to be hanged but is sent to Rock Ridge as its sheriff instead, rises above racial stereotypes with grace and style; that is, all but one stereotype, the exception being the one von Shtüpp discovers.

State Attorney General Hedy Lamar is evil and conniving, the Governor is sex-crazed and stupid, and the railroad gang boss, Taggart, is a racist redneck. Brooks’s characters are not evil, even those who routinely consign others to the gallows; rather they are blinded by greed, lust or ignorance, and they’re all funny in their own way. By throwing all these caricatures into the mix without singling out any one of them as being especially wicked, Brooks may well be advocating greater tolerance for diversity.

Ironically, while the script of Blazing Saddles is close to chaotic, the filming is very focused, even traditional. Bamboozled is the exact opposite. Lee’s shooting style is anarchic. The film jumps from one situation to another, characterization is second in importance to a snappy line and smoothly segued transitions happen only by accident. Some scenes drag on, others are too elliptical, and the plot is based on dubious premises. For all that, the satire, although “extremely heavy-handed … is disturbing and thought-provoking” (Turner), the message being that we may think we are free from racial stereotypes but when put in a situation where we are permitted to enjoy them, we effortlessly lapse back into the old way of thinking.

Racial prejudice in Bamboozled is both inter- and intra-racial. Pierre Delacroix’s white boss, Mr. Dunwitty, is the ultimate racist who believes he is blacker than black people. Delacroix’s female assistant, Sloan, seems to represent the film’s sane center but her brother Julian calls her “a house nigger” (Bamboozled). Julian is part of a rap group called Mau Mau which resents bourgeois blacks such as Sloan and Delacroix and which finally executes Mantan, who plays the part of the black-face minstrel with the “educated feet” (Bamboozled).

When the first New Millennium Minstrel Show airs the white audience is uncomfortable, reluctant to laugh or clap because people sense there is something deeply wrong about all those grinning darkies making jokes about watermelon and fried chicken; but as soon as the show is declared a hit they crowd into the theater, dress in the show’s T-shirts and put on blackface make-up. The show’s writers, all of them white and politically correct, soon join in with the racist merriment, Mr. Dunwitty included. Soon the whole country is going blackface, “Lee’s point being that all we need is televisual ‘permission’ in order for us to happily re-embrace the racism of these stereotypes” (Turner).

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Some think that Lee’s satire comes fifty years too late, that the civil rights movement and laws against hate speech have abolished crude racism of the kind lampooned in this film. However, Lee not only “delves into the history of blackface performing itself,” showing such talents as Hattie McDaniel and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson degrading themselves, and many “ trinkets and figurines depicting racist images of blacks” but he also satirizes malt liquor and clothing advertisements targeting today’s black community (Anderson). More to the point, Lee clearly believes that racism has not disappeared but is evident everywhere. As one critic asks,

Is Lee targeting TV shows such as The PJs and The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer? Is he castigating Eddie Murphy (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps), Martin Lawrence (Big Momma’s House) and the Wayans brothers (Scary Movie), who all scored box-office hits this summer by pandering with minstrel-show humor? (Rogers)

When Pierre Delacroix’s father says, “Every nigger is an entertainer” (Bamboozled) this is what he means; it is what white people want black people to be.

Both films take aim at racism but from very different vantage points. Mel Brooks has clearly made his peace with anti-Jewish prejudice and all the other preconceptions that plague the US’s multicultural society, and has decided that it is best to ridicule racism to death. Lee is less philosophical, perhaps because his fight against racism is immediate and ongoing. Since there is no known antidote to racism, it is impossible to say which film is more effective; but for sheer enjoyment, Blazing Saddles is the better choice.

Works Cited

Anderson, Jeffrey M. “Off-Color Television.Combustible Celluloid. 2000. Web.

Anonymous. Top 100 Comedies. American Film Institute. Web.

Travers, Peter. “Bamboozled.” Rolling Stone. 2000. Web.

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Turner, Matthew. “Bamboozled 15.” ViewLondon Review. 2001. Web.

Outline

  • Introduction: Blazing Saddles is rated as one of the funniest movies of the 20th century. Bamboozled is less funny but more focused on racism.
  • 2nd paragraph: Blazing Saddles takes potshots at a wide range of targets, mostly to debunk stereotypes but also to get laughs.
  • 3rd paragraph: The stereotypes are mostly produced by Hollywood but since none of them are especially evil, Brooks invites the viewer to laugh at them.
  • 4th paragraph: Blazing Saddles’ script is chaotic but the film is tight. Bamboozled is the opposite. His greatest concern is to attack racism which, he believes, may be hidden these days but is only waiting for a chance to re-emerge.
  • 5th paragraph: Prejudices divide blacks as well as blacks and whites. Lee especially targets politically correct whites who, as soon as television gives them permission, relapse into the racism of their parents’ generation.
  • 6th paragraph: Is Lee’s satire too late? He examines the relics of the old racism together with the new, and the continued demand for black entertainers to make fools of themselves for the pleasure of a white audience
  • 7th paragraph: Both films make a valuable contribution to the fight against racism, but Blazing Saddles is funnier.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 24). What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/what-blazing-saddles-and-bamboozled-say-about-race-relations/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 24). What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations. https://studycorgi.com/what-blazing-saddles-and-bamboozled-say-about-race-relations/

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"What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations." StudyCorgi, 24 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/what-blazing-saddles-and-bamboozled-say-about-race-relations/.

1. StudyCorgi. "What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations." November 24, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/what-blazing-saddles-and-bamboozled-say-about-race-relations/.


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StudyCorgi. "What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations." November 24, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/what-blazing-saddles-and-bamboozled-say-about-race-relations/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations." November 24, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/what-blazing-saddles-and-bamboozled-say-about-race-relations/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'What Blazing Saddles and Bamboozled Say about Race Relations'. 24 November.

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