Django Unchained

Deconstructing Django Unchained reveals several layers. On one level, it is satisfying to see the Black man as the action hero who rides off into the moonlight with the beautiful Black woman at his side. Too many movies have little or no heroism from African American leads. In this movie the Black man rises from the lowest social status, chattel slave, to one of the highest, including a license to kill. Case in point, I just watched a movie called Brothers in Arms, a western with black cowboys. By the end of the movie two of the three Black brothers were dead. In Django Unchained, the hero,  Jaime Foxx’s character Django , survived without deformities or injuries along with his woman. To a certain degree, it is satisfying to see the triumph of Django. It is definitely refreshing change from the narrative of the beat-down, submissive Black person who must constantly choke down their anger at the constant abuse, indignities and inhumanities forced upon Blacks by whites in power and position. It is a true testament to the strength of this imagery that there has been such an outcry from conservatives regarding the movie. The fear of images of strong Black leading men also is the reason behind the difficulty Blacks have to tell our own stories. They want little or no one to know that strong Black men and women fought and died in the war against slavery.  Movies are unacceptable to the white power structure when they don’t involve images that reinforce the comforting stereotypes that many whites want to believe about Black people.

Spike Lee has made very clear his disdain for this movie. I can completely understand his position. First of all, there too many instances that had that cheesy ‘spaghetti western” feel. It was really a bit much to hear the thematic music that was also the exact music in one of my 1980’s martial arts films. The font of the opening credits looked cheesy (I thought of the high school Photoshop student) and it was cheesy to end the movie with audio clips form the original western Django. Also, the mix of levity juxtaposition with severe scenes such as the Black man eaten alive by the dog pack is really inappropriate. Yet the fact remains that Quentin Tarantino is a cheesy filmmaker. His movies are entertaining, and contain quality performances by various actors and actresses, but that makes no difference. The common thread throughout all the films I have seen is that he makes cheesy movies. They all have a pulp fiction feel to them, right down to the music he chooses. It’s no wondering that although the movie was about a period of American history that the mainstream continually seeks to deny (remember Chris Rocks 4th of July tweet), Tarantino couldn’t help but give it a certain amount of cheesiness. The issue is why can’t a less cheesy filmmaker who would like to do an entertaining yet insightful movie about the Black experience using a strong successful Black lead be made.

On another level, there was the lesson that not all white people are bad, and not all Black people are good. The role played by Sam Jackson was typical of so many sell outs whom go beyond the point of working against their own self interests. They manifest significant self hatred in the dogged prosecution of their own. Jackson’s character reminded me of the recordings of Malcolm X when he talked about the house Negroes who loved the master more than the master loved himself. The character, Stephen, was very well portrayed by Jackson (I wonder if he will get an award nomination for being the white man’s lap dog). These boot-licking sellouts where the reason a great many slave revolts were not successful yesterday, and why so many Blacks are being held back today.

Likewise, there are those white people who, like Christoph Waltz’s character, abhor injustices like slavery. Much like the need to deny the existence of strong Black leaders, there is the need to deny and denigrate those who would actively work against anti-Black racism. Never the less, white men such as John Brown, Joseph Wood, Green Herdon and many other white people gave their lives in armed conflict against the forces of white slavery and inhumanity. Although these men and women have been called ‘nigger lovers’, love of Black people is not as important as the love of justice and truth. It was not a love of the character D’Artagnan that motivated the murder of the character Calvin Candie; the love of justice, decency and humanity motivated the actions of the character Dr. King Shultz.

The liberal use of the word nigger in Tarantino movies has not made me a great fan of his work. I agree with Spike Lee that white guys, film makers or not, should not feel they have license to call Blacks niggers. Most, if not all of the time, it is used to degrade and disrespect Black people, regardless of who is using the term. However, in the context of this movie, I can see that it was appropriate to use the word nigger. In the antebellum and post Civil War south white people used the word nigger like it was every Black person’s first name. Along with the neck irons and the other torture devices, it may have brought to the conscious awareness of modern society some of the barbarism of the whites of the antebellum south. One can hope that with the creation of more movies that tell stories of the pre and post Civil War south, and reveal the graphic nature of the horrors that where enacted upon African Americans, a more honest dialogue about race in America can begin. Hopefully people, young and old will see why terms like nigger are so repulsive and should be abandoned.

One overall benefit of this movie is the role it plays in creating dialogue about issues of race in America. Movies, if they told Black stories from Black perspectives, and not from the perspectives of others, would be a good starting point for such dialogue. There must be effort, however, to combat those who seek to prevent such a discussion. Conservative whites refuse to even consider the issue, practicing the policy of admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter accusations. They can never tolerate seeing a strong Black man who can defeat white antagonists. They must always have images of whites in positions that are superior to Blacks, a total opposite to the successful Black man. Why is it other than racism that allows these guys to watch a white man like Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger kill white man after white man yet when a Black man kills a white man it is tantamount to the first shot in the coming race war? Why is it other than racism that keeps these same white men quiet when whites like Steven Segal or ‘fill-in-the-blank’ white actor kills scores of Blacks, yet causes them to create an uproar when the races are switched? Why isn’t it racism that the Black woman can be paired in movies with various races of men but the Black man can’t be paired with a woman of any race, including his own? Why isn’t it racist that a Black woman can’t be a kick-ass action heroine? America will never improve as a society as long as there are factions high in the paradigm of racism that benefit from divisions such as those surrounding the legacies of slavery and racism. These things are done to maintain a hierarchy of racism and classism that keeps the now infamous ‘one percent’ on the top of the socio-economic pyramid.

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