Black history as Hollywood entertainment
Ph.D. | 1/9/2013, 5 p.m.
Regarding "Django Unchained." OK, so what we have here is another movie-version history of the Black American experience, written by someone not Black. Most of the books about our history--in spite of more than 42 years of African American studies programs and departments--are still written and published by non-Blacks. That may not be a comfortable fact, but fact it is.
Cultures that repeatedly allow non-cultural members to establish the range, scope, major themes and issues of that culture lose legitimacy. I invite you all to stick your fingers in the wind to test the legitimacy of Black culture among our youth.
Thus, howls of later protest about insensitivities shown in White depictions of Black history and culture are more often disparaged and ignored. Should Spike Lee's, Tavis Smiley's, Erin Aubry's and other Black critics' responses to "Django Unchained" set the reference point for the movie? Did the movie make any kind of positive contribution to the acceptance and acknowledgment of Black American culture?
To be sure, this is a very strange movie to put out in the age of President Barack Obama and the remembrance of the Newtown School tragedy. No, it is not "Birth of a Nation Redux." It is instead a satire, a spoof comparable to what its author and director did with Nazism and the Jewish holocaust in "Inglorious Basterds" (and yes, they used Heeb and kike in that movie). It is graphically violent, and it is entertaining. Go to any screening with a significant segment of Black men in the audience and you will hear much laughter, probably loud applause, and a sense of vicarious venting.
The controversy over the prolific use of the n-word is not a point of contention except to scholars and hard-core analysts. The regular Black public viewing the movie does not care.
Is the movie historically accurate? In several parts, no. There were many uses of poetic license, as in the hugely funny scene of night riders stressing out over the placement of the eye-holes in their hoods. These types of KKK-riders were not present in the 1858-1859 time period of the movie, but instead made their presence known during Reconstruction and the birth of the klan in Tennessee and North Carolina, not Texas.
The excellent and irritating profile Samuel L. Jackson does of the character Stephen, works well until the part about the cigar-smoking discussion in the master's library. That just would not have happened. The liberal use of the bullwhip, however, was right on point. It was the most feared regular feature of slavery and worked wonders in bending the will of legions of Black folk to the decisions made by Whites.
As a university instructor of critical thinking and African American culture, I do admire the movie's depiction of at least some of the horrors of American slavery and its impact on Black folk. Way too many of the youth I see and teach weekly are clueless about slavery and the origin of the n-word, and this movie gives them a grand opportunity to learn some significant things, although I cannot ascribe to Mr. Tarrantino's hope that the movie will become a rite-of-passage for young Black males.