Joe--I'm not sure about the specific answer to your question, but I
could suggest that in search of the answer you consult Shelley Fisher
Fishkin's "In Praise of 'Spike Lee's Huckleberry Finn' by Ralph Wiley"
in the October-December 1999 issue of the Mark Twain Circular. In case
you don't want to rummage through your attic in search of that issue,
here's a link to it on-line:
I think Shelley doesn't mention that particular episode, but she talks
about Jim's playing a role calculated to influence Huck's behavior. She
also suggests additional readings on that topic, including her own Was
Huck Black? (1993), Jocelyn Chadwick-Joshua's The Jim Dilemma (1998),
and David Smith's "Huck, Jim, and American Racial Discourse" (Mark Twain
Journal, 1984; Satire or Evasion?, 1992). I wouldn't be surprised if
one or more of the other essays in Satire or Evasion? has something on
that, too, but unfortunately, I don't remember.