Exploring Spike Lee’s idea of “Coonery Buffoonery”

Throughout history, such as in Minstrel shows, black characters were created to look like this and act slow. Some movies and shows today are similar in the way the characters act.
Throughout history, such as in Minstrel shows, black characters were created to look like this and act slow. Some movies and shows today are similar in the way the characters act.

Movies are shown for the entertainment of people all ages and races. Sometimes, however, the want to entertain seems to push some movie makers too far. Take Tyler Perry, for example. He has put out many movies during his career as a director, including Madea Goes to Jail and Why Did I Get Married. Although these movies are highly popular, Spike Lee has criticized some of his work, calling it “coonery and buffoonery” because of negative stereotypes that are portrayed by characters such as Madea.

UrbanDictionary defines ‘coonery buffoonery’ as “antics and behavior” that are displayed by certain individuals in the Black culture, resulting in embarrassment for the rest of the “upstanding” black community.

The coon character dates back to the time of slavery. The name is an abbreviation of raccoon and is meant to be dehumanizing and insulting. The coon was portrayed as lazy, clumsy, good-for-nothing and inferior. This is how some white masters viewed their black slaves.

As time went on, these characters were used in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows were put on by white Americans to make fun of these slaves. They would dress as plantation slaves, put on blackface (made of burnt cork), and act as “coons and buffoons”. This stemmed from their fear of mesedgination–they were afraid of the slaves becoming a real part of society and intermarrying.

Bamboozled, a movie that came out in 2000, did something similar, but perhaps more controversial. It showed black actors with even blacker faces. The characters sang and danced around on stage, looking exactly like the coon caricature from in the past. The movie was directly making fun of the minstrel shows and their history.

Is this a bad or good thing? It reminds people that this time period did happen. It reminds them that there was a time when having blacks act stupid and embarrassing was socially acceptable. The movie wasn’t taking Minstrel shows seriously, which is good. If it was, it could have upset a large number of people.

Back then, these outrageous shows entertained and made people laugh. Today, the “coon” character has evolved into something Lee categorizes as “coonery and buffoonery”, which categorizes the way some black actors are portrayed in movies. For some reason, this seems more prominent when it comes to “black” entertainment.

Today, some movies and shows are continuing the stereotype first started by minstrel shows. This is talking about the representation of African Americans BY African Americans. Stereotypes are being continued that date back to the antebellum south. During the time of slavery, they were forced to put on these minstrel shows. Now, some African American entertainers are becoming both the “master and the slave”, in a way.

Take many movies on Black Entertainment Television (BET) for example. They show movies such as the Friday trilogy, Don’t Be a Menace to South Central (While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood), and almost every Tyler Perry movie (Madea Goes to Jail, Madea’s Family Reunion, etc). In every single one of these movies, there are characters that act outrageously slow.

This is what Spike Lee was criticizing when talking about Tyler Perry’s movies. He believes that, through his Madea movies, Perry is showing a stereotype of African Americans that simply isn’t true. However, since people believe what they see on television, some think that these stereotypes are how others really act.

Why are the characters made to look this way? Is it to relate themselves to the black community? Is it to purposely look dumb simply for others entertainment?

One example is Don’t Be a Menace to South Central (While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood). Anyone could tell simply by the title that the movie is meant to be funny. It is meant to entertain. The main character, Ashtray, and his friend, Loc Dog, go on adventures together. Ashtray has a collection of guns in his closet and is shown to be about as smart as a pile of rocks.

This movie is meant to be a satire, but it directly shows a character acting slow or dumb for others entertainment.

The Friday trilogy is similar in content to Don’t Be a Menace to South Central. It mentions drugs and has characters that seem completely incompetent. Because of the way these characters act, the movie is comical to many people. This is bad, however, because it is an incorrect portrayal of African Americans that some people believe to be true.

These stereotypes can be dangerous in a way. The way that blacks are portrayed are in some movies are completely outrageous- and some people believe it. Also, these movies and shows have a negative influence (on the black community) because people tend to mimic what they see. Unfortunately, in this way the negative stereotypes are unknowingly reinforced.

Having stated these stereotypes, I’m going to explore them further in future articles.  I’ll discuss the effects of these negative stereotypes on my generation and my thoughts on them. I hope to explore this topic further by looking at contemporary movies, such as Bamboozled, and the Spike Lee and Tyler Perry controversy.


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