Django Unchained: the clash of a spaghetti Western and a Black exploitation flick

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Updated: January 3, 2013
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NORTH CAROLINA (BASN)- One day after Christmas, my brother and I went to see Django: Unchained, a spaghetti Western-style film, starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Kerry Washington, which was about a freed slave-turned-bounty hunter who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal plantation owner.

Despite, all the hype given to this movie, it was the typical damsel in distress love story with an obvious twist, where the slave ascends to become the hero after slaying his adversaries in revenge.

Unfortunately, I must admit, I was highly disappointed, offended and even ashamed during certain parts of this movie.

Were my expectations too high, or was  Quentin Taranito’s aspirations too low?

Plus, I know, some people are going to say, lighten up, it is only a movie.

Besides, who really cares if QT tried to alter history in order to make a movie, especially since we have a Black president in the White House and Jamie Foxx gets to shoot and kill a couple of white folks in the end.

But, when a Caucasian like Quentin Tarantino directs a movie about a subject matter as sensitive and sacred as slavery, it rips at my soul when he doesn’t get it just right, even though Django goes on a “bloody” killing spree, Nat-Turner style, during the movie’s climatic finale.

Why? Because, for two hours of this flick, I felt as if I watching a David Chappelle comedy skit on Comedy Central.

Truthfully, the constant laughter was distasteful and some what disturbing, especially coming from white moviegoers.

The Django Moment

Gawker West Coast Editor Cord Jefferson addressed this issue in his great article The Django Moment; or, When Should White People Laugh in Django Unchained? on Gawker.com

Considering that some of the real-life, well-documented tortures inflicted upon nonfictional slaves were much worse than the ones shown in Django Unchained, it’s almost impossible to not feel self-conscious when Tarantino asks you to rapidly fluctuate between laughing at the ridiculousness of Django’s characters and falling silent with shame at the film’s authentic historical traumas. It’s in this disunity that the Django Moments arise. One moment you’re laughing at Mr. Stonesipher’s unintelligible bumpkin drawl; next you’re wincing as Stonesipher’s hounds shred a man limb from limb……And since Django runs close to three hours long, at a certain point you start to catch yourself laughing where you shouldn’t or—worse, even—hearing others laughing at something you don’t find funny at all. Eventually, you begin to wonder if you’re being too sensitive, or if the movie and everyone else around you are insensitive. Then you start to consider whether any of that even matters.

Understand this, you’ll never see a movie about the “so-called” Jewish Holocaust with more laughter than sorrow. Matter of fact, you probably won’t hear any laughing at all, just total silence and tears rolling down people’s cheeks.

Seriously, could you imagine the uproar if a Black director like Spike Lee made a comedy about the Jewish Holocaust, where the “so-called Jews” were telling jokes and laughing before entering the concentration camps or gas chambers before Hitler ‘s Nazi stormtroopers kill them.

It will never be done.

And it will never happen.

But, in the case of our Holocaust, however, it has been reduced to a spaghetti Western or a poor version of Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddle.

Let’s not forget the incident that occurred in 1996 when 69 students from Castlemont High School in Oakland, California, most of them Black and Latino, went on a field trip to see “Schindler’s List.” and a small group of students started laughing when a Nazi shoots a Jewish woman in the head in the movie.

Some moviegoers were so upset by the laughter that they stormed out to the theater complaining, which resulted in the manager of the theater to stop the film and eject all the students.

Therefore, let’s not deny the truth.

Our Holocaust deserves the same type of respect, if not more.

Criticism as hatred

Please, don’t mistake my critique as hatred, there are moments of brilliance in this movie that spark conversation and debate, especially the scenes of Africans in chains, the brutal scares shaped like branches from trees on the backs of the main characters played by Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, and the torture techniques inflicted on our people throughout the movie.

This, however, can be overlooked by moviegoers, especially young people, who have no knowledge of our past or the African Holocaust.

For this reason, Django Unchained is Tarantino’s weak attempt to make a Black version of Inglorious Bastards.

In effect, in the end, Django, ends up being a cheap version of SHAFT or a 2012 Black exploitation flick with a southern plantation back drop, in which white people get brutally killed to the sound of  rapper Tupac’s “Untouchable,”with lyrics that scream “Am I wrong cause I want to get it on until I die” in the background.

Popcorn entertainment

With that said,  Django is popcorn popping entertainment and soda sipping fun.

But it also is Quentin Tarantino’s twisted Hollywood fantasy, which allows white moviegoers an opportunity to laugh at our history without having to pay any ‘real’ reparations for the worst crimes committing against humanity in the history of the world as well as the opportunity to utilize the ”N”-word about 135 times without a single real person losing their life in the process.

Writer Annalee Newitz attempted to make sense of this Tarantino’s controversy cinematic blood-splattering fantasy in her article entitled Django Unchained: What Kind of Fantasy Is This? in which she writes:

Django Unchained is a movie that is mostly about black people, but make no mistake — it is a white man’s fantasy. I’m not saying that is a bad thing,the way Spike Lee did.

But writer/director Tarantino is a white guy — albeit one who has long promoted and admired black pop culture — and he grapples with this issue head-on by casting German actor Christoph Waltz as Django’s fast-talking mentor Schultz. In conversations between Django and Schultz, you can almost hear Tarantino’s internal debates over telling a black American story using the tropes of spaghetti westerns and exploitation film (at one point, Schultz actually tells Django, “I feel guilty”).

To a certain extent, Tarantino sidesteps this moral quandary by making it clear that a lot of what Django and Schultz are doing is acting. They are partly social engineers, after all, using trickery to get close to their prey. At several points, Schultz urges Django to amp up the acting — “Give me your best black slaver,” he says with a big smile before they go undercover to Candieland. We as an audience are reminded that this is a movie, and these are actors — this movie isn’t so much about slavery as it is movies about slavery. Only a white guy would need to bend over backwards to make this point.

Still, Tarantino doesn’t fall prey to the Avatar trap, where liberal white people fantasize that only white people can save the innocent natives/slaves from oppression. Schultz acts like an idiot and gets killed, so there is no question that Django saves the day — using both his smarts and his gun. Still, this felt to me (as a white person) like a movie aimed mostly at helping white people come to grips with our history in a cool way, rather than a douchey or condescending one.

Tarantino is struggling with another issue, too, and this goes beyond what white people should feel comfortable saying about black history. He’s trying to justify his cinematic bloodlust, and he does it by using his black characters’ victim status as a shield. We see this most clearly during Django’s first bounty hunter kill, when he’s going after the three brothers who whipped and branded him and his wife.

In this scene, Django’s lacy, satin blue pantaloons give him the air of innocence — after all, he is like a child; these are the first clothes he’s ever picked out for himself. Thus his wrath feels all the more pure and just. He is a furious angel, delivering violence that is the only moral response possible in this fallen, white place. It’s testimony to Jamie Foxx’s abilities as a performer, and Tarantino’s as a director, that the foolishness of Django’s outfit is drained away utterly in this scene. You may laugh, but your heart will also be pounding in genuine outraged sympathy for this former slave taking vengeance at last on his oppressors. And this is how Tarantino has, at last, figured out a way to justify his appetite for ethically questionable representations of extreme violence on screen. He’s found a black soldier of justice to act out his gore-soaked fantasies and make them palatable.

With that said, I also applaud Tarantino’s efforts to debunk certain myths about southern slavery, which always seemed to be depicted as clean and wholesome, where all the plantation owners are highly intelligent and flawless,  especially in movies like Gone With The Wind.

As a result, Tarantino cleverly yet purposely chose to depict some of the slave traders and plantation owners as unlearned, tobacco spitting hicks, with bad teeth. Hence, his decision to have the bounty hunter as a dentist.

Spike Lee

Despite that, however, I have to agree 100% with movie director Spike Lee, who said he refused to go see Tarantino’s lastest film during a recent interview with Vibe magazine.

I can’t speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it,” he said. “The only thing I can say is it’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film.”

After that interview, Lee when on twitter to twit this:

“American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”

While Lee was steadfast on his boycott of Django Unchained, film critic and essayist Steven Boone challenged him instead of complaining, to make a film of his own that tackled some of the issues of slavery which Tarantino attempted to address; when he wrote:

You ask why folks are lavishing so much attention on Mr. Lee? I think because we all know Django Unchained is the kind of film we’d love to see him make, something bold, angry, vulgar, tender, musical and sublime about American Slavery.

A Nat Turner Spike Lee Joint. Now that Tarantino has used his clout to initiate a historical subgenre that should have gotten going at least as early as Buck and the Preacher, Spike should tackle his own antebellum epic. Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman—so many of those proud ancestors that Mr. Lee invoked are waiting patiently for beautiful films that honor them.

The best way to honor them is not with tasteful, funereal reverence but some real attempt to measure the dimensions of the stretch of history they occupied. The units of measure are various; whether the storyteller’s measuring tape skews moral, spiritual, political, anthropological, patriotic or mythic, the richness of the fabric always depends upon his regard for people as people. I might have shown a little more love to Spike, given the beautiful moments of compassion and insight scattered throughout his filmography, but I maintain that QT, for all his love of trash and gore, expresses a more consistently generous and soulful sensibility.”

Lee, however, was not the only one criticizing Quentin Torrenito’s Django Unchained:

Ishmael Reed

Acclaimed author Ishmael Reed also was displeased with the movie and offered these words of wisdom.

Tarantino, despite the history of black resistance, apparently believes that progress for blacks has been guided by an elite, which doesn’t explain the hundreds of revolts throughout this hemisphere which weren’t guided by German bounty hunters nor Abraham Lincoln, nor a Talented Tenth Negro. Judging from his letters, the revolt in Haiti scared the blank out of Thomas Jefferson and his friends. Arna Bontemps wrote about the revolt led by the slave Gabriel in “Black Thunder,” but this novel like most fiction written by black males, won’t reach the screen nor will Margaret Walker’s great “Jubilee.” And if these classics did they wouldn’t receive the kind of promotion this movie has received nor did Spike Lee’s movie about the heroic efforts of black soldiers who fought in Italy in World War 11, “Miracle at St. Anna.”

Surprisingly, the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, who viewed the film, had a very different view   on Django.

The Farrakhan Factor

Farrakhan, in fact, praised the actors for their portrayal of the characters in the movie and felt they all did a wonderful job during a recent interview with Dr.Boyce Watkins of YourBlack World.com, who also enjoyed the film.

The Minister also thought Samuel L.Jackson did an outstanding job playing the role of the Uncle Tom in the movie.

“Samuel Jackson, he played his part well.” Minister Farrakhan admitted.

“I mean if I were a Tom sitting in the theater — I mean he played Tom to the max — so, a lightweight Tom would want to get out of being a Tom just looking at the way he played Uncle Tom.

The Minister also seemed to like the storyline of a Black man enduring so much hardship and pain in order to rescue his wife. And in doing so, killed all the slave traders, while freeing all the black servants, before burning down the plantation, which was a symbol of the slavery in America, and riding off in the sunset with his lady.

Biblical/Metaphysical interperation

In the biblical sense, remember the scripture Romans 12:19, which states: Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Unfortunately, in a Quetin Tarantio film, this scripture is followed by James Brown’s “It’s the Big Payback.”

Therefore, in the art of story-telling and myth-making, Django, metaphysically, represents the Heru or the Hero, which, in fact, is Jesus, or Osiris, or Ausar, who has been battered and bruised and returns, in the Christian traditional, on a white horse, seeking justice against the unjust like a thief in the night.

This is the power of myth-making, in which Tarantino strategically and skillfully interjects into his movie when Dr.King Schultz, who is German, learns that Django’s wife is named Broomhilda Von Shaft.

In learning this, Schultz begins to explain to Django the German and Norse legend of Broomhilda and Siegfried, where the hero braved a ring of fire to rescue his beloved from a mountaintop.

This reoccurring theme, which I discussed previously in the article, of a Dragon and a damsel in distress also appears in the Book of Revelations Chapter 12: verse (1-4).

Knowing this, Minister Farrakhan took a deeper look at the film while discussing the violence being depicted in the movie as well as the issue of gun control, which could be heighten by the graphic scenes of a Black man killing white people through out the film along with the recent re-election of President Obama.

He (Django) was killing all these white folk. Well, how does a white person see that? How do white people who feel the guilt of what their fathers have done to us, how do they feel? Do you think that they don’t think that if black folk had a chance to do to them what they had done to us — that’s what the movie is saying — that one out of ten thousand will be like that and maybe more.

Trick-nology

With that said, let’s not be fooled, or tricked, Hollywood had to make this movie funny in order to justify the killing of so many white people and especially a white woman in a cartoonish manner in the end of the movie by the hands of  a Black man.

By knowing this, Minister Farrakhan  said that he “ always try to ascertain what is the motive of the writer, what is the motive of the producer, not what what is the motive of the actor…” when watching movies.

And after watching Django, he came to the disturbing conclusion, that Django Unchained was made in order to prepare us for a potential race war in America, especially with the rise in New World Order extremists, doomsday preppers, and white militia, who fear that the government of the United States of America is infringing on their Second Amendment rights to bear arms and are secretly and covertly conspiring to take their guns away and place them in concentration camps.

Hollywood insiders/Historical realities

From a Hollywood standpoint, however, releasing Django Unchained on Christmas day was a financial decision, which paid-off big time for Tarantino and made $32.9 million across 4,100 theaters during its weekend opening and even  out-earned the much-hyped “Les Miserables,”featuring Anne Hathaway.

But, from a historical standpoint, on December 25th, through out history, there have always been slave revolts and  uprisings in America, Jamaica, and in the Caribbeans Island of Antigua.

The Nation of Islam’s Research Group, in fact, recently wrote a fabulous article entitled What Would Jesus Do? in the Final Call newspaper, which addressed this issue.

On Christmas Day in 1701, fifteen Blacks on the tiny Caribbean Island of Antigua celebrated by rising up and giving the Caucasian sugar planter who enslaved them a present to remember: they hacked him to pieces—killed because of the manner he treated his female slaves. The dead Major Samuel Martin was also the Speaker of the Antiguan Assembly. Their rebellion was short-lived, however; they were overpowered by the island’s well-armed militia. And though their dreams of freedom were frustrated, their spirited yuletide example permeated the colonial Caribbean.

Our Jamaican brothers and sisters weren’t waiting for Santa either. In 1831, under the command of a Black “house slave” named Samuel Sharpe, they rose up against the White oppressors. A true believer in Jesus, our Baptist Brother Samuel used his insider position to secretly organize a peaceful Christmas strike among his fellow captives in order to win better working conditions. Word leaked out to the Whites, who violently responded, turning the peaceful action into a full-scale Christmas rebellion.

Sharpe’s forces grew steadily in number—some say to 40,000—and they traversed the island burning down nearly 160 large sugar plantations one by one.

Along with this Christmas uprising, there was also the 1521 slave rebellion in Hispaniola (now Haiti and Dominican Republic), where twenty African Muslim launched that island’s first slave rebellion as well as the African and Seminole Indian St.John’s rebellion against the region’s sugar plantations  (in what is present day Florida), which also occurred on Christmas day in 1835.

Not surprisingly, Harriet Tubman,on Christmas Day in 1854, with a bond of $12,000 on her head, which would be equivalent to $300,000 today, “secretly assembled seven enslaved Africans” and rescued them out of bondage from a Dorchester County, Maryland plantation, while avoiding slave catchers, and bloodhounds, before crossing a bridge at Niagara Falls into Canada, where the law gave Blacks a measure of freedom, according to the Fall Call newspaper.

Watch and learn

After reading all of this, there is no way possible that anyone could be found laughing during Django as if it was some-type of Tyler Perry flick featuring Madea.

Plus, I suggest you watch the 1971 movie Goodbye Uncle Tom by Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi , which I believe Tarantino borrowed heavily from in the making of Django.

Along with Goodbye Uncle Tom, I also suggest you view Sankofa, a 1993 Burkinabé drama film directed by Haile Gerima, which centers around the Atlantic slave trade and Maafa 21: Black Genocide in 21st Century America, which is a 2009 pro-life documentary film that draws a connection between the targeting of African Americans by the eugenics movement in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the modern-day prevalence of abortion among African Americans, before you start believing our Holocaust is a spaghetti-western.

2 Comments

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