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Chris Stevenson Today is July 23rd, 2014|Hudson Valley Press - More Than News |Bookmark HVPress!



March 20th, 2013

Tarantino’s ‘Django’ is both good and bad for cinema



Chris Stevenson

A while back, during the annual Golden Globe Awards, film director Quentin Tarantino responded backstage to the issue of his rampant use of the N-word in his latest controversial movie, "Django Unchained"

"If somebody is out there actually saying, when it comes to the word ‘nigger’, the fact that I was using it in the movie more than it was being used in the antebellum south in Mississippi, then feel free to make that case. But no one’s actually making the case. They are saying I should lie, that I should whitewash, that I should massage, and I never do that when it comes to my characters."

‘Django’ (the ‘D’ be silent) did win awards in the category of writing and acting, but none for its direction. Perhaps Tarantino would have won if they finally made a category called Best Blaxploitation Film. The key to understanding Tarantino’s ‘Django’ isn’t the N-word, as many people are venting about around the country. It’s the individualism of his principle character.

Jamie Fox’s Django paid scant attention to the plight of other slaves - he didn’t organize. Many blacks really don’t understand just how offensive on-screen black unity is to whites today.

It goes way back. Throughout the age of motion pictures and television, white producers have watched blacks in all aspects of real life occupations and professions whether it be in Los Angeles, or New York City and the boroughs, and most have overwhelmingly decided that they weren’t going to show the full-range of blacks in their stories. During those early years of Hollywood, production company owners, producers, screenwriters, and directors must have seen black doctor, black lawyer, black police officer, black newspaper publisher, black-owned trucking company, black soldier, black pilot, or black fighter-pilot, with their own eyes, but agreed among themselves they were only going to show black shoe shine "boy" or black house servant. That was the main part of the Liars Club they agreed to form. Otherwise this would be a different article you’re reading and I would be reviewing Quentin Tarantino’s "The Resurrection of Nat Turner."

There are times I surprise myself, and watching ‘Django’ was one of those times. Even though the N-word usage was a valid concern, it was still a good movie and well-acted by all parties involved. It’s not unusual for Hollywood to use an actor or director to keep the N-word in circulation for a fresh new batch of young viewers every 10 or 15 years for fear that white suburban kids might grow up without ever hearing it (these white executives do a lot of over-thinking). But given the situation in which the plot had this former slave - recruited to be bounty-hunter - it would be safe to assume such a thing would inspire a plethora of "nigger" responses and remarks given the period.

Yes, parts of the movie were grisly, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s skull scene and the extreme misogyny toward the slave women - particularly in the case of Django’s wife the bilingual Broomhilda von Shaft ("Hildy"). But I wonder if all the negativity hid one important aspect of the "Django" - the fact that Tarantino actually captured the essence of what has been missing in most black roles. Not only did he have a black guy kill the bad white guys, but he had the black hero actually get the black girl and showed them both riding off together in the moonlight. In his own bizarre way he was trying to portray Hildy as the classic damsel in distress that we are trained to see only white women portray. In an era of extreme violence, had DiCaprio just tied her to a railroad track most of you would have been bored to sleep. Yes, she was misogynized (new word alert), but in the end she got the last laugh.

By contrast, the movie "Red Tails" showed brothers in great, rarely-seen combat footage to match their real accomplishments, but the object of the chief character’s love was a white female. The same story goes for perpetual Hollywood gadfly Spike Lee.His latest hater-aid rants are accusing Tarantino of doing something he himself has done for years - use a generous spray of N-words in his movies. A few years ago, Lee complained about Clint Eastwood directing war movies focusing on the Japanese (our enemy during WWII) instead of black WWII soldiers. Lee’s "Miracle at St. Anna" had WWII soldiers literally fighting over a white female in Italy. Way to go, Spike, you’re really showing them what for. Who else but the "nigger"-loving Tarantino dares to write a "save the world and get the black girl" story? Am I the only one seeing this?

For our real black history we once again turn to Steven Spielberg. Sorry, "Django Unchained", but "Lincoln" is the big HNIC around these parts; another epic slave movie concurrently playing in theaters about the 16th President’s struggle to pass the 13th Amendment while some blacks were actually killing some white southerners. This story was based on a real live book - "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin - not some obscure B-movies.

Tarantino could have given us a story on any of the real life ‘Djangos’ that black journalists have been mentioning. Given the hundreds of slave revolts and slave ship mutinies throughout history, finding a lead character wouldn’t be too difficult. But it’s hard to blame Tarantino. As I said before, Hollywood knows these people existed, but it’s a business run by sensitive, racist white egos. Remember George Lucas’ difficulty in getting "Red Tails" produced? Black people started acting funny because they reasoned in their infinite wisdom that it was produced by a white guy who had the nerve to have the trailer broadcast on television. Tarantino knows how we would be if he based this on a true black character - he’d be shot down by today’s blacks.


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