Django Unchained

America may not be ready for an action/adventure Western film set in the Antebellum South. I imagine that much of it stems from our collective sense that looking at slavery through any lens that isn’t extremely serious and definitely troublesome is dangerous because the risks involved in allowing ourselves to simply “get over it.” I doubt any thoughtful person would ever really feel this way, but stranger things have and continue to happen. We go about our daily lives in an age of Affirmative Action, Black History Month, Stop-And-Frisk, Black-On Black crime, rampant incarceration, and many different forms of emotional enslavement that preclude us from being able to deal with many of the aforementioned issues objectively, so a movie set during slavery that isn’t really about slavery [per se] seems really troubling. Spike Lee, without even viewing the movie, and vowing not to see the movie, dismissed it as “disrespectful” to our ancestors.

I see his point, but I disagree with him on the grounds that the movie can, and certain will, create opportunities for some much needed dialogue.

I’m as certain there will be people who will call Quentin Tarantino an apologist for writing a film about a Black slave killing White people as I am that there will be others who will call Jaime Foxx a sellout portraying a slave in a movie that infuses America’s horrid history of human trafficking as fodder for action, adventure and, at times, comedy. We will hear folks decry, “How dare Tarantino write the word ‘Nigger’ that many times in a movie—again!” and “Jaime should be more responsible, as a Black actor, in his choice of roles.” and people will be divided in their responses to the film and the filmmaker[s] for many of these reasons. There will be the requisite, “If Tarantino was a Black filmmaker…” speculation, because if Spike Lee, or any other Black writer/director had written and directed Django there would have been mass emails, texts and online clamoring to get the Black masses out to support because studios don’t put money behind “Black movies with meaning” [like Red Tails]. I’d argue that Django would qualify as a “Black” movie—much more so than The Help, of which I’m unsure of Spike’s approval, but I’ll assume he didn’t dig too much either.

The same way that George Lucas didn’t have to put his time, talent and money into Red Tails to deliver the oft-told slice of American history that is the Tuskegee Airmen, Quentin Tarantino has no obligation to set his story in the Antebellum South, nor does he have an obligation to make his hero and damsel in distress Black people. But in doing so, Tarantino highlights an often-overlooked page in the American story. He adds something that wasn’t there before he decided to do it. And if now isn’t the right time for him to do it, it’s certainly the best time. I don’t feel like he did me any favors by writing this particular story, and I’m not prepared to thank him for a contribution to Black history or American history. I am, however, glad he made the movie. Not because he did it, but because it’s now done. It’s there, and the fact that he did it gives the story a wide audience. The showing I attended had a diverse audience, and while I was prepared to experience some awkward, “I don’t know if I feel comfortable with all of us laughing at this” kind of feeling at some point, I didn’t. I was actually kind of glad that he went to many of the places he went with the writing. I feel like he tried to be careful in his treatment of America’s touchiest subject matter. I think it’s worth the viewing if for no more reason than the conversations that can come from seeing the movie and feeling something about it. [I kind of like the fact that Django Freeman, and his wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft are ancestors of John Shaft. I guess that adds a layer of American cinematic history as well.]

While I’m sure there will also be the inevitable “Why do we have to wait for a White man to validate our story” protest, I still say this will suffice for now. Besides, we don’t have a monopoly on American history as it pertains to Black people any more than we have a monopoly on American movies as they pertain to Black people [See The Help]. And it just so happens that the Black movies making money in America seem to be overwhelmingly lacking in historical heft and depth. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Maybe Tyler Perry is writing Madea’s Harlem Renaissance, or Spike’s working on something dealing with the Springfield Race Riots of 1908. If so, I’d pay the price of admission, if for no other reason, to have something else to talk about. America is about as ready for Django Unchained as it was for a Black president. And I believe the responses to it will be much the same—many of us will be proud to have seen it happen, while silently acknowledging our collective unpreparedness for any real discussion of what it means or how it really affects us by not having any constructive conversations about it at all. We’ll reserve our strong opinions for our like-minded friends who won’t challenge us too much because the subject is a little too touchy to have an open discussion or disagree with one another in public. But that’s the American way, right?

I’m curious…what do you all think about Tarantino/Spike/Jaime/Kerry/Slavery/Django, or any of this, for that matter?

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A.D. Carson


I'm just a little south of the Windy City...

9 thoughts on “Django & Why We’re Not Ready

  1. Inha 5 years ago

    i love quintin tartaino he is a god amongst movie makers. the only reason i would kick him out of bed is to shag him on the floor. sorry but he has one sick and sexy mind

  2. Clayton 5 years ago

    Django was a decent film. QT showed off the fact that he did indeed do some research into the horrors of slavery with the iron masks, the sweatbox/hotbox/hole punishment, and the use of the word Nigger. I think the film was too long though, too drawn out, and as I watched it I wondered what is the meaning of all this? Is he trying to depict how bad slavery was? Is this a love story? I just couldn’t put my finger on what this was supposed to be about. Then I remembered, this is capitalist hegemonic Hollywood, the point is to get your dollar with the most curse words, big bangs, and violence included. The film was not about slavery, heck, it wasn’t even necessarily, a “love” story. I think it was a blockbuster about an vengeful negro coming into his own and killing white folk to get his woman. Understandable. Where I draw the line is that this film is not meant to educate, it is meant to entertain, I will not prop it up as some accomplishment for black folk because Hollywood and QT got all the money in the end and all we got was some ambivalent sense of “vindication” because some black people were on the big screen – I mean that was why we struggled for all these years anyway. I accept it as a “shock value” film and nothing more. I hope we can stop parading around this film, sit back and ask ourselves “what does this mean to us as black people?” “of what use is this in forwarding our cause for liberation?” Or maybe for these 2 plus hours we don’t want anything liberatory, and would rather a film gently scathe the surface of the issues so pertinent to us then and now.

    P.S. Slavery has never been abolished. Re-read the 13th amendment.

    BTW Great review and great insight, I enjoyed reading this!

    1. AyDee 5 years ago

      Thanks, Clayton. I suppose that’s what I’m looking for…the conversation about what it all means to Black people–Americans, in general. I made a point to write about Red Tails as well. And I think I went out to see that specifically because Aaron McGruder was involved. I guess my expectation with Tarantino was that he would make an ultra-violent, foul-language laced film. I’d say many of his movies leave you wondering what’s the point (besides vengeance, “vindication,” violence and shock value). This is why I say it’s a movie set during slavery, but not about slavery (per se). But many of us won’t get to that perspective. We will align ourselves with one faction or the other (because there seems to always only be This or That), and we won’t talk about any of the questions you bring up in-depth, because we’ll be distracted by the next thing in Hollywood that’s afflicting us all before anyone knows it. I mean, Tyler Perry has a new film coming out soon. It’s about a marriage counselor. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    2. Zhavi Harris 5 years ago

      This film was produced in order to both entertain and educate the public on how horrendous slavery was. I agree that QT did an excellent job with his research on slavery and the punishments that were given to the “misbehaving slaves”. The scene where the weak, wounded and trembling Mandingo fighter was gnawed to death by dogs really grasped my attention in two ways. Fist, I recognized the phrase used for the slave fighters was Mandingo. The word Mandingo was the tribe of Kunta Kente in the movie Roots before he was captured and brought into slavery. “Toby” was originally trained to become a Mandingo warrior. Secondly, I was confused why Jamie (Django) didn’t allow his partner to pay the 500 dollars to repay the fighters debt. In my opinion QT depicted slavery really well, and captured the attention of the audience. All of the actors did and excellent job playing their role especially Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson.

      1. AyDee 5 years ago

        Thanks for reading, Zhavi. I appreciate your comments. The dog scene was pretty horrific to me, as well.

        1. Martin 5 years ago

          I respectfully drsigaee, and here’s why:Tarantino intuitively knows the strengths and weaknesses of his cast, and tailors his dialogue accordingly. Milch, while talented, is more hit-or-miss. Although we got great monologues out Al Swearengen and E.B Farnum, we also had to sit through Sol Star awkwardly fumbling through his lines. Anna Gunn, who I LOVE in Breaking Bad, is boring, useless, and wooden in Deadwood. You’d think that after three seasons, Milch would have figured out how to better utilize his talent, but he never quite got it right.I do think Deadwood should have at least been given a TV movie to tie things up. It’s a damn shame it ended the way it did.

        2. Davila 5 years ago

          i’d take milch’s deadwood over taorntinas well anything to be honest. people go on and on about taorntinas dialogue and how great it is, obviously because they haven’t listened seen deadwood. that’s not to say i’m don’t like taorntinas films, i do, it’s just that milch is better at dialogue and i believe django unchained will be proof of that. deadwood didn’t feel like television it felt like a massive film.

      2. Avinash 5 years ago

        The best trailer I have seen since 300 and one of the best I have ever seen. Period. Plus, there is a lot more of Bruce Willis it seems than I intliaily thought. My hype for this movie just shot up. I can’t wait!

    3. Windy 5 years ago

      The video was good (one they actually strtead talking about anything), but I do believe they are misinformed. Tarantino has admitted that Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, True Romance, and even Natural Born Killers, are all SUPPOSE to take place in the same universe. His movie universe. However, he’s stated that all his over the top movies (From Dusk Till Dawn, Kill Bill, Death Proof) all take place in another universe. A movie-movie universe. He described it as the movie-movie movies are all movies that people in the movie universe would go and watch and talk about. So as much as even I want to believe it, the organ player is not Jules.ps- They were right about Jackie Brown though. That is in it’s own thing. I don’t know where Basterds will fall.