Pierre Delacroix (Damon Wayans), a hip young television writer at CNS is desperate for a chance to succeed. Armed with a Harvard education and big dreams, Dela sets out to write a fresh, new program about Black America's middle class. But Dunwitty (Michael Rapaport), Dela's racially insensitive boss has other plans. CNS is at the bottom of the network standings and Dunwitty thinks he has the solution.
Assigned to write a hit TV show or lose his job, Dela plans to turn Dunwitty's idea into a lesson. Dela creates 'Mantan - The New Millennium Minstrel Show,' a spoof riddled with grossly overstated stereotypes and derogatory dialogue. Sloan (Jada Pinkett Smith), sensing the danger in fighting the network, encourages Dela to quit. But pride and self-assurance lead Dela to believe that Dunwitty would never have the courage to broadcast the show. Sloan promises her unconditional support.
Meanwhile, Manray (Savion Glover) and Cheeba, long-time friends, find themselves in front of the CNS building. Despite being homeless, they survive the mean Brooklyn streets by performing. When Manray tap dances, people pay attention. Even Dela can't help but notice him on his way to work.
Soon Manray and Cheeba are lured into Dela's office with more money than they have ever seen. Dela convinces them that they are the future of CNS - and soon enough they start to believe it. Much to Dela's surprise, Sloan and Manray begin to forge a friendship of their own. And Big Black (Dante Beze), Sloan's older brother, makes his disapproval for Dela's show and Sloan's budding relationship known.
It's not long before Dela comes to see himself in the reflection of his father - a man broken of his strength, conviction, integrity and principles. He has lost control of his show, his career and his life. And unbeknownst to them all, Dela has unwittingly put Manray's life in danger. All of Dela's efforts have failed, and finally confronting the network, the authorities and his own conscience, it seems like it may be too late.