A black TV executive, Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans), is sick of not being appreciated by his white boss (Michael Rapaport), so comes up with a “minstrel show for the 21st Century”, which proves surprisingly popular in spite of (or because of) its overtly racist content.
Spike Lee pulls no punches in this scathing satire of Hollywood’s treatment of black people and a perceived willingness of black stars to play a stereotype for personal success or white approval. The problem is that the film’s focus on racism in the media is so great that it falls short elsewhere, with a plot completely devoid of any logic or reason. Pierre’s reasons for creating the show, whether to highlight racism, cause trouble or for personal success, are not entirely clear. But none of these feel like a plausible reason to create the most racist show ever conceived.
Another example of the satirical element overwhelming the story is when Wayans opts for a speaking style where he over-pronounces every syllable (much like the “white voice” in Sorry to Bother You). While this is a comment on the pressures on black people to confirm to white expectations, the fact he doesn’t talk like a real person makes his character difficult to relate to.
The rest of the characters are underdeveloped, though, so it’s a very hard film to invest in. The stars of the fictional show (Samion Glover and Tommy Davidson) have a falling out about three quarters of the way through, but since we never felt like we knew them in the first place it fails to add any drama. Unfortunately Lee’s bold ideas aren’t enough to make this work, resulting in a film which is uncomfortable to watch but hard to invest in. The Network of racism this is not.