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Bamboozled review

Taking its title from a speech by his hero Malcolm X ("You've been hoodwinked. You've been had. You've been took. You've been led astray, led amok. You've been bamboozled"), Spike Lee's 15th joint is his most combative yet. It's also his most troublesome, with the provocative but heavy-handed satire arguably going too far in order to make a blurred (and dangerously open to misinterpretation) point.

What exactly is Lee saying by having black actors dress up in black-face make-up to play lazy buffoons Mantan (Savion Glover) and Sleep `N' Eat (Tommy Davidson)? That, eager to embrace the old stereotypes, we're still just as racist as ever? That all we need is permission, here granted by having the show written and performed by African-Americans?

That's part of it and the images of a white studio audience cheering black make-up are genuinely shocking. But Lee also implicates African-Americans, not least by castigating the show's creator Delacroix (Damon Wayans) for letting white writers blunt his satire by "sharpening" the show's derogatory humour. As Lee maintains, black writers must control their own destiny and in the past, US sitcoms - like The Jeffersons, Benson and Diff'rent Strokes - have been content to pedal African-Americans as one-dimensional, comic fools.

Fine. But why turn Delacroix into a clown, his preposterously plummy accent and pompous musings designed to invite derisory sniggers? If Lee really thinks hip-hop videos and TV shows are the modern equivalents of minstrel shows, why portray a wealthy, educated black man as an unintentional jester?

What's more, for a satire Bamboozled is remarkably unfunny: challenging, yes; humourous, no. When it comes to black-face, it doesn't matter if the actor beneath is black, white or green with blue spots - the moment the make-up goes on the laughter stops.

A slightly muddled but brave and contentious satire, with its montage of clips - showing the use of black-face in everything from DW Griffith's Birth Of A Nation to Bugs Bunny cartoons - freezing the blood. Chances are, you'll find it more upsetting than funny.

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