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There is much controversy surrounding the movie “Django Unchained.” This blog is not meant to add to that controversy but offer my own thoughts and opinions on what I viewed. As with any book, movie, video or other art form the art is left for the user to interpret. No matter what the artist or creator intends to portray the user will interpret the art form based on her or his own personal lens. This is one of the reasons I rarely read reviews of movies from movie critics and most movie viewers.
Most people walked into the movie with their minds already made up about how they should feel about the film. Many people heard about Spike Lee boycotting the film and went in immediately looking for something to dislike about it. Some saw interviews with the cast, specifically Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington, and had astronomical expectations based on those interviews. More people heard about the use of the n-word and were immediately withdrawn. Others heard about some of the comedic elements in the film and did not understand how comedy could be added to a film about slavery. Tarantino’s reputation led others to either go see the film or stay away. His style is either one you love or hate, I have not encountered too many middle-of-the-road Tarantino fans. We all walk into films with some kind of expectation or bias.
“Django Unchained” is a spaghetti western
In spaghetti westerns are more action oriented than their American counterparts. For the time of making many spaghetti westerns were quite violent, and several of them met with censorship problems, causing them to be cut or even banned in certain markets. The Civil War and its aftermath is a recurrent background. Instead of regular names such as Will Kane or Ethan Edwards, the heroes often have bizarre names like Ringo, Sartana, Sabata, Johnny Oro, Arizona Colt or Django. (Source: http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Introduction)
Sergio Leone’s Fistful of Dollars and the following films in his Dollars trilogy created the Spaghetti Western as a novel kind of Western. In this seminal film the hero enters a town that is ruled by two outlaw gangs and ordinary social relations are non-existent. He betrays and plays the gangs against one another in order to make money. Then he uses his cunning and inordinate weapons skill to assist a family threatened by both gangs. He is disclosed and severely beaten, but in the end he again uses cunning and inordinate weapons skills to defeat the remaining gang.(Source: Author Unknown)
“Django Unchained” is not a movie about slavery
Django Unchained is an action drama. The movie takes place in the south two years before the civil war. The title character, Django, is a slave who has been separated from his wife. While being transported to a new plantation he is “freed” by a German bounty hunter. The bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, uses Django to help identify his former slave masters in order to collect a bounty. During this unusual partnership Dr. Schultz learns of Django’s “Broomhilda” and decides to help him rescue his wife in exchange for his bounty hunting assistance. Django develops into an excellent bounty hunter and gun slinger. Throughout this entire process Dr. Schultz is disturbed by the horrors of slavery that constantly surround them, Django acts as a man possessed and bullet proof in pursuit of his wife.
“Django Unchained” and elements of slavery
I do not claim to be an expert on slavery. However, I noticed that many of the elements within the movie were fairly accurate. All of the devices, contraptions, and other forms of slave control were very accurate. One of the things that can be debated is the attitudes of many of the slaves on Candie’s plantation. Did the slaves seem happier than usual? What is usual? Were there some slaves that were happy? Were there some slaves that had smiles on their faces? Were slaves allowed to “play” outside?
There are a couple of things that could be going on here. Tarantino could be saying that slaves decided to make the best of a horrible situation so they played happy, even though they were not. I cannot imagine what it would have been like for a slave to watch another slave be ripped apart by dogs. Tarantino could also be saying it’s ridiculous for any slave to pretend to be happy in these circumstances, so let’s show everyone this imaginary idea they have of slavery.
Here is an excerpt of an interview with Quentin Tarantino and Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“I’m a scholar of slavery, and one of the things I notice in my classes [that I teach] is that we’ve become inured to the suffering and pain of slavery, that we’ve distanced ourselves enough from it, that people can’t experience the terror, the horrible pain, the anxiety, the stress, et cetera, that came with the slave experience. I thought that in Django you really began to reinsert contemporary viewers into that pain, particularly through the scene when the dogs tear Candie’s slave D’Artagnan apart. And by the way, I don’t know if you know, but that actually happened. The French used these dogs in the Haitian revolution …” –Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“Well, however you want to depict the horrors of slavery, slavery itself was 10,000 times worse.” –Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
“That almost became our slogan. It’s like, look, the stuff that we show is really harsh, and it’s supposed to be harsh, but it was [actually] a lot worse.” –Quentin Tarantino
“Django Unchained” and Slavesploitation
If you are looking for a slavesploitation movie Django Unchained is not that movie. It is a well written story that takes place two years before the Civil War. With wonderful actors, good (but gory) action, great cinematography, and superb dialogue Django Unchained is a “Good movie with questionable moments.” –Danny Cochran
Additional movies about slavery or elements of slavery
“Birth of Nation” (1915)
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (1927)
“Gone With the Wind” (1939)
“Goodbye, Uncle Tom” (1971)
“The Legend of Nigger Charley” (1972)
“Black Snake” (1973)
“Jefferson in Paris” (1995)
“Django Unchained” and comedic elements
There were several parts of Django that were pretty funny. In an action-drama that was very intense at times it was good to have the tension released with some comedic elements. There is one scene in particular that I would like to recount. The KKK bandits were planning to shoot up Dr. Schultz and Django as they prepared to depart with their bounty. The KKK members began to argue about the bags they had placed on their heads as disguises. They shared how the holes were too small, they couldn’t see, and how unappreciative others were about the work that went into making the bags. This scene is particularly funny because it shows the KKK looking ridiculous. This is a direct contrast to other movies that have portrayed the KKK.
Bag Head #2: “I think we all think the bags was a nice idea. But, not pointing any fingers, they could of been done better. So how bout, no bags this time, but next time, we do the bags right, and then go full regalia.”
Big Daddy: “Wait a minute! I didn’t say no bags!”
“Django Unchained” and some 21st century metaphors
1. Slave lingo reminded me of some of the street vernacular of today. Some of the slave lingo had more to do with language barriers and adapting to a foreign tongue. Over time it had more to do with the lack of access to a formal and informal education. How many books have you read lately?
2. Blood sport reminiscent of today’s sports and entertainment world. Owners, promoters, and managers watch as the players fight it out in the ring.
3. Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson, immediately looked upon Django with disdain and condemnation. Stephen does this because Django comes in riding on a horse. It was unusual for anyone to see a Black man on horse. How many of us have experienced or witnessed haters?
4. In one of the final scenes a slave who had once looked upon Django with contempt looked at him with admiration as Django rode off into a final battle. In this scene Django utilized his acquired intelligence to gain his freedom from his captors. How many of us are inspired when we see others that look like us do things that we have dreamed of.
“Django Unchained” and my favorite lines
“Do I sound like a slave?”
“I am just a little more used to Americans than he is.”
“Black slaver is lower than the lowest slave.”
“Alexandre Dumas was a Black man.” (paraphrased)
(Dumas is the Author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers)
In the end “Django Unchained” is a fictional movie. The movie shows in detail a fantasy uprising of a slave. Just as in Inglorious Bastards, Tarantino wanted us to revel in the idea of bad guys going down hard, and the oppressed rising up against the oppressor. Too many people expected a documentary or docudrama on slavery. I would encourage you to do research on the writers and directors of movies prior to viewing them. That will give you a better idea of what to expect.
There are many things that people, specifically Black people, should focus on much more than a fictional story. Are you debating the current foolishness on TV? Are you challenging the racist criminal justice system? Are you tackling the Black unemployment rate? If those tasks are too daunting for you try these: Are you telling the young man in your family to pull his pants up? Are you telling the young lady in your family to keep her pants on? Are you mentoring at least one young black man or woman? Are you reading a book to improve yourself? Are you doing all that you can to help improve this miserable condition that Black people are in?
Our energy and voices are better served engaging in initiatives that can help the Black community right now. I am not saying to dismiss, ignore, or refuse to debate our history. What I am saying is that we need to pick our battles wisely to maximize effort and to affect real change.
“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act.“ -George Orwell
“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.” -Albert Einstein
If you have uttered the words, “LET’S TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!”, you have probably stumbled on to the wrong blog. The truth does not matter these days. We live in a world where people find what they like and want to hear and believe it to be the truth. If you believe that the President and the democrats have stolen your country, you will believe the information in this blog to be a lie. Or even worse, if you believe that President Barack Obama is planning a secret Black takeover of the United States, this blog will enrage you. You will likely not have the courage to read this blog. This post is not a political endorsement. This is a response to the “Take Our Country Back” movement.
The major question I would like answered is, “WHO STOLE YOUR COUNTRY?” Let’s get the facts straight. Most people that have the “Take Back Our Country” signs are likely not the same individuals that originally inhabited this country. This country was taken over, flag planted and claimed. The Trail of Tears comes to mind. The next step was free and cheap labor. The slave trade comes to mind—our not-so-humble beginnings of stealing a country then building it with slave labor. Our country was so divided over ending slavery that we went to war, the Civil War. Some wanted our country to do better and others decided they wanted to keep “their” country embedded in slavery. People cried, “Let’s take our country back!”
After the war ended and the slow ending to slavery, we moved into good old Jim Crow. Some people in our country felt it was ok to continue to discriminate on the basis of race and ethnicity. This sparked the 20th century civil rights movement, which began much earlier and went on much longer than it should have. Arguably, the height of this movement took place in the late 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. Who would believe that there was controversy surrounding giving people equal rights? Once again our country was divided over giving people of color equal rights, protection, and privileges. During this time some of the most prominent civil rights and political leaders fought and died for these rights. Most notably: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton, John F. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy. People cried, “Let’s take our country back!”
On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Millions of people attended the occasion and hundreds of millions watched on television and the internet. Some even listened on their radios and digital devices as they traveled to and from their destinations. This was a joyous day for not only African Americans, but all of America. We had finally taken a major step in overcoming our painful racial history. We celebrated, as one, the inauguration of our first Black president.
Wait! Did we all celebrate? As candidate Obama was being sworn in as President Barack Obama, top Republican officials were meeting in a place named the Caucus Room. According to reports “they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama’s legislative platform.” This is not fiction, this is fact.
What was so urgent about this meeting? Who attended this meeting? What was so wrong with the President that they could not wait? Or was it simply the idea of a Black President and what he could potentially do that struck fear in their “Take back our country” hearts.
They weren’t the only ones not celebrating. Presidential inaugurations are watched in K-12 school systems across the nation, very similar to watching a space shuttle launch. These are significant historical events that educators share with each other and their students. You may or may not be surprised to know that many schools, particularly those in Republican or conservative leaning areas, did not tune in. Why is this? What message does this send to our students? Were they in protest? Were they thinking “Let’s take our country back?”
The disrespect, racism, and downright hatred of President Barack Obama would continued beyond inauguration day.
On September 9, 2009 President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress in September 2009. During the middle of his remarks Republican Representative Joe Wilson yelled, “You lie!” This was obviously a blatant display of disrespect. In my lifetime no one has ever yelled at the President in this manner. The office of the President is to be respected. Individuals that may disagree with the President’s policies should do so in a respectful manner.
On October 23, 2010 Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConell made sure that everyone knew the intent of Republicans in congress. “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” With everything going on in the country at that time, why were they focused on defeating the President versus helping everyday citizens?
Our country is under siege. The potential that we had is diminishing every day. You may say this is not racism MarcQus. You are probably right. It actually looks more like White Supremacy. It looks more like Ethnocentrism. What do I mean by that?
Let’s look at some remarks that have been made to, or in reference to, President Obama during his presidency.
1. “Show me your birth certificate Obama!”
2. “Obama is a welfare President.”
3. “Put the White back in the White House.”
4. “The President doesn’t know what it means to be an American.”
5. “Show me your college transcripts Obama!”
6. “Black people are voting for him because he’s Black.”
Let’s check out some remarks made by John Sununu, Romney campaign co-chair:
– Obama is foreign. Obama doesn’t understand the “American system” because “he spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia, and, frankly, when he came to the U.S. he worked as a community organizer, which is a socialized structure.” [Fox News, 7/17/2012]
– Obama doesn’t know how to be an American. During a conference call, Sununu claimed, “The men and women all over America who have worked hard to build these businesses, their businesses, from the ground up is how our economy became the envy of the world. It is the American way. And I wish this president would learn how to be an American.” [Conference call, 7/17/2012]
– Obama is a lazy idiot. Sununu described Obama’s debate performance as “babbling,” “lazy,” and “disengaged,” and dismissed the possibility that he could do better in the future. “When you’re not that bright you can’t get better prepared.” [Fox News, 10/4/2012]
Conservative political pundit, Ann Coulter, tweeted after the last Presidential debate that she approved of “Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.”
Draw your own conclusions about these statements. Here are some social justice definitions to help clarify things for you.
Active Racism: Actions that have as their stated or explicit goal the maintenance of the system of racism and the oppression of those in targeted racial groups. People who participate in active racism advocate the continued subjugation of members of targeted groups and protection of “the rights” of members of the advantaged group. These goals are often supported by a belief in the inferiority of people of color and the superiority of white people, culture, and values.
White Privilege: The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards and the power to shape the norms and values of society that Whites receive, tacitly or explicitly, by virtue of their position in a racist society. Examples include the luxury to be unaware of race, the ability to live and work among people of the same racial group as their own, the security of not being pulled over by the police for being a suspicious person, the expectation that they speak for themselves and not for their entire race, the ability to assume that a job hire or promotion will be attributed to their skills and background and not to affirmative action (Mclntosh, 1988).
White Supremacy: The theory or belief that White people are innately superior to people of other races.
It is evident that America is being divided. How do we unite the country without alienating one another? Have we forgotten how to respectfully disagree?
“Live as one or perish as fools.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
We easily forget history. I have been paying attention to political cycles for a while now. People are free to criticize the President. But please understand that President Obama has been questioned, ridiculed, misrepresented, mocked, and disrespected more than any President in recent memory. Those of us that fit the “other” category can relate to the President’s racial battle fatigue.
Racial battle fatigue develops in African Americans and other people of color much like combat fatigue in military personnel, even when they are not under direct (racial) attack. Unlike typical occupational stress, racial battle fatigue is a response to the distressing mental/emotional conditions that result from facing racism daily (Smith, 2004).
You don’t have to look far to see the difference in treatment. The rhetoric was not as heated during the 2008 presidential election and the criticism of the previous President (George W. Bush) was not laced with racial coding. People are using any and every trick in the book to cover up the racism and anti-Christian sentiment that is being directed at President Obama.
My brother Isaac Akins explains what I mean:
“In my personal opinion, these past four years have served as a thinly veiled effort to hide the racist, hateful tendencies in the heart of this country behind the guise of politics. It saddens me to see so many believers hop on the hype bandwagon thinking they are upholding their Christian morals while never considering why certain push-button issues have NOW become so much more important than during other administrations. What makes THIS particular president so much more evil than the last few? You let the Socialist, gay, anti-Christ Obama rhetoric rob you of all good sense, both white and black believers alike, and your downright ignorance in general disgusts me.
I can’t imagine what Our Lord thinks when He considers our lack of love and outright hate for anyone who doesn’t conform to our socially reinforced image of a good, upstanding American citizen, or just doesn’t match up to our Pharisee-like standards of holiness, as if anyone could (speaking specifically to the issues of race and sexuality in this country). I agree that this country is headed down a dark path, but not for the same reasons so many people talk, FB and tweet about. It’s because after so many decades of struggle, this country is far more racially divided and hateful AFTER the election of its first black president than before. Go pray on THAT.” –Isaac Akins
America is a good country, but it has not been the great country that we claim it to be. America has always had the potential to be a great country. But it will not become “great” until we acknowledge our prior transgressions and work towards healing them, treat with respect the poorest man as much as we do the richest man, and truly acknowledge and appreciate our differences.
The country you want you can never have back.
There are two books that describe exactly what is going on here:
“What’s the Matter with White People: Why we long for a golden age that never was” written by Joan Walsh
“America Again: Re-becoming the greatness we never weren’t” written by Stephen Colbert
Xenophobia and racism will drive people to the polls, for and against the President.