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Thursday, January 3rd 2013

5:47 PM

Django Unchained

"Kill white folks and get paid for it-what's not to like?"
-Django/Jamie Foxx, "Django Unchained"

Of all the many pictures to come out this year - from huge blockbusters like The Dark Knight Rises, Marvel's The Avengers and The Hobbit, to more critically acclaimed arthouse fare like The Master, Searching for Sugarman and Lincoln, none of them gets the kind of buzz - and raises the kind of blood pressure - than Quentin Tarantino's newest/latest, Django Unchained. By now, I'm sure you've heard about it (and if you're anything like me, you've actually gone and seen it) - a spaghetti-western styled "Southern" that tells the tale of a freed slave named Django, the friendship he forges with a German immigrant dentist-turned bounty hunter, and their bloodsoaked quest to rescue Django's wife from the clutches of a truly meanspirited slave master. Indeed, unlike so many of the year's flicks, Django Unchained appears to piss so many people off, that they have entire theses and analyses to offer about the motivations of those who participated in its making, even while they've never actually seen the film itself - and in their arrogant ignorance, they prove the very point Tarantino was making about Django: that we as a society, are still very much smarting over our Slavery past. 

First there was Spike Lee's proclamatory tweet that he would de facto boycott Django Unchained, due to it being "disrespectful to our ancestors" or some such mumbo jumbo, quasi-afrocentric nonsense. Of course, this isn't the first time Lee's had words about Tarantino, a verified Oscar-winning director, or his harsh words earlier this year about a fellow film maker, one Mr. Tyler Perry. In fact, Lee went on a multi-month tirade against Perry's works, largely bemoaning what he saw as the "minstrel" aspects of the latter's body of work, yada yada. People a bit closer to reality saw something else, though: that Lee was just a weebit too enthusiastic in his denunciation of Perry and now, Tarantino's work(s); one cannot help but sniff the distinct whiff of Hateration emanating from Lee - who, let's face it, hasn't produced a big hit film in quite some years now (and in any event, has never garnered any Oscars). Personally, it's kind of painful to see Spike Lee do this to himself - after all, his place in America cinema is now legendary, with the first five of his films going on to become big hits, to say nothing of his more recent excellent series of documentaries for HBO, centering on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So, it's kind of silly for him to upbraid other film makers who take the time and money, to depict aspects of Black life, as Perry and Tarantino have done. After all, Lee made his bones doing the exact same thing. 

But Hateration is only one factor in the anti-Django Unchained backlash; in the nooks and crannies of the Internet, what's left of the Ku Klux Klan have announced that they too are boycotting Django Unchained, on the grounds that it "promotes violence against White people". Well, yes, the film is indeed quite violent (what Tarantino flick isn't), often brilliantly comically so - but the anti-White violence is entirely justified. We are talking about SLAVERY, after all - and it is downright foolish to think that all Black folks were just peachy keen with the way things were way back then, that there weren't at least a few of them who decided to do something about it. Indeed history records quite a few instances where exactly this did happen - more than we would like to collectively admit, in fact. In any event, given their huge success with the boycotting of the Thor film, on the grounds that it featured a Black Man in the form of Idris Elba, portraying the Norse god Heimdall, the remnants of the KKK will all but shut Django Unchained down to bargain DVD bin at Walmart status any day now; just you wait and see...

Then, there's the Swirlin' Sistahood's consternation about Django Unchained that perhaps is the most interesting of the three groups noted above. Longtime readers will know well my frequent skewerings of one Ms. Jamila Akil, who has, since we last danced, shutdown her embarassment of a blog, and has become a "senior editor" over at Chistelyn Karazin's Beyond Black & White website - and has been spewing her utter nonsense, eversince. 

Jamila has up currently, three articles (here, here and here) about Django Unchained, in which she bleats on about the "betrayal" by Kerry Washington, in going from a slick tv show like Scandal, to a Halle Berryesque "degrading" role in the form of Django. Mind you, Jamila hasn't seen the film itself (surprise, surprise!), just the trailers - but is supremely confident that, from less than 3 minutes of footage, she is able to determine the breadth and depth of Washington's "Broomhilda" to say nothing about being able to suss out the plot and deeper meaning of Django Unchained as a whole. How she is able to write three - count em, three - entire pieces about a film she, by her own admission, hasn't even seen - tells one all they need to know about the range of intellectual heft on offer over at BB&W. 

But, since I have actually seen the film (and plan to see it again just for shits and giggles, to say nothing about the fact that the movie is excellent), and, since I thoroughly enjoy showing Jamila just how much of an utter arse she makes out of herself, allow me to clear up a few cobwebs in her little head:

1. Broomhilda doesn't get "gang-raped" or any other kind of raped in the film at all; she does get whipped though (something which Django gets revenge for) and is clearly mistreated by Candie and other Whites throughout the film; for example, she is seen (briefly) nude in one scene, after being taken out of a "hot box" for trying to run away. Moreover, Washington's Broomhilda doesn't do a "Halle Berry Monster's Ball" scene with anybody either. 

2. The scene that you saw in the trailer, where Broomhilda appears to be in a hot spring kind of lake, is actually a vision of her on the part of Django, who is bathing in the same lake. As he gets closer to her location (he and his partner, Dr. King Schultz, search every slave plantation in the South looking for her) he has more visions of her. She isn't seen entirely nude or anything like that.

3. The one scene in the trailer, that shows slave plantation owner Candie kissing the hand of a dusky-hued Negress that you seemed to be quite cool with, was actually part of a larger, and frankly quite brutal scene where Candie (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and a few other guests of his, watch two Black Men fight to the death (Mandingo style). The Negress you're referring to, my dear, is "Sheba" - who was, in the vernacular, a "comfort woman" (read: a whore; but, since we all know that Sistas like you are completely cool to be whores for White guys like Candie, it's all good - right?) for the Candie plantation, and is actually freed by Django (along with the other slaves, save one in particular) toward the end of the film...which brings me to...

4. The real reason why Django Unchained's put a bee in the bonnet of the "BWE" crowd is because (A), it's a love story showing how Black Men and Black Women, even burdened by Slavery, were determined to remain together, and in this case, a Black Man went through hell and highwater to rescue his Black Woman - and since Django is based on a true story, this blows the whole notion of the DBRBM right. Out. Of. The. Water (and also raises the inconvenient question of why Black Men like Django went through so much to rescue their wives during such horrible times, when today Black Women like the putative swirlers can't seem to keep a Black Man around if their very lives depended on it?). (B) Because the BWE's "heroine" didn't get the memo, that she is to only take Ms. Ann in Blackface roles, where she cavorts with powerful White Men and feeds the Swirlers their vicarious fantasies, since even they have come to realize that such things are increasingly uncommon, untenable and just downright unrealistic. I mean, do any of these jokers even know who Ms. Washington is off the stage? No, they don't - they don't even take the time out to hear what Washington had to say as to why she did Django Unchained. All they "know" is that she's making it harder for Swirlers to get their swirl on, because images like that which is seen in Django Unchained just convinces them good White boys to stay, stay away! Oh, I declare!

The Spike Lees, KKKs and Swirlin' Sistahood, form an unholy alliance against Django Unchained that to my mind, is fascinating to witness, if for no other reason than to marvel at their sheer ingorance. If ever there was a kind of post-Slavery Rorschach test that could be applied, Django Unchained is it - notice that even the big film critics aren't bigging it up for one of their "ten best" or Oscar contending lists. 

By now surely you must know, that I won't be giving a blow by blow review of Django Unchained; I'm not a movie critic like that, and besides there are already some good reviews out there. Besides that, it's my view that its a movie that you have to see yourself, and come to some conclusions on yourself. For me, Tarantino's latest effort raises a heck of a lot more questions than it answers, namely: why didn't more westerns feature aspects of Slavery? We know that the frontier states - like Texas, where Django Unchained opens - had Slavery in full bloom (and was among the last states to finally put an end to it, hence Juneteenth). Texas was and is, frequently featured in western films, and yet, we rarely if ever, get a sense of what life was like for Blacks at that time. Indeed, to look at all the many, many films made that feature Texas, etc, one would get the distinct impression that Slavery, and by extension Black folk, simply didn't exist at all. Tarantino's Django Unchained, takes a Colt .45 to that myth, among a great many others, and forces what I would consider to be some excellent conversation about who we are and how we came to be as a society. 

And in the end, isn't that what great art, is truly all about?

Now adjourn your asses...

The Obsidian
25 comment(s).

Posted by Anonymous:

Broomhilde is raped, just offscreen. Candy offhandly refers to her "servicing the Mandigos", and her reaction to that statement is decidely unpleasant, implying se wasn't a willing participant.
Thursday, January 3rd 2013 @ 8:27 PM

Posted by Y:

I saw the movie and love, love, LOVED it! Spike Lee is really of the mark and I must say Im very disappointed in him, He should know better than this I continue to see reviews/blogs about it by people who 1.havent seen it and refused to and 2. People who want to compare it to Roots or Lincoln.

Personally I liked the movie because it was very entertaining and funny and serious at the same time. The Mandingo scene was particularly hard to watch but captured what slavery was for a lot of blacks, literally a fight for your life/humanity, of which you had little or no control over.
Friday, January 4th 2013 @ 2:28 AM

Posted by Obsidian:

@Anonymous:
"Broomhilde is raped, just offscreen. Candy offhandly refers to her "servicing the Mandigos", and her reaction to that statement is decidely unpleasant, implying se wasn't a willing participant."

O: So...? My point was that there were no scenes where Broomhilda is raped, which was one of the points of contention on Jamila Akil & Co.'s part.

Anything else?

O.
Friday, January 4th 2013 @ 5:17 PM

Posted by dragnet:

The idea that Jamila et al are pissed because this movie shows a black love story is really, entirely fucked up...and yet makes total sense.

**SMH**
Sunday, January 6th 2013 @ 9:10 PM

Posted by dragnet:

And if I were white, I too would be terrified by this film. What's the world coming to when can't rape and sell a black man's wife to a new master without him trying to kill you?
Monday, January 7th 2013 @ 6:06 AM

Posted by Doorstop:

I went and saw it tonight, Obsidian, largely due to your recommendation. You're the only person I've heard say anything good about it, but I also don't personally know anyone who watched it. For once I agree wholeheartedly with you. It didn't seem nearly as controversial as I'd been led to believe, nor any more violent and disturbing than most of Tarantino's other movies. And for being a "southern spaghetti western" or whatever the critics are lambasting it as, I liked Jamie Foxx's character better than almost any character I've seen Clint Eastwood play. I'm white (clearly),and it didn't bother me at all to see a movie where only one white guy (a foreigner, at that) was not portrayed as evil, bigoted, or just plain stupid. And watching a black guy gun down bunch of evil white Americans didn't bother me any more than watching Tarantino's past characters slaughter Japanese Yazazu in "Kill Bill" or Germans in "Inglorious Basterds"...a villain is a villain and a hero is a hero. In fact, I thought the violence in famous cowboy movie "The Wild Bunch," circa 1969, was more reprehensible because it didn't have one thing that Tarantino's move does - a good guy (Foxx) who's trying to do the right thing. And I thought it was excellent that the black actress who played his wife (I'm not going to be pretentiousness and act like I'd ever heard of her) played a totally feminine black woman who is in love and in awe of her black husband who rescues her....a woman who seems worth the trouble of saving and isn't going to be busting his balls a week later. Can't say I've remember EVER seeing a black couple portrayed like that in a movie, at least not for more than a few seconds, and I also appreciated that.
Friday, January 11th 2013 @ 10:24 PM

Posted by BlackThor:

I really don't know which is more entertaining;the movie or the responses to it.I've seen the movie quite a few times because I think it's a very well made film.I think there's a rich body of work in that film that would inspire some lengthy discussion.What is most interesting is the comments from the black community. Not the usual suspect,but from writers and even a few scholars.
I really believe QT has maybe shaken up the tried and true slavery narrative and maybe exposed some peoples honored avenues for making money. The Samuel Jackson character was one of those. Having to move past the "Uncle Tom" label and really understand his character has proven too much for the talking heads. I was really floored by one of my favorite authors and his seemingly inability to grasp the concept of the movie.
But the one thing I have not heard discussed is the role of the other black women in the movie besides K. Washington. Especially not from the BWE circle. For one it doesn't find into their mantra that "suddenly" white men develpoed a dislike for black women. Maybe it was QT way of soft pedaling the issue but their was a very close relationship between white men and black women. And for that relationship not to have born fruit today in the level of WM/BW marriages must be troubling for them. But even the non BWE crowd has not addressed QT's depiction of BW in this movie.
Again this is one of those movies you have to see more than once. I also thought Batman was of that same vein . Later
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