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Nadra Kareem Nittle

"Django Unchained": Insensitive or Revolutionary?

By December 30, 2012

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Director Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" grossed $14 million on Tuesday, breaking a box office record for the highest grossing R-rated movie with a Christmas Day opening. Given this feat and the multiple Golden Globe and NAACP nods the film has received, one would think that "Django Unchained" is a movie without controversy. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Everyone from conservative whites to liberal blacks have slammed the slave-revenge film in which Jamie Foxx plays a slave-turned-bounty hunter who kills whites as he tries to reunite with his wife (Kerry Washington), a slave sold to an especially unscrupulous plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Director Spike Lee is arguably the most prominent critic to come out against the film, commenting before its release that he would not see it because "it's disrespectful to my ancestors." Others took issue with the film because of its excessive use of the N-word and its occasional comedic turns. Costume designer Barbara Chennault told the Los Angeles Times that she had mixed feelings about the film. "I don't think that slavery is something you can make light of," she said. "Overall the movie was jarring and unsettling, but the humor totally distracted from the depth."

The gossip website Gawker even featured a piece called "The Django Moment; or, When Should White People Laugh in Django Unchained?" In the article, writer Cord Jefferson explains the discomfort he felt during a "Django" showing when a white man in the audience laughed as a slave owner played by Tarantino threw dynamite into a cage filled with blacks. "Throughout the film, I'd laughed along with everyone in the theater as a lynch mob of bumbling rednecks planned to slaughter ...Django...But for whatever reason, the dynamite in the slave cage was a bridge too far for me," Jefferson explained. "What the f--k is he laughing at? I thought, and just like that, the theater went from a place of communal revelry to a battleground."

The odd thing about the backlash against "Django Unchained" is that Gina McCauley of the blog What About Our Daughters predicted in October that the film would generate outcry from blacks. "You and your outrage are anticipated as a tool to market the movie," she wrote then. "While black women and black people for that matter are not the target audience for 'Django Unchained,' you and your outrage are needed as part of Tarantino's marketing plan."

Do you agree with McCauley? Have you seen "Django Unchained?" Does the film make a mockery of slavery or is its message meaningful and thought provoking?

 

 

 

Comments

December 31, 2012 at 6:21 pm
(1) Lorrie says:

Before we delve into a meaningful discourse regarding Django, we must consider the source – the director and his past movies. Have past Tarantino movies been equally as disturbing, silly and filled with violence? The answer is a resounding yes. I refused to watch Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction when they came out because of this. What is “ground breaking” about this film is not the director, not the actors, not the comedy, not the violence – that is all rote, it was the fact that the lead role character was played by black man who was allowed to exact revenge on white people – disallowed for the most part in Hollywood and not only was he the hero but he was a husband who loved his wife, and not any wife, a black woman that was worth dying for. This concept is unheard of in Hollywood. Could the movie been executed in a much more serious manner? Sure, but would white audiences pay to be entertained or made to feel guilty? Tarantino entertained, it was a spaghetti western for crying out loud, with violence and a twist of humor. I would not have wanted to see another “Rosewood,” that movie traumatized and scarred me for a long time after watching it. Some truth is better taken in small portions, because the reality is far too painful to bear.

December 31, 2012 at 6:21 pm
(2) Lorrie says:

As for the use of the “n” word. There was so much hype about the word before the movie that I actually expected the word to be used much more. It was used in a tongue and cheeky sort of way but more towards the end. I do not advocate the use of this word as a matter of fact, I discourage it, however I must add that rap music uses the word much more loosely and to me is much for offensive. Just so readers know, I am a black woman with children who are boys in a society that does not value them – I understand but I honestly cannot understand Spike Lee’s outrage other than the fact that there might be some professional rivalry – he may even be attempting to create fake hype in order to promote is own upcoming movie – who knows?

December 31, 2012 at 6:26 pm
(3) Lorrie says:

Last but not lease…Slavery should be taken seriously but anyone can take light of anything (most comedians get their best material from the most controversial, taboo and painful subjects and experiences) the issue is, can black people handle the interpretation of black history from a white man? I mean come on Red Tails was presented in a similar matter, the only difference is this movie introduced the real conflict and violent nature surrounding racism during that time while Red Tails put on rose colored glasses for the entire film regarding racism. I also have to add that as a ethinic history student Tarantino did do his work. He was spot on with the depictions of the ugly racial caste system during that time as well as the highlighting some of the most horrific aspects of human trafficking, abuse, mutilation, and out-right evil. Do I completely appreciate Tarantino’s perspective, hell no, but it is art and art is interpretive. I say lets use this film to lay a ground work for more new films of this kind to follow – but even better ones, keeping in mind that we will never be able to please everyone. Blacks think whites dont take racism seriously and whites think blacks take racism too seriously – go figure.

January 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm
(4) MY 2 Cents says:

Dyanmite wasn’t even invented at that time. It was invented in 1867.

January 2, 2013 at 2:29 pm
(5) TheAlphaGriot06 says:

The first thing that I would say is that Django Unchained is a movie. As such, it won’t address all of history, nor satisfy diverse needs, wants and interests of the audiences. It’s a movie. And it is a Quentin Tarrantino movie.

For me, I’m not a QT fan. I really enjoyed Jackie Brown. And I really enjoyed DU. His vampire film was “okay”. But like Lorrie, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill are just not my cup of tea. So I don’t run out to see QT films. They are what they are. I’m not mad about it. It’s not “required” viewing.

DU was a cross between a spaghetti Western and a Black Exploitation film. A “Southern” QT calls it. Bravo. He did that well. Also, there are so many authentic layers of those times displayed in the movie…that it is clear that QT did his homework. I have friends with graduate degrees in history…and they were impressed with the details…from the settings and props…to some of the historical facts…and the way the plot was laid out. I’ve been on the phone for hours listening to them rave about the movie.

The language and violence in DU was gratuitous. Same as any QT movie. As consumers, people have a choice in what they support or don’t support. And movies that are produced, are subject to critique.

January 3, 2013 at 6:43 am
(6) TheAlphaGriot06 says:

I don’t think that the movie made light of slavery. Too the contrary. It was consistently serious and on point. The humor was effectively employed and I think it kept (white) people in their seats. I agree with Lorrie that white folks won’t usually pay money for the treat of feeling accused or guilty.

I would argue a little bit with Lorrie, however about what Blacks think about whites not taking racism serious. We actually KNOW that whites, in general, don’t take racism seriously. This is part of our lived experience. There are some (many) exceptions to the rule. But a lot of white folks are pretty ignorant about race and racism. It is unimportant to their lives. They can’t even be bothered to really know…much less, take it seriously.

Indeed, I think it is that that is undergirding some of the frustration that is being articulated by some Black critics of the movie. Not necessarily that a “white man” “can’t” portray Blacks and Black history…most Black folks grow up on that and are used to that. It’s just that it is not accepted by some Blacks from just “anyone”. And Tarrantino is not received well by some. I think that they would argue that “he don’t know me like that”. Right? Where some critics like Spike Lee or Katt Williams cannot possibly be offended by the use of the n-word…give their prolific history with the term. No. The point is that Tarrantino does not have their permission to do it. Because they seem to feel that he is just a white boy who has a fetish about Black folks, wants to be Black and uses the n-word gratuitously to fullfill his fantasies. And so for a few critics…it’s not that whites can’t do Black films or Black history…it’s that Tarrantino can’t. According to them.

But he can. And he does. His movies are not required watching

It was nice to read Nedra’s article and Lorrie’s comments. Thanks

January 27, 2013 at 4:11 pm
(7) Donna says:

I am a black woman married to a white man and we went to see this film last night. I am not a fan of QT because of the gratuitous violence in his films but I stupidly thought that this movie might be a respectful and accurate representation of the worst holocaust in history and that I might be able to use it as an educational resource when teaching. How wrong could I have been.
I sat there throughout the whole film, horrified and wincing at the violent scenes (especially the dog scene and Kerry Washington in the box) and really upset at the laughter coming from my husband and mostly whites in the audience.
I found the film a profanity and grossly disrespectful to the millions of black descendants of slavery. I mean, would hollywood ever have the audacity to release a comedy about the Jewish holocaust? I KNOW NOT. Perhaps people need to see a true depiction without the comedy and the unrealistic Clint Eastwood style hero, Jamie Fox saving his woman, slaughtering 100′s of white people and riding off into the sunset. We all know that wouldn’t have happened in reality and even if it had they would have been caught and hung from trees, mutilated and burnt alive while the whole community, men, women and children come out in there finest dress to watch.
Now we couldn’t show the true reality could we and hurt these nice white folks feelings now could we, let’s just make light of it and all go to cosy homes afterwards feeling fulfilled and humoured.
White people don’t and can’t take racism seriously because they aren’t black. It doesn’t affect them. Millions of blacks are still lost and have no real sense of identity due to the psychological effects of slavery and a lack of knowledge of their true history.

February 5, 2013 at 2:36 am
(8) russbusskins says:

It took me a while to watch this movie. After seeing it, i kinda liked it. Definitely not a QT fan. Alot of it angered me, as far as slavery goes, but seeing this strong black man dish out just desserts made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.lol personally, as a young black man, im kinda disappointed in my ancestors. I know alot of the abuses weren’t just physical, but mental also, but why didn’t they do anything? We had numbers on our side. Were people that scared to fight back? I surely would have been strange fruit hanging from a tree. I would have, and will, die as a man. Its my/our job to protect our families. We as black people need to start healing. We can only do that by coming together as whole to break these chains that has us bound. Oh, and please believe that doesnt mean forget. Hell no! History always repeats its self. Im kind of all over the place at the moment. Do your homework, respect yourself and other, regain your culture and stop living someone else’s, and always care for your people as if they were family. They are.

January 28, 2014 at 5:32 pm
(9) DANNY ARNETTE says:

FOLKS PULEASE!

THIS WAS A GREAT MOVIE. IF YOU’RE NOT A FAN OF QT, THAN DON’T GO AND SEE HIS MOVIES! YOU KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT, SO DON’T GO AND THEN CRITICIZE BECAUSE YOU EXPECT QT TO HAVE REDEEMED HIMSELF A CHOIR BOY!
THE REASON THE CAGED CART SCENE WAS FUNNY WAS BECAUSE OF THE MENS REACTION TO THE DYNAMITE, PLAIN AND SIMPLE, NOT BECAUSE THEY WERE BLACK! HAVE WE NOT THE FREEDOM NOW TO LAUGH WHILE WATCHING A MOVIE? THE MOVIE MADE LIGHT OF NOTHING EXCEPT NOW TO REVEAL THE TRUE, PATHETIC AND TROUBLE MAKING RACE CARD PLAYERS IN THIS COUNTRY! SHAME ON ALL OF YOU! ALL OF THE ACTORS DID A GREAT JOB IN THIS MOVIE. WHY DO WE KEEP REFERRING TO EACHOTHER AS BLACK OR WHITE? SHOULD I STILL BE AFRAID OF THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST OR THE BIRDS OR THE APES OR THE WALKING DEAD? MAYBE THE WALKING DEAD SINCE YOUR ACTIONS EMULATE THEM SO! BRAVO JAMIE AND CAST! SAD DAY WHEN WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THIS KIND OF THING!

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