The Hard Truth — Why I liked Django: Another minority opinion
14th January 2013 · 0 Comments
By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
I liked the movie Django.
Didn’t love it, but I liked it enough to see it twice. It was not flawless, but I saw more of what I did like than what I did not like.
That being said, can we at least exercise the integrity to admit that anyone doing any movie about slavery is probably going to get slammed from both sides of the color line? (Happened with “Roots”; both white folks and Black activists criticized the movie.) That may be why Spike Lee chose to denounce this movie instead of using his considerable resources to treat the subject of slavery in a film of his own. No tears for Tarentino, though, who is either laughing or crying his way to the bank with both the movie and the ill-advised action figures from the movie. I’m hearing it’s going to be a trilogy. Not excited about that.
As a Black Nationalist, I am part of a group that reflexively denounces anything white people do. This is partly to resist the dominant trend of Black folks accepting everything white folks say without question. However the truth is, we Black activists tend to criticize anything that anyone of any color does, with rare exceptions. It’s like there’s a competition to see who can find the most fault with anything. This is a part of our culture that I am actively working to change.
If there is one ounce of truth to the above two paragraphs, then this column is destined to qualify as a Minority Opinion among activists and result in burning coals of denunciation being heaped upon my head. But hey, I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.
When I first heard about the project, I thought, “Another white guy trying to tell our story.” After seeing the movie the first time, I realized something that had never occurred to me in 40 years of being a Black activist: Quentin Tarentino was not telling OUR story, he was telling HIS story.
You see the story of the slavery and the system that created it is, at least, as much a white story as it is a Black story. The argument COULD be made that the story of slavery and its root work of cultural, legal, political, religious and economic systems is more of a white people’s story than ours.
Without white people, slavery as we know it would never have existed. White people created the system of white supremacy that produced its own special brand of slavery. White people designed, modified, nurtured, protected, and expanded this system of slavery. Then when formal slavery ended, white people found ways to keep it going and producing tremendous profits up to this very moment.
Oh, it’s a white man’s story alright.
But what I liked about Django as a Black man should be obvious:
I liked the Black guy winning in the end. Heck, I liked the Black guy even living to see the end of a movie. I liked the love story and the portrayal of a determined Black man putting it all on the line to save his BLACK woman. I liked the way he outsmarted his white captors. Did I mention that his woman was Black? He kicked much butt. His intellect and fearlessness were obviously factors that I liked. Samuel Jackson’s sycophant, self-hating slave overseer was sheer genius. I hope those Blacks who live that role today can see how ridiculous they look. I was haunted by the portrayal of Blacks who had come to accept that way of life as normal…as many do today. However, the truth is that smart slaves who resisted oppression were not “one in 10,000” as the movie implies. There were hundreds of revolts, involving tens of thousands of slaves.
The comic relief helped make some parts bearable for people like me, who anger easily when presented with certain images. (I still can’t finish “Roots”.)
The thing I actually appreciated most about the movie however was the gritty, graphic portrayal of the horrific violence, suffering and brutality that were a major factor in the institution of slavery. The metal shackles cutting into human flesh, the metal neck yokes, the branding, the lashes, slaves being marched for miles in the heat and cold. This is critically important at a time when historical revisionists (people who lie about history) are trying to either paint slavery as a harmless love fest or trying to eliminate all references to this nation’s history of racial violence and oppression.
For years people like me have been saying that white people need to teach their own folks about this nation’s legacy of racial injustice and the need to make that right. This is an important part of the story that white people need to be reminding other white people of. Black people need to focus on crafting our own telling of our story to our people.
I’ve read some of the objections. Some are incredible. How do you make a realistic “period piece” about slavery and not have the word “nigger” used profusely? Same would apply with something as late as Jim Crow. But let me get this straight: you are okay with the portrayal of slaves being tortured, abused and savagely murdered but can’t take the idea of them being called nigger? Really? The man was supposed to sanitize the language but keep everything else intact? Really? And what about all the other cuss words that were used throughout the movie?
I’ve also heard complaints about historical inaccuracies. Now that’s reaching! I would bet that the accounts of the conditions of slavery in the movie are closer to reality than the accounts in most school textbooks…if they are mentioned at all. This was not a doctoral dissertation, or a history class but a piece of entertainment that gave viewers a peek at a part of history that many in this nation are trying to keep covered up and forgotten.
I recommend that Black folks see the movie and make their own decisions about it. It is worth seeing and I will be taking my 14 year-old son to see it. Yes, living in the urban ghetto all his life, I’m sure he has never heard a curse word before, (especially “nigger”), so I will be there with him the first time he hears one to help him handle the shock and trauma.
There’s volumes more to say, pro and con, but the main benefit of Django is that kicks open the door for a discussion that too many Blacks and whites in the U.S. have been desperately trying to avoid…
…and That’s the Hard Truth!!!
This article was originally published in the January 14, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper