Everybody’s talking about ‘Django’
By C. Kelly
The Michigan Citizen
Imagine being freed, or unchained, from slavery. Learning to be a fearsome gunslinger, getting some cash and going to find and free your true love, along the way blowing up, whipping and beating all of those who have enslaved you and separated you from your wife. This is the basic storyline of Quentin Tarantino’s new revenge flick, “Django Unchained.”
Although some are calling for a boycott of the film and filmmaker Spike Lee says he believes it is an affront to the ancestors, those who have not seen or are unsure about seeing “Django Unchained” — go. “Django” is satisfying entertainment.
Tarantino, who specializes in genre mixing, has created an antebellum spaghetti western complete with big sky, Stetsons and slavery.
Played by Jamie Foxx, newly free Django, sets out to find his wife, Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington. The heart of this story is not historically inaccurate. Newly freed people often sought out family — husbands, wives, children, parents. Dr. Schultz, the white sidekick, smooth talking dentist finds Django, frees him and asks for his partnership in the bounty hunting business. Django and Schultz team up to rescue Broomhilda from a Mississippi plantation named Candyland.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, the depraved, possible inbred, who runs Candyland assisted by Stephen, his trusted, nefarious, self-serving house slave, masterfully played by Samuel Jackson.
Today, it is an insult to call a Black person a house slave and Stephen will remind you how terribly effective an insult it is. In one interview, Jackson said Stephen is “one of the most despised Negroes in cinematic history.”
Blacks’ worst fears of Southern plantation life is actualized in this film. The film is graphically violent and at moments difficult to watch. It is rare to see the brutality of slavery on the big screen. The horrors of slavery are depicted in “Django” — dogs mauling runaways, “Mandingo” fights in the parlor, rape and whippings.
Conversely, Blacks’ inside jokes about the time also see life including hints of white incest, ridiculous southern belles, white houses with big ole pillars and a lot of that southern “big daddy” stuff.
Despite the horror, there is something refreshing about seeing this part of American history, so often denied, on the big screen.
So refreshing, the public doesn’t seem to know what to do with the film. NPR and The New York Times have relied mostly on interviews with the director that address his body of work or his genre-blending ability rather than the nitty gritty of this particular film. Conservatives, however, seem in on the submessage most Black moviegoers find impossible to miss.
Jamie Foxx was criticized for joking on Saturday Night Live about how great it is to be able to “kill all the white people in a movie.”
Washington Times writer Jeffrey Kuhner wrote this about Foxx’s comment:
“Anti-white bigotry has become embedded in our postmodern culture. Take ‘Django Unchained.’ The movie boils down to one central theme: the white man as devil — a moral scourge who must be eradicated like a lethal virus. For decades, Hollywood, U.S. textbooks and higher education have stressed that America was founded upon slavery, sexism and genocide. In other words, white European civilization is the root of evil and imperial subjugation around the world.”
Indeed, “Django” offers a hero Americans don’t get to see too often, if at all, in Hollywood — he is Black, strong and outwits everyone. He gets the girl, keeps the cash, wins the game and rides off in the sunset, kicking ass the whole way through.
The media doesn’t know what to do with this movie. The characters drop the word nigger at least 50 times. One recurring line is: “Look at the nigger on the horse.” Not as funny in newsprint as on film, but it refers to everyone’s shock at seeing a Black man riding high, instead of walking or better yet shuffling.
Several reviews of this film refuse to use the word nigger in the review and constantly refer to it as that odious word or the N-word. The dance around the word is almost comical and requires a revisit of Randall Kennedy’s book “Nigger.” Most media is too polite to use the word, but in denying its existence and its use, we deny something else, too — American history.
Samuel Jackson refused to be asked about use of the N-word when the white interviewer refused to say it.
Tarantino’s film is pushy and requires a real conversation on race and history. It is written in a tone that doesn’t exist in pop culture anymore. It is a tone found sometimes in the 1970s when films such as “Blazing Saddles” existed and Richard Pryor was popular — when entertainment pushed conversation and maintained an important edge on cultural critique. Tarantino’s film should be the beginning of a new film genre, one with Black protagonists and a Black point of view on “the way things were.” Ultimately, we need more of these done by Black filmmakers.