Monday, December 31, 2012

That Damn Django!

It's hilariously frustrating to me how many public Black scholars and intellectuals and professors of History, Sociology, Literature, and the like, not all, but some, are intent on criticizing Quentin Tarantino and even Jamie Foxx, for their creation/writing/imaginative composition and participation in 'Django Unchained', yet most of the aforementioned Black voices, who are from either America's Generation X or Baby Boomer generations, laud other Black actors and actresses for their involvement and, sometimes, creation of cinematic Black caricatures. (i.e. Alex Haley and Ron O’Neil via 'Superfly').  In my opinion, Tarantino was and is not trying to rewrite Black American History by no means; the man is a writer and director of cinema that attempted, successfully I might add, to tell a love story via the lens of integrating the Hollywood genres of the spaghetti Western and Blaxploitation films.

            As a matter of fact, Tarantino is not only telling a love story, but he is also telling a story of vengeance and proper reparations that posits the Black male as a non-subordinate figure who is a prototypical hero of American cinema—Django is a John Wayne in a sense because he plays by his own rules and is the antithesis of the subservient Negro or subordinate slave of the times in which the movie takes place (1858), described as being “a rambunctious sort” by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Monsieur Calvin Candy, the slave planter/owner of the Candyland Plantation which, through dialogue, constructs and brings to the forefront the notion that the Black male wasn’t as docile, timid, and fearful of the white patriarchal system. One could even argue that this piece of dialogue even deconstructs the notion of the Antebellum South’s totality of control of the Black male psyche and physical body.  Django does what most slave films do not—show the white slave master and all of the whites that exist in the vacuum of dehumanization getting what they deserve—death, and a violent one at that.

            But Tarantino has done something in American cinema that we haven’t seen in cinematic abundance since the 1970s—he has positioned the Black man as an American Cinematic Hero to audiences of all hues. What is profoundly important is that Tarantino’s Django exists in an era of American History, a troublesome era at that, rather than in an apocalyptic or futuristic era that deems alien beings as the other and objects of xenophobia or in a world where base survival is the most important nuance of life and one’s race is all but obsolete (e.g.  the Black heroes in alien takeover films or the post-apocalypse ‘Book of Eli’).  In a nutshell, ‘Django Unchained’ reintroduces the Black, cinematic hero to audiences that were not privy to the Black Exploitation heroes like Superfly, Shaft, Goldie, or Slaughter.  And because of Tarantino’s bankability, the creation of a Django may very well be the impetus for the reconfiguration of Hollywood’s casting of the Black male.

  Unlike the ‘Blaxploitation’ or ‘Black Exploitation’ films of the 70s, which were mainly viewed by and profited from majority Black audiences, ‘Django Unchained’ is being viewed, celebrated, and financially compensated via the pockets, wallets, and coin-purses of not only Black, but white audiences as well.  Quentin’s Hollywood bankability, directorial respectability, reputation, be it good or bad, and fame affords this film the opportunity to be distributed, accepted, and lauded by audiences and critics of all socioeconomic and ethnic residences.  You could say, ‘Django Unchained’ is the Hollywood’s ‘Roots’, a television network’s production, as it pertains to accessibility and availability of consumption. 

By no means am I writing as some sort of white apologist for the exploitation of Black American life or the Black American experience, but I am writing in defense and support of a film that redirects how Black and non-Black audiences view of a leading Black man or hero.  Django is neither subservient nor in need of Dr. King Schultz’ (Christopher Waltz), the white bounty hunter with whom he works, aid and assistance in saving him from a violent predicament or unwanted quandary (e.g. the Rush Hour franchise).  And he doesn’t die!  Django is all man:  dirty, rugged, tough, physically savvy and skilled, if not supernaturally accurate, in the art of handling a firearm.  Everything the American viewing audience has been conditioned to believe, endorse, and promote from the prototypical white American gun-slinging hero. 

And as far as the argument that is circulating on blogs and the web concerning the politics of gender constructs, can we not posit the dystaxy or "cinematic flashbacks" to Broomhilda (Kerri Washington) and Django's love for her as the "main character"? For example, the entire premise of the movie is one man's longing for the "present" not absent love of his wife. Sure, the male protagonist is the hero, yet the hero is fueled both emotionally and physically by the memory and the longing for his wife.  I believe this revisionist cinematic piece of History disseminated via a cinematic representation is just as profound and potent and important as Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’ which is ironic in that I didn’t hear many Jews complaining about that film (please see Dangerfield Newby or John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry to see the similarities between Django and Newby as a historical reference).  If I had an extra arm and hand I’d give this film three thumbs up.  It’s worth the time, money, and intellectual analyses. 
                                                                                                          -Gee Joyner