Let’s talk about #DjangoUnchained

‘The film’s defenders are quick to point out that “Django” is not about history. But that’s almost like arguing that fiction is not reality—it isn’t, but the entire appeal of the former is its capacity to shed light on how we understand the latter.

[…]

It seems almost pedantic to point out that slavery was nothing like this. The slaveholding class existed in a state of constant paranoia about slave rebellions, escapes, and a litany of more subtle attempts to undermine the institution. Nearly two hundred thousand black men, most of them former slaves, enlisted in the Union Army in order to accomplish en masse precisely what Django attempts to do alone: risk death in order to free those whom they loved. Tarantino’s attempt to craft a hero who stands apart from the other men—black and white—of his time is not a riff on history, it’s a riff on the mythology we’ve mistaken for history. Were the film aware of that distinction, “Django” would be far less troubling—but it would also be far less resonant. The alternate history is found not in the story of vengeful ex-slave but in the idea that he could be the only one.’

— Jelani Cobb
The New Yorker

 

I liked the film, I really did, but when the credits reeled, I felt a pit in my stomach I couldn’t erase. We could call it cultural appropriation, but I do believe QT’s a smart man who knows of his white privilege, dismantles it, but takes creative license with a subject that’s over his head, mainly because of how art is consumed and stereotypes are perpetuated. That being said, I still believe ‘Inglorious Basterds’ and ‘Django Unchained’ are great movies, but there are shifting, unwavering problems with both of them, beneath their surfaces and shadows. This article said it more eloquently than I could. This doesn’t disregard QT’s art and his mastery as a filmmaker–but as my problems were with Duras’s “The Lover,” the same are with “Django.”

Let me briefly expound. As Micheline Marcom has taught me this past semester: politics are a dead end in art. I agree with that. But at this same moment, there’s a complication that goes unnoticed when a white man, or any other person of some racial construct, fails to create an art piece that takes into account the bodily and emotive memories of oppression. I believe we carry the histories and the pangs of our ancestors via the body as well as the mind–call it a Jungian collective memory–and as a body living and breathing the fucked up ruminations of white oppression and convulted post-colonialism, I ask: where is that fine line between art and responsibility to “shine a light” on the past or reality or truth through fiction, through art, through creative licenses, through a privilege of mass storytelling? Excuse my French. But I’ve heard many a-times that good-hearted white folks “feel bad” like Dr. King Schultz. Do you really think we care about your “feeling bad” on the downright massacre and erasure of our people and culture and souls when a perpetuated notion of American exceptionalism is afoot? No. We don’t.

Call “Django’s” problem a cultural appropriation issue and I think we’ll miss a point here. It’s a great hero epic and an enticing story that seduces you, leaves you sick in the stomach. But its problems are transmuted. They’re more ingrained, more nuanced and systematic than that.

 

 

 

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