For each one of the film’s virtues, prominent African Americans have found a vice.
“Quentin Tarantino‘s ‘Django Unchained’ has become embroiled in the second major controversy of awards season,” Steve Pond wrote Wednesday for the Wrap. “The director’s liberal use of the N-word, and his temerity in tackling the issue of slavery, has drawn fire from some prominent African-Americans and impassioned defenses from others.
“Like the turmoil stirred up by the depiction of CIA-sponsored torture in Kathryn Bigelow‘s ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ the ‘Django’ fuss has been caused by a filmmaker tackling a hot-button issue.
“Ishmael Reed wrote at Speakeasy . . . that the movie ‘was the talk among blacks during two Christmas parties that I attended,’ comparing African-Americans who said they wanted to see ‘Django’ to ‘When Time Ran Out: Coming of Age in the Third Reich’ author Frederic Zeller, who said that as a child he applauded the Aryan characters in pre-World War II German cinema.
” ‘Django,’ he wrote, is an ‘abomination’ that distorts history: ‘It’s a Tarantino home movie with all of the racist licks that appear in his other movies.’
“On The Root, . . . writer Hillary Crosley said she was one of only about 10 African Americans who attended a screening of the film that was followed by a Q&A with Tarantino moderated by director Peter Bogdanovich.
” ‘[A] black woman interrupted their conversation, saying, “A lot of black people are not going to like this movie. I’m about to have a heart attack,'” wrote Crosley, who defended the film. ‘Then a few audience members began to heckle Tarantino from the balcony, shouting: “This is bulls—.” ‘ Tarantino, she said, offered to speak to the hecklers later.
“The movie has become both a flash point and a free-for-all, and the issue is particularly sensitive among African-American viewers — not a large audience for the film, but a key one for principals like Jamie Foxx, who plays the title role.
” ‘If this movie does what it does and black people hate it, that doesn’t do nothing for me,’ Foxx said on BET. ‘Because I feel like the reason I exist is the black audience.’ “
Released on Christmas, “Django Unchained” ranked second in weekend box office receipts, behind “The Hobbit.”
Black writers were of several minds. Every point raised in a given discussion — that “it’s only a movie,” that it’s really a love story, that it’s like a cartoon, that the use of the ‘n’ word is historically accurate — could find someone taking an opposing position.
On Facebook Wednesday, Darren Sands, 29, a digital producer/reporter at Black Enterprise, garnered amens when he wrote, “Django commentary by most of the black intelligentsia cannot, for all of its brains and gifts of critical analysis, fathom a fantastical film with an artistic license … so the analysis comes off as drivel; baseless assumptions about what is lost on our conscience and about what is acceptable and accurate about a bygone era that we must hold dear lest we embarrass our ancestors. Please. At worst, it’s grandstanding for attention. At best, it’s not knowing how to have a good time at the movies.”
By contrast, in a piece posted Wednesday by the New Yorker, Jelani Cobb, 43, recalled teaching a course on American history at Moscow State University and being confronted by Russian students questioning Tarantino’s portrayal of World War II in “Inglourious Basterds.”
In that film, “. . . The movie’s lines between fantasy and the actual myopic perspectives on history were so hazy that the audience wasn’t asked to suspend disbelief, they were asked to suspend conscience,” wrote Cobb, an associate professor of history and director of the Institute of African American Studies at the University of Connecticut. “With ‘Django Unchained,’ Tarantino’s tale of vengeful ex-slave, what happened in Russia is happening here.
“. . .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. . . . “
Saladin Ambar, HuffPost BlackVoices: Django’s Djumbles
Rodney Barnes, HuffPost BlackVoices: Lincoln, Meet Django: Slavery’s Latest Films Are Controversial, But Not Why You Think
Cecil Brown, CounterPunch: Hollywood’s Nigger Joke
Anthea Butler, the Grio: Does ‘Django Unchained’ get the history of slavery right?
Christopher Alan Chambers website: The Posthumous Journal of Dangerfield Newby (“The Real Django”)
Javier David, the Grio: Does ‘Django Unchained’ make slavery safe for the masses?
Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune: ‘Django’ expresses an anger not every filmmaker can show
Editorial, Washington Informer: Foxx’s Django Deserves High Honors
Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Root: Tarantino ‘Unchained,’ Part 1: ‘Django’ Trilogy?
Keli Goff, Huffington Post: The Racial Slurs in ‘Django’ Aren’t Racist But the Racial Violence May Be
Terry Gross, “Fresh Air,” NPR: Quentin Tarantino, ‘Unchained’ And Unruly
Erin Aubry Kaplan, Los Angeles Times: ‘Django’ an unsettling experience for many blacks
Wesley Morris, Boston Globe: Tarantino blows up the spaghetti western in ‘Django Unchained’
Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: ‘Django’ tells tale missing real slave history
Ishmael Reed, Wall Street Journal: Black Audiences, White Stars and ‘Django Unchained’
Sergio, Shadow and Act: Boston Globe Film Critic Likens Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘Django’ Character To Black Republicans
Tanya Steele, Shadow and Act: Tarantino’s Candy (Slavery In The White Male Imagination)
Jeff Winbush blog: “Django” is Tarantino Unchained
Jordan Zakarin, Hollywood Reporter: Samuel L. Jackson Insists Reporter Say N-Word in ‘Django Unchained’ Interview (Video)