My Take on Django Unchained…

Posted: January 20, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Preamble: So at Christmas time we all got a gift even if you didn’t acknowledge it or watch it, Quentin Tarantino delivered to us an awkward gift called “Django Unchained”, the kind of gift you probably should not open in public.  This is a much talked about film which brings controversy in its wake and since I am a talker I will talk about it too.  Despite it all (controversy etc) I deem it a good conversational piece, my take is weird so bare with me as I discuss this film through the lens of others first.

For Black men

Django Unchained had a mixed reception, there are those who learned something, like how excruciating it was for the chains to dig into the slave’s skin as they walked for miles at their master’s behest. For others they got the jokes and saw a ‘black hero’ riding on a horse and saving the day.  It may have been because of their media socialization where Clint Eastwood and John Wayne formed the backdrop for their heroic dreams or because they have rejected the sorrow of slavery as past things which we should no longer speak of.

Black Women

This group also showed mixed reaction.  The black female is most likely  however to walk away from the movie conflicted about the reactions they had while watching and the reaction they should have post-viewing.  On one hand there are those who are very forgiving of the folks who found it humorous, because after all that is a human reaction to jokes, this group was also likely to compartmentalize parts of the film as some funny some real.  Then there are those who find slavery no joke and are not amused by Sam Jackson’s character or Tarantino’s attempt at making this a slavery action film.

White People

I am grouping genders here because its my blog.  Mixed reactions here.  Some were emotional and sat still while watching trying hard not to see the humour.  Some took this as a historic account and thought they learned a lot from the film.  Some took the film as most Tarantino films are taken, as some kind of cult classic. So for them the sting has been taken out of the N-word and that Tarantino guy sure is funny.

My Take

I have watched most of Tarantino’s films, I am very aware of his back story and film influences.  With that said, this film was particularly very Tarantino; in other places I have described it as “classic Tarantino, good and bad in one fell swoop”. Clearly this film speaks to his familiar scapes, in this case Spaghetti Westerns is major, some people don’t like the blood and gore but that is also Tarantino, he likes Japanese anime a whole lot! He also like many writer- directors is plagued by his past experiences or “demons” and this shows up in all his works.  Tarantino has always been awkward when depicting his version of “blackness” see Pulp Fiction, the characterizations are usually over the top and with a hint of insider perspectives (read his bio etc. for why). As a body of work I don’t know that it was award worthy but I did find it extremely useful for gauging people’s reactions and politics.

The Problem with other people telling our stories

Turns out a black director could not have made this film?? Whether because the in-cohesive black community would rake them over the coals for the characterizations or because it would be considerable hell to get Hollywood backing as it would be deemed risky or risque. And it turns out that even in a film where a black man plays the title character his work is not deemed award-worthy (things which make me go hmmmm).

But here is where I have problems with this current incantation of Django.  It is not history! Nor should it be taken as a historical text!  In fact it is a bad text about us.  The real Django http://www.denofgeek.us/movies/django-unchained/51881/bass-reeves-the-real-life-django-a-legendary-african-american-marshal

or http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/trailblazers/2009/honoree.asp?bio=1

(whichever one you accept doesn’t matter still only one story seldom told) did not have his story play out like this unchained one. You see when other people start telling us about ourselves you better know yourself really well before consuming it. Tarantino sought to make light of a critical period in history and by so doing he may have done some serious damage.  If his aim was a historical or period piece why didn’t he use full brush strokes and tell the whole story?  Not sexy enough? or doesn’t fit with the narrative that society allows about blacks? When you consider that people overwhelming get their concept of image/self/culture from media and cultural forms imagine what this film could have done and in turn may have accomplished.

Further an opportunity to explore some really sick things about slavery and white supremacy has been lost.  Mandigo fighting? (See 1975 movie Mandingo, which was no doubt an influence for Tarantino), I am certain it (mandingo fighting) happened but not in the sense that the movie depicted in-fact in a much more twisted reality. Whipping slaves while reading bible texts? The role of religion in the project of enslavement is understated and made light of here by Tarantino, though he is not the only one who ignores it.  But perhaps the most disheartening is the line that DeCaprio’s character utters “I keep wondering why won’t the slaves rise up and strike back (paraphrase)”.  So the slaves were dumb for taking all this punishment right??  No mention of the numerous unofficial Marshalls (even doctors) set up to search for and destroy runaways or an understanding of the rabid dogs ready to set upon an upstart or the various tools to have us fight against each other (some still existent today) such as black overseers, inhumane whipping, slave hierarchy and more. 

When other people tell our stories truth is not what they seek… more like money  Recently action figures from the movie were just pulled, the fact that they could have passed design phase says a lot about the world we live in.  And herein lays my concern–  It’s just a movie and in many cases should be taken as such; but Django Unchained is also going to be a text humanity leaves behind.  You know the scenario of the aliens visiting earth and looking through our artifacts? so, when they pick up Django what will it say about us?  That we are able to laugh about ourselves and not take historical events too seriously and move on or will it say we were party to lies, mockery and trivializing history.

It hardly matter who watches this film or even how you take it because it will mean different things to different people.  For me it joins the ranks of pop-culture statements which tell me way more about people than maybe I need to know for my own sanity…and that’s the nutshell of my take!

 

 

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