Facing Blackness

Ashley Clark

October 2015

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In 2000, Spike Lee released the controversial film Bamboozled, which follows a frustrated black TV producer on his quest to create a show so offensive it will get him fired. The result is a modern-day minstrel show that, contrary to expectations, becomes a massive hit. A satire of race, media, celebrity, and American history, Bamboozled received mixed reviews at the time of its release and has been conventionally regarded as one of Lee’s lesser efforts. In this reappraisal of the film for its 15th anniversary, film critic Ashley Clark makes the case for Bamboozled as one of Lee’s most rich and enduring works, and as one of the most important satires of American culture in this young century.

You can read excerpts of the book at The Guardian and RogerEbert.com, as well an op-ed by Clark on the enduring legacy of blackface at Vice.

“Clark’s in-depth analysis of Bamboozled brilliantly validates and elucidates the importance of an unjustly forgotten cinematic treasure. This is essential reading for anyone interested in black film, black history, or America’s dark past.”

— Kaleem Aftab, author of Spike Lee: That’s My Story and I’m Sticking to It

“The value of Facing Blackness isn’t that Clark renders the film less challenging, but that he has thought through its implications in ways few, if any, have yet attempted. In so doing, he has shown that to understand Lee’s art, one has to deal with Bamboozled. It is, as Clark puts it, ‘the central work in Lee’s canon—the house on fire to which all roads lead.’ Facing Blackness doesn’t extinguish the fire, but rather maps the roads.”

— Keith Watson, Slant Magazine

“Ashley Clark eloquently makes the case for Spike Lee’s furious and frightening Bamboozled as one of the most important and underappreciated films of this young century. Clark reminds us why passionate criticism is so important: to get us talking about the art and sociopolitical issues that the culture at large doesn’t want to touch.”

— Michael Koresky, Reverse Shot/The Criterion Collection


Ashley Clark is a freelance journalist and film programmer who divides his time between London and New York. His writing has appeared in Sight & Sound, The Guardian, Time Out, Moving Image Source, Reverse Shot, Little White Lies, Film Comment, andVICE, among others, and he is a contributor to books including The Complete Woody Allen and Directory of World Cinema: Britain Vol. 2. He has programmed at venues including BFI Southbank and Clapham Picturehouse in London.


BAMcinématek, Brooklyn, NY: October 28th – November 3rdAshley Clark curates “Behind the Mask: Bamboozled in Focus,” a special series focusing on Bamboozled, it influences, and its legacy. The series includes Network, A Facein the Crowd, Dear White People, films by Julie Dash, Marlon Riggs, Michael Shultz, and Bamboozled itself, which will screen on October 28th at 7 PM with a special Q&A with Spike Lee. A book signing will take place afterwards.

Videology Bar & Cinema, Brooklyn, NY: November 6th, 7PM. Ashley Clark and Jason Bailey (author of Richard Pryor: American Idwill present clips from the films and works discussed in their books and discuss how race, the media, satire, and representation continue to play important roles in our country’s social reckoning with itself. Brandon Harris (The New Inquiry) and Jamil Smith (The New Republic) will also participate in the discussion. A book signing will follow.

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