Thoughts on Django Unchained * spoiler alert*


Last night, like many people around the country, I went to go see Django Unchained. According to the description for the film, it’s an American western, which is directed and written by Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker who brought us Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill to name just two. Django, the lead character played by Jamie Fox along with his German mentor, Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) set out to rescue Django’s wife, played by the lovely Kerry Washington, from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. In signature Tarantino style like film as many like to say, this film too has a lot of violence and shooting in it.

This post is not a film critique nor am I a film critic. I leave that to the professionals. Particularly those with a keen eye on how film influences culture and attitudes.

Before watching the movie, I did come across some criticisms, most notably by Spike Lee, who said:

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

Spike boycotted the film, but didn’t elaborate on the reasons beyond what I just quoted.

Others took issue with the excessive use of the N-word in the film, while others applauded the storyline of “finally” having a leading black man “go through hell” to rescue his black wife. That’s the summary of what I came across regarding the film. I did go with an open mind and thought I share some of the observations that I had after watching the film.

Before I do that, I would like to make a distinction between individual artists, and their art and the industry of Hollywood. To me there is a huge distinction.

Not long ago, I was reading criticism of the HBO show “Girls”. Lena Dunham is the creator of that show and she was criticized for the lack of diversity in her characters, all whom are white from a certain socioeconomic background. Though I can sympathize with where the critics are coming from, certainly American TV lacks diversity, I believe it is wrongly directed when the artist is asked to repackage their art. I don’t think Lena Dunham should write for black or brown characters, anymore than I think K’naan should repackage the soul of his music in order to reach “mainstream” audiences. Artists are shaped by their world. Lena Dunham comes from a certain world and those characters she writes will reflect that world, same goes for K’naan, and Mr. Tarantino.

I don’t think artists have an obligation to fulfill the “diversity quota” in their art if that makes sense. Their role as artists is just telling stories, authentically for the characters in those stories. I think that is when an artist feels most free and their soul is at peace with their creation. So that’s how I view Mr. Tarantino. He is an artist, first.

This is not to say, individual artists can’t be bigoted, sexist, or racist. They certainly can and some are, and what they create and pass as their art can be very offensive and degrading to certain groups. This has happened and continues to happen. It’s up to people ie audiences to be alert to what they are consuming, boycott, and protest peacefully if need be. The point I am making here is that individual artists as the examples above should not have the burden to tell multiple and diverse human narratives, that obligation I think befalls the industry, in this case Hollywood to provide a platform that shares diverse human narratives.

So rather than criticizing creators of “Girls” or the show “Friends” for lacking diversity, Hollywood is the problem, not the individual artists. At the times it does engage, Hollywood continues to miss the mark in telling the narratives of Non-European communities. Consider the repeated images and narratives of Native Americans in the history of Hollywood or African Americans, or Africans, or Asians, or Russians, or Arabs and Muslims. What’s the dominate or subtle messages in those films when depicting those communities?

One would be hard pressed to say films don’t influence the average film goer in how they view the world, themselves, and people unlike themselves. Of course the same can be said of the educational system as well, we are indoctrinated in viewing the non-European world as inferior and at times inhumane.

I believe this is what has led filmmaker Ava DuVernay to form the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AAFFRM), to help release films that explore many narratives, which continue to be ignored by the Hollywood establishment. Bravo.

Now onto Django.

The film was entertaining and funny on several accounts. If the film was a western, revenge type film no issues would have arisen for me. But the subject matter was slavery and that changes everything. I don’t have quarrels with the usage of derogatory language, like the N-word in a film or in literature. In fact, given the context I think it is censorship and being unauthentic not to portray history as ugly as it was. So the issue was not the excessive usage of the N-word, but rather, the cartoonish, detached, Borat like way the word was thrown around in the film. Particularly when Samuel Jackson’s character, the Uncle Tom character, used the word. The audience laughed in various parts of the film when that derogatory, hateful word was being used to dehumanize a black man especially when it was being done by another black man.

Now, I may be able to see how it could be remotely funny if say the film was designed to be a parody like Borat or like David Chappelle comedy shows, but it wasn’t and this film was a serious story line. Consider the Bosnian genocide or the Holocaust, or any other human tragedy, a ugly history you can think of. I am sure the Serbs had derogatory, dehumanizing language for the Bosnians as did the Nazis for the Jews. Do you think if those derogatory words were used in a film similar to Django to refer to Bosnian Muslims or European Jews by their oppressors, do you think the audience would laugh as they did when the N-word was used? I find that very hard to imagine. Consider homophobes in a film, a bigot who upon saying gay people uses derogatory language in order to dehumanize, do you think the audience would laugh? I find that very hard to imagine. So why then did people, including black people laugh so hard when black people were being dehumanized by that ugly word? I don’t understand. You may ponder on that.

Another aspect of the film I found interesting, was the German folktale behind the name Broomhilda, which is the name for Django’s wife. It is the German dentist, the friend of Django, Dr. Schultz who tells Django about a man who risks everything, ie “goes through hell” to safe his wife. Django replies, he knows the feeling of that man in the story. However before this point, I am unsure, perhaps I missed it, if Django from the beginning was on a quest to safe his beloved or did the story the German tells inspire him to take that path. Whatever the case maybe, the black hero in the movie is helpless on his own and it is the German who sets the freedom of his wife into motion. You may ponder on why this is a repeated Hollywood narrative, ie Invictus, Avatar, natives (aka not white) being unable to safe themselves.

A crucial moment of the film in my opinion was when DiCaprio’s character, the slave master, brings out the skull of a dead black man, who was a slave of his father. He uses the black man’s skull to demonstrate “scientifically” the skull of the African is different than that of the European, and thus why the black man is fit for slavery due to his submissive nature.

Historically there hasn’t been a shortage of European scientists who have reasoned the intellectual inferiority of the black race. There is no doubt this racist viewpoint is not isolated to just a few people. It was not long ago when a Nobel Prize geneticist said just that. So when DiCarprio’s character made those charges, it was a missed opportunity to challenge those theories, instead it was just left to hang in the air. Django’s character for example challenged Dr. Shultz, a bounty hunter by trade, when Django questioned the morality of a man who would not bat an eye for killing a father in front of his young son. The morality of slavers, the inhumanity, beastliness of the slavery system was not similarly questioned and condemned intellectually in the film.

I did like the love story a lot. I wish that was the main focus. I can’t understand how one can have a leading lady like Kerry Washington and not utilize her talent. I wanted more out of the love story. I understand, Tarantino has a certain style (shoot em up is his thing I hear) but it could have been an epic love story. It could have been an epic tale about honor, fighting the good fight, Braveheart style.

In the end, the audience laughed mostly. I don’t think it stirred any emotional depth that a movie like Braveheart did nor make people feel outraged at the horrors of slavery.


A Lover’s Call: A movie about interfaith love

Yeah, I figured out how to embed youtube video’s in posts via instructions on youtube. God I love youtube, you can basically learn anything!

I saw this trailer for a movie that looks absolutely wonderful! Although it’s a very short trailer to get a sense of it, the concept of this story is very powerful and I am very intrigued to see how this film approaches this sort of love story between two people that are “not meant to be together”, according to the world (faith, culture etc) yet feel this sort of magic between them. Since independent movies like this don’t make it to theaters, we’d have to do some digging to see it. I’ll have to once my exams and projects are out of the way, which sadly for me won’t be till August. And please if there are any independent films you thought were amazing, share them with me. Peace and Love.

Hidden Racist Messages in Hollywood

This was an interesting perspective, and I believe she has a very important point to make. Hollywood has a history of this trend of making black/brown people helpless and in need of being saved, ie The Help, Avatar, Invictus, The Prince of Persia etc. I enjoyed her view, it is refreshing because many are not aware of the hidden racist messages in Hollywood films. It took reading an article years ago that made me realize movies are not as innocent and they send us these hidden messages about people that are not white. It’s a deliberate act and it’s racist.

*The only point I didn’t like was the reference about interracial dating of the actors etc. I get the feeling she doesn’t like interracial love. I think it takes away from the power of her argument on the racist messages in films, which is the real issue.*

My medicine for stress: Laugh, Laugh!

I love Dave Chappelle. Here he is as a “black George Bush”.

Dave Chappelle Prince Vs Charlie Murphy LOL! Dave come back please!

ABG | The Misadventures of AWKWARD Black Girl

This is one of my favorite shows. I don’t watch TV, shows, except Dexter and since hearing the creator of this series Issa Rae on NPR, now I watch this show and so happy NPR did a segment because it i listen to NPR daily and it would have taken me a long time to come in contact with this gem of a show. It has given me great laughs. It’s short clips, but very clever. I hear she is in the works of getting a TV deal, and she should, her show beats all the nonsense on TV. And the story of determination of Issa Rae to make it on her own with her work is inspiring! Big Ups!

You have to watch all the episodes to get into it, there isn’t as many laughs in this episode as in the others, but I am posting because the scene between Jay and White Jay at the end reminded me how unforgiving I am at disrespect.
White Jay disrespects Jay in this episode and I felt it as a viewer, even though nothing like that has ever happened to me. I don’t know what Jay will do and I mad we have to wait so long for the next episode, but if I was ever in that situation it would be over for me. Caaloosheeda bu ka go’ee laha as Somalis say. I don’t hold grudges, I am not one too. But I realized if this is a fault depending on who you ask, I can be very unforgiving and my heart can turn quickly if the person I give my best to, respect, love, admire, make an effort for doesn’t give it the same. I don’t think its wrong to be this way its human nature, but intellectually I do believe giving people a chance despite their hickups (depending on the hickup of course), but emotionally I don’t think I can if what I described above or the similar happens. Does that make me unforgiving? Of course we all have conditions, the only relationship without conditions is perhaps the one between mother and child. Part of me admires those “free spirits” that just don’t care, give, give and love without expecting anything in return because its who they are. I am rambling, not sure if I make sense. But the truth is I care and I expect alot because I will give a lot and if I don’t get it, emotionally I tend to become distant.

I think love/relationships/friendships are like the body and need nourishment to keep it healthy and strong, this nourishment cannot be one sided for long, sooner or later without nourishment it all begins to weaken or it finds a home in a new garden keen on giving nourishment.

Anyway that is what i was thinking watching the scene between the two Jays.

This show is great, check out her channel for more episodes.

Facebook updates and the love bug

Ahhh Facebook Love! Smile. Oh those million couple profile pictures, endless heart smiles, those pet names shout outs and status love quotes. Ahhh. Love, that euphoric feeling that makes one act childlike again and incredibly blissful, which makes everyone else not in love laugh or cringe depending on the way they see things at the change of behavior in the person that has caught the infection of love. And now thanks to technology and social networks we can see how this infection overtakes and changes someone Read more of this post