America may not be ready for an action/adventure Western film set in the Antebellum South. I imagine that much of it stems from our collective sense that looking at slavery through any lens that isn’t extremely serious and definitely troublesome is dangerous because the risks involved in allowing ourselves to simply “get over it.” I doubt any thoughtful person would ever really feel this way, but stranger things have and continue to happen. We go about our daily lives in an age of Affirmative Action, Black History Month, Stop-And-Frisk, Black-On Black crime, rampant incarceration, and many different forms of emotional enslavement that preclude us from being able to deal with many of the aforementioned issues objectively, so a movie set during slavery that isn’t really about slavery [per se] seems really troubling. Spike Lee, without even viewing the movie, and vowing not to see the movie, dismissed it as “disrespectful” to our ancestors.
I see his point, but I disagree with him on the grounds that the movie can, and certain will, create opportunities for some much needed dialogue.
I’m as certain there will be people who will call Quentin Tarantino an apologist for writing a film about a Black slave killing White people as I am that there will be others who will call Jaime Foxx a sellout portraying a slave in a movie that infuses America’s horrid history of human trafficking as fodder for action, adventure and, at times, comedy. We will hear folks decry, “How dare Tarantino write the word ‘Nigger’ that many times in a movie—again!” and “Jaime should be more responsible, as a Black actor, in his choice of roles.” and people will be divided in their responses to the film and the filmmaker[s] for many of these reasons. There will be the requisite, “If Tarantino was a Black filmmaker…” speculation, because if Spike Lee, or any other Black writer/director had written and directed Django there would have been mass emails, texts and online clamoring to get the Black masses out to support because studios don’t put money behind “Black movies with meaning” [like Red Tails]. I’d argue that Django would qualify as a “Black” movie—much more so than The Help, of which I’m unsure of Spike’s approval, but I’ll assume he didn’t dig too much either.
The same way that George Lucas didn’t have to put his time, talent and money into Red Tails to deliver the oft-told slice of American history that is the Tuskegee Airmen, Quentin Tarantino has no obligation to set his story in the Antebellum South, nor does he have an obligation to make his hero and damsel in distress Black people. But in doing so, Tarantino highlights an often-overlooked page in the American story. He adds something that wasn’t there before he decided to do it. And if now isn’t the right time for him to do it, it’s certainly the best time. I don’t feel like he did me any favors by writing this particular story, and I’m not prepared to thank him for a contribution to Black history or American history. I am, however, glad he made the movie. Not because he did it, but because it’s now done. It’s there, and the fact that he did it gives the story a wide audience. The showing I attended had a diverse audience, and while I was prepared to experience some awkward, “I don’t know if I feel comfortable with all of us laughing at this” kind of feeling at some point, I didn’t. I was actually kind of glad that he went to many of the places he went with the writing. I feel like he tried to be careful in his treatment of America’s touchiest subject matter. I think it’s worth the viewing if for no more reason than the conversations that can come from seeing the movie and feeling something about it. [I kind of like the fact that Django Freeman, and his wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft are ancestors of John Shaft. I guess that adds a layer of American cinematic history as well.]
While I’m sure there will also be the inevitable “Why do we have to wait for a White man to validate our story” protest, I still say this will suffice for now. Besides, we don’t have a monopoly on American history as it pertains to Black people any more than we have a monopoly on American movies as they pertain to Black people [See The Help]. And it just so happens that the Black movies making money in America seem to be overwhelmingly lacking in historical heft and depth. Of course, that’s just my opinion. Maybe Tyler Perry is writing Madea’s Harlem Renaissance, or Spike’s working on something dealing with the Springfield Race Riots of 1908. If so, I’d pay the price of admission, if for no other reason, to have something else to talk about. America is about as ready for Django Unchained as it was for a Black president. And I believe the responses to it will be much the same—many of us will be proud to have seen it happen, while silently acknowledging our collective unpreparedness for any real discussion of what it means or how it really affects us by not having any constructive conversations about it at all. We’ll reserve our strong opinions for our like-minded friends who won’t challenge us too much because the subject is a little too touchy to have an open discussion or disagree with one another in public. But that’s the American way, right?
I’m curious…what do you all think about Tarantino/Spike/Jaime/Kerry/Slavery/Django, or any of this, for that matter?