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'Django' subordinates Black characters, fails to illuminate slavery

CNN News Wire | 2/19/2013, 7:56 a.m.



Films such as "Django Unchained" carry with them an uncommonly high concentration of influence and opportunity. Due to the scarcity of diverse and inspiring representations on screen, Quentin Tarantino's latest movie casts a longer shadow than many are willing to acknowledge.

In a recent interview with UK Channel 4, Tarantino stated his goals and interpretation of the Oscar-nominated film's impact: "I've always wanted to explore slavery ... to give Black American males a hero ... and revenge. ... I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way they have not in 30 years."

He went on, "Violence on slaves hasn't been dealt with to the extent that I've dealt with it."

My personal biracial experience growing up on both sides of segregated hoods, suburbs and backcountry taught me a lot about the coded language and arithmetic of racism. I was often invisible when topics of race arose, the racial adoptee that you spoke honestly in front of.

I grew up hearing the candid dirt from both sides, and I studied it. The conversation was almost always influenced by something people read or saw on a screen. Media portrayals greatly affect, if not entirely construct, how we interpret "otherness." People see what they are shown, and little else.

It's why my dad forced me to study and value history from an absurdly young age--to build a foundation solid enough to withstand cultural omissions from the curriculum and distortions from the media. It's what led me to become a teacher of American and African history out of college. There is a glaring difference in outlook between those who have mined the rich, empowering truth about how we've come to be, and those who just accept that there's only one or two people of African descent deemed worthy of entire history books.

If, like Tarantino, you show up with a megaphone and claim to be creating a real solution to a specific problem, I only ask that you not instead, construct something unnecessarily fake and then act like you've done us a favor.

"Django Unchained" is being projected on screens around the world, out of context: A slim percentage of consumers have any real understanding of what took place during slavery, one of history's most prolonged, barbaric and celebrated human rights violations. Sadly, for many Americans, this film is the beginning and the end of that history lesson.

This film follows a brave, cunning and fearless lead character whose name starts with a "D." Viewers of the film's trailer would think that character is Django, played by Jamie Foxx. In fact, his name is Dr. King Schultz, a German portrayed by Christoph Waltz, (spoiler alert) who sacrifices his life in the pursuit of freedom and justice for the Black man. It is the white Dr. King, who after sharing a motivational tale about a man reaching a mountaintop, nobly gives his life for "Black justice."

Tarantino rightly claims that the abundant use of "n****r" in the film was authentic and of the time. Of course it was. So was chattel slavery and the back-breaking manual labor that kept these massive plantations thriving.