Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

The Hard Truth…Final thoughts on the movie Django

28th January 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Min. J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

Obviously I think the movie Django is worth talking about, if only for the way that it flip-flops the usual treatment of Black people on screen. For example, there is only one really “evil” Black character in the movie and he’s for the white folk. Usually most of the Blacks in a movie or TV show are evil or stupid and usually the “good” Black is a flunky for the whites. In Django there is only one really “good” white character, and like most Black movie characters, he dies, a clear reversal.

To be honest, any movie with a smart, courageous Black man prevailing over white oppressors is going to get my attention, if not approval. And anything that masses of our people are going to be exposed to is of importance to me.

For activists like me it’s not about theory, it’s a practical matter related to the work. I’m not talking about the “conscious” or “cultural” folks whose idea of “work” is sitting around impressing each other with facts about culture or conspiracies as they look down on the pathetic, “unconscious” masses.

When I say “work” I am talking about folks engaged in the daily practice of reaching, teaching and serving the masses of our people because we love them and believe in them and realize that we are them. The question for us is always about whether something is more harmful or more useful for reaching our people, regardless the source.

Many of our number don’t believe you should ever acknowledge that a white person is capable of doing anything right involving us. Others believe you can’t recognize any good a white person does without declaring them our new lord and savior.

Tarantino is not our savior. He’s a guy that did a movie that got some stuff right. Hopefully that movie will embolden Black movie makers to do better. (Lotsa luck with that.)

At best Django is an entertainment piece that tries to do a little teaching, not a teaching piece that tries to entertain. It ain’t a historical documentary.

In some ways Django is the anti-”Birth of a Nation,” the racist 1915 film by D. W. Griffith that alters history to celebrate the birth of the KKK. Griffith re-wrote history to make Blacks the oppressive villains while the cowardly, vicious Klan was portrayed as heroes. For his propaganda piece, Griffith used every trick in the book, humor, ridicule, derision, outrage…the entire range of emotional, theatrical and technological devices available to him to make his point hit home. Tarantino did the same.

Our reactions to the film are as telling as anything else about it. While most folks in the activist community agree that the movie is flawed, that’s where the agreement ends. There is an incredible range of speculation regarding the motives for making the movie, most of it pointless to me. My big concern is if and how we can use it to our advantage.

The furor on the use of “nigger” is interesting. Obviously I have missed some memos. Yes, I’ve seen the funerals for the word and heard about efforts to eradicate it totally from our language. However, if I were to list the top 10 or 15 most critical issues that Black people need to resolve immediately, the “N-word” would not make the cut. I don’t believe that if the word “nigger” completely disappeared from our language this very second it would significantly improve our outlook, understanding, values, behavior or condition. (Of course, I’ve been wrong before.)

I still contend that you cannot and should not eliminate the “N-word” from literature that comes from that era or that seeks to depict that era. I don’t think sugar-coating history helps anyone. The truth is that term has been used profusely against us and by us (for different reasons) until this very day.

The good news for whites who have been worried about a Black revolution coming is that Django proves they can relax for a little while longer. It is sad that we activists can’t even discuss a damned movie without resorting to emotional outbursts, accusations, denunciations and name calling. And it’s not just Dick Gregory. Have you seen the online venom exchanged by “conscious” folks about this flick? So now folks with valid observations are hesitant to share them because they don’t want to go to war with other activists.

You couldn’t organize a bake sale with that mentality, much less a revolution. Worse, this is symptomatic of activist culture; we beef more than gangster rappers and over anything. Like I said, white folks, y’all can relax.

What I liked most the second time I saw Django was the audience reaction. The house was packed with a mixed crowd. Even the whites were getting the point, but of course my focus was the Blacks who, among other things recognized the character Stephen in people they knew in reality. The shock and surprise at the brutality was audible. And, yes, folks liked the shooting.

I contend that it would be a mistake not to use Django, flaws and all to advance our cause. More importantly, we really need to examine and change activist culture. We continually fail and alienate our people because of how we handle issues and each other.

Finally, we need to make, distribute and popularize our own movies and other media about our historical and current experiences. These media should be designed to be entertaining while instilling pride, values, courage and knowledge in our people.

We have all the resources needed to make this happen now. The only thing we lack is an excuse for waiting one more minute to address this need…

…And That’s the Hard Truth!!!

This article was originally published in the January 28, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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