Django Unchained - Avant-Garde Or Just Antebellum All The Way To The Bank?
|Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen in Tarantino's Django Unchained|
I went to a few galleries this week and I’ve decided that one thing I like about art is that it prompts great writing, sometimes mind expanding writing. Curators and directors across the globe engross us in imaginative hyperbole and mind-expanding text that many times is not supported by what is on the wall in front of you, but that’s ok the writing is to support the art. Such is the world of movies and reviews.
One can read some very insightful commentary on the problem with Django and its merit. I like that Django will incite conversation however to me the commentaries on race and stereotype are all but wasted because they should not be offered up to such a poor movie.
The movie has garnered best picture nomination from the Producers Guild Award (PGA) proving I guess that I no nothing about film.
What made Spike Lee think Django Unchained would be that bad and was it?
Spike Lee say...
"All I'm going to say is that it's disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film. That's the only thing I'm gonna say," he explained. "I can't disrespect my ancestors. I can't do it. Now, that's me. I'm not speaking on behalf of anybody but myself. I can't do it."
|Community activist Najee Ali holds a picture an action figure depicting Calvin Candie, Leonardo DiCaprio's character from the Quentin Tarantino film "Django Unchained," during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in Los Angeles. The slavery-era figures are raising questions about whether they're appropriate. Ali, director of the advocacy group Project Islamic Hope, plans to call for the removal of the toys from the market. (AP Photo/Nick Ut) (The Daily Republic)|
This movie could be jumping the shark for Tarantino, if he is not careful, with his characteristic over the top violence like watching Elvis after he had become a caricature of himself; it was still Elvis but... It is still Tarantino but he seems to have forgotten how to tell a story in this django.
It was difficult to suspend reality enough to enjoy the movie on so many levels, on one level because the absolute horrors of slavery and its aftermath seem to have eluded Tarantino and no one should be surprised. His first written and directed movie, not counting My Best Friends Birthday, 1987 that he did on $5000, is Reservoir Dogs. It is bloody, quirky, well written, violent and of course very well directed. In "Dogs" Tarantino spins a good tale.
What is distasteful is that Django is not about any of the issues raised or socio-racial dynamics captured in the movie by any stretch of the imagination. They are tools; they are all a backdrop for Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western period. Again the movie has all the blood we now expect from good Massa Quentin but the only palpable violence in the movie is exacted against black folk, he didn’t understand the impact of the historical context on our American psyche and this eluded most of the movie goers I spoke to. In a Terry Gross interview he says a few things that show he didn’t have a clue; one of them being the fact that what happened to Black folks on the real, was a 1,000 times worst than what happens in his movie. He does not understand that his over the top violence was compared to a reality of Black life up through the 70s, the 1970s in this country and paled by comparison.
The movie isn’t even a morality tale even though the good guy literally wins and gets the girl. Nobody dies as a blow to systemic racism they all die within it except for maybe Stephen. That payoff was not worth watching a Black man being ripped to sheds by dogs that real history is not behind us those wounds are not healed in Black consciousness. It was not worth watching two Black men fighting to the death for the sport and the entertainment of White folks with one bludgeoning another to death with a claw hammer in a plantation parlor his reward, time off from fighting and a beer. During this scene a beautiful female house nigger, wonderfully dressed smiles aloofly in the background seated sipping brandy.
Which one of you says this dynamic sans brandy slurping Black woman is not alive and well in these here United States? Unfortunately many would say that irrespective of the pageant of step and fetch it rapper buffoons and video vixens in front of the camera with until recently non Blacks behind the camera. As an aside it is very telling that Jay Z was all right with “bitches and hoes” for your daughter but his child was too good for it; that’s what it took?
Incidentally, throughout the movie King (I wonder why he picked this name?) Schultz, a bounty hunter who, during this time period had to have seen unmitigated violence against Black folk before is shaken by the violence several times … but oh no not the Black folk who could be subject to it at anytime on a whim.
I know there comes a time when what is sacred joins the ranks of the profane you see it in stand up comedy and advertising frequently where something that was once taboo transitions into fair game territory. That is quickly happening with the legacy and life of Dr. Martin Luther King as in this example from the Colbert Report; though the joke is about the usurping of Dr. King’s image you will notice the co-opting of the I Have A Dream Speech to make the point and the irreverent co-opting of his image. None of the co-opting of Dr. King’s image for cash would have been anticipated in the immediate wake of Dr. King’s death.
If there will ever be a time for this transition concern the violence from which we still suffer that time is not now.
As of the 1990s it is estimated that trans Atlantic slave trade involve around 12 million Blacks that estimate down from an earlier estimate of 15million. 1.2 to 2.4 million lost their lives on slave ships. Total lives lost are estimated at 10 million, that includes African slaver raids and deaths in the U.S.
“I get to kill White men and get paid for it, what’s not to like?”
Every moviegoer of color I spoke to loved Django. Their ages ranged from late twenties to mid fifties. Django had it’s funny moments and its smart moments and even great Tarantino moments like the silhouette of Django and Broomhilda “Hildie,” Django’s love interest played by Kerry Washington in a loving moment juxtaposed against house nigger Stephen aptly played by Samuel L. Jackson and mourners returning from the funeral of Plantation owner Calvin Candy play by Leonardo DiCaprio. “I get to kill White men and get paid for it, what’s not to like,” quips Django and apparent this is where many folks’ heads were.
As a story so many things didn’t make sense like why was Django so hateful and dismissive of Black folk more so than Candy and King Shultz played by Christopher Waltz? It doesn’t make sense he’d be dismissive and then kill Stephen for being an uncle tom; there were several issues like this that are due to poor character development. Whites seemingly had more empathy for Blacks than did Django.
How did Django go from a tentative slave to looking white men in the eye and “talking back” seemingly overnight?
There is one scene in which uncle Tom house nigger Stephen has just called Candy into the library and when Candy arrives Stephen is sitting in a chair legs crossed swirling brand in a snifter; this along with several other moments in the film make it easy to believe Stephen just might be part owner of the plantation! A buddy of mine who is a 75 year old redneck from the South has a truism about Northern and Southern racism, that goes like this; “in South you (meaning Blacks) can get as close as you want just don’t get too high, in the North you can get as high as you want just don’t get too close.” In this movie we are high and close and I just couldn't suspend reality that much along with all of the other concessions the movie asks me to make.
I’ve given this movie way more type than it deserves, it does not push the envelop in any way creatively. The story is boring the manipulations obvious. Leading into the final act of the movie Dr. Schultz, Django and Hildie, mission accomplished, that of saving Hildie are a handshake away from freedom and good health. Inconceivably Dr. Shultz cannot bring himself to shake hands with Candy which leads to both their deaths in a shootout. Inconceivable except Tarantino needed a reason to get to the final bloodbath and like many things in this movie the failed handshake was fast and easy.
Why do people like this movie so much? The number one reason is our national desensitized appetite for violence. Secondly Black folk need to keep their history, their stories and their collective memories, hold them dear they make us who we are. I’d like to see Tarantino try this with instead of the 400 year Black holocaust as a backdrop, using the Jewish holocaust of approximately 8 years in which 6-10 million Jews died, as a backdrop for his vehicles and contrivances. If this would occur I’d like to also see Spike Lee make a statement on how disrespectful it is to humankind.