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Django, in chains
February 27, 2013 8:10 PM   Subscribe

Actor and producer Jesse Williams has written an article about the issues he has with Quentin Tarantino's film Django Unchained, including the ahistorical portrayal of slavery and the lack of agency shown by the movie's black characters. He expands the argument on his blog (image NSFW).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants (95 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have yet to see Django Unchained and therefore I cannot rule one way or the other on Williams's article as a whole.

That being said, this:

He created an imaginary scenario wherein his characters could outwit and ultimately incinerate Hitler and his top advisers in a movie theater. It was choose-your-own-adventure heroism to create figures that took complete agency in the acquisition of their freedom. A very cool idea.

Is not how I would describe the underlying subtext or meaning of Inglorious Basterds. Granted, I'm willing to hear counter arguments to that as well.
posted by sendai sleep master at 8:19 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Quentin Tarantino, the world demands you vote for your Oscar favorites.
posted by fleacircus at 8:19 PM on February 27, 2013


I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way they have not in 30 years.

Oh really? I guess we all live in our own worlds.
posted by juiceCake at 8:21 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I loved Django Unchained as a piece of violent entertainment (did it win Best Sound Design for those gun blasts or anything for those squibs?) but I found I had the same issue the author did with Christopher Waltz' character and with the slaves inaction. They almost seemed to confirm Candide's point about Django being '1 in 1000'.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:22 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I sincerely wish I'd found _DU_ to be deeply problematic or offensive.

Then it would have been interesting on some level, at least.
posted by bardic at 8:26 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with any problem one has with any Tarantino movie since Jackie Brown is that the complainer assumes that Tarantino didn't already think of that. I don't think that's ever a safe assumption.
posted by cmoj at 8:34 PM on February 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Recommending a very very long article "Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why"
Django Unchained trivializes slavery by reducing it to its most barbaric and lurid excesses. Slavery also was fundamentally a labor relation. It was a form of forced labor regulated—systematized, enforced and sustained—through a political and institutional order that specified it as a civil relationship granting owners absolute control over the life, liberty, and fortunes of others defined as eligible for enslavement...

That absolute control permitted horrible, unthinkable brutality, to be sure, but perpetrating such brutality was neither the point of slavery nor its essential injustice. The master-slave relationship could, and did, exist without brutality, and certainly without sadism and sexual degradation. In Tarantino’s depiction, however, it is not clear that slavery shorn of its extremes of brutality would be objectionable.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:36 PM on February 27, 2013 [22 favorites]


(did it win Best Sound Design for those gun blasts or anything for those squibs?)

1) there is no best sound design category (!)

2) two films, TWO, tied for "best sound editing" (which is essentially a stand-in for best sound design, sometimes, except usually the films that win are the ones that have the most complex sequences not the most creative use of sound), and NEITHER ONE WAS DJANGO.

Therefore, the system is false
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:38 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


OMG, Jesse Williams is the cute plastic surgery resident from Grey's Anatomy

... which obviously I never watch and certainly not every week.

Grey's, why can't I quit you!?
posted by purpleclover at 8:43 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with Quentin Tarantino is that he hasn't made a movie about people since 1997.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:50 PM on February 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


And now that I've RTFA, I like him even more.
posted by purpleclover at 8:52 PM on February 27, 2013


The problem with Quentin Tarantino is that he hasn't made a movie about people since 1997.

People are boring. Archetypes are more fun. The problem is when he uses the real suffering of people to fuel his archtypical movies. To be honest. I would have been just as happy if Django Unchained featured the original Django slaughtering thousands of generic villains, or a Mexican hero, or a gay hero, or John Marston... the added thematic resonance helped, but the actual joy was in the gunfights and the hero shots of Django (and Waltz's dialogue).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:53 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great post! I enjoyed Django but definitely felt uncomfortable with parts of it. It's really nice to read a good angry critique of it. There's a lot of meat in this that I hadn't fully processed. Now I'll have to check out that recommendation from spamandkimchi...
posted by Going To Maine at 8:54 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


People are boring. Archetypes are more fun.

If this is a widely-held opinion, it certainly explains most of the movies they put out...
posted by threeants at 9:02 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I will say this about it: I saw Django twice. The first time it was a hilarious romp about glorious revenge and movie violence. The second time it was a disturbing dirge about racism and murder.
posted by cmoj at 9:04 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Django Unchained was worth it if only for the scenes where the slave owners were unable to articulate why they didn't want Django spoken to as a human.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


The CNN-hosted article is a good description of why Django's script is such a chunk of dumb, racist horse shit. Thanks for posting.

I like the blog post, too. Really sums up everything I noticed while watching it and plenty that I didn't. The blog post is odd though. Interspersed with the cultural crit are so many complaints about scene ordering and visual logic that it almost seems like Williams is pulling for the movie to get it together. Come on, Django, you can do it! Suck a little less! Maybe so that his critique of its politics would be an argument about a more serious thing.

He never addresses this: the central problem of the film might be that it's a spoof about slavery, and that a spoof about slavery is unwelcome for a LOT of reasons, though he's nailed reason number one in the case of Django (that Django is a pretty racist movie).
posted by damehex at 9:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was watching, of all things, a documentary about True Grit. They were trying to figure out who Rooster Cogburn was based on and they figured it might have been one of the most feared gunslingers in the West, a Federal Marshall with who could shoot two pistols at once, escaped slavery, and was trained by Native Americans. His name was Bass Reeves, and I wonder why nobody made an over the top blaxplotation movie about him. He freed HIMSELF from slavery; he wasn't freed by others.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


People seem to make the rather grand mistake of seeing Django Unchained as anything more then wish fulfilment, alternate history, vengesploitation. Am I the only person who sees this, Basterds and Bill before it as a continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge? I see Django Unchained on the same level as Brotherhood of Death. To call it out as misrepresenting history is really, really missing the point?
posted by mediocre at 9:30 PM on February 27, 2013 [19 favorites]


Holy cow, that article that spamandkimchi linked to above ("Django Unchained, or, The Help") is one of the best articles I've read in a while, on almost any topic. This is a particularly incisive bit on Django, Lincoln, The Help, and any number of recent "social studies" films:
The deeper message of these films, insofar as they deny the integrity of the past, is that there is no thinkable alternative to the ideological order under which we live. This message is reproduced throughout the mass entertainment industry; it shapes the normative reality even of the fantasy worlds that masquerade as escapism...

Neoliberalism’s triumph is affirmed with unselfconscious clarity in the ostensibly leftist defenses of Django Unchained that center on the theme of slaves’ having liberated themselves. Trotskyists, would-be anarchists, and psychobabbling identitarians have their respective sectarian garnishes: Trotskyists see everywhere the bugbear of “bureaucratism” and mystify “self-activity;” anarchists similarly fetishize direct action and voluntarism and oppose large-scale public institutions on principle, and identitarians romanticize essentialist notions of organic, folkish authenticity under constant threat from institutions. However, all are indistinguishable from the nominally libertarian right in their disdain for government and institutionally based political action, which their common reflex is to disparage as inauthentic or corrupt...

The fact that there has been no serious left presence with any political capacity in this country for at least a generation has exacerbated this problem. In the absence of dynamic movements that cohere around affirmative visions for making the society better, on the order of, say, Franklin Roosevelt’s 1944 “Second Bill of Rights,” and that organize and agitate around programs instrumental to pursuit of such visions, what remains is the fossil record of past movements—the still photo legacies of their public events, postures, and outcomes. Over time, the idea that a “left” is defined by commitment to a vision of social transformation and substantive program for realizing it has receded from cultural memory. Being on the left has become instead a posture, an identity, utterly disconnected from any specific practical commitments.
Honestly, I could go on outing the whole thing. It's just very, very good, much better than the main link in the post, and well worth reading, not least because it successfully and effectively eviscerates most of the common arguments for and against Django Unchained.
posted by koeselitz at 9:39 PM on February 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Am I the only person who sees this, Basterds and Bill before it as a continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge?

Probably not the only person, but I think it's wrong. Basterds was so over the top in it's revenge fantasy that you had to start to wonder if that was the point, didn't you? Like, when you're watching a bunch of Nazis watch a movie about killing Allied soldiers while you enjoy watching a movie about killing Nazis, or when you are brought to a finale where you're cheering for the immolation of a bunch of fairly normal seeming folks and feeling weird about being manipulated into cheering for it? Come on.

Honestly, the revenge fantasy part of that movie seemed like the lowest of the levels it was playing on - well no, the lowest level was a really well executed WW2 adventure/ensemble classic movie, but still. I was astounded at how many levels of mirrors and reference he nailed in that movie while still making it enjoyable for anyone just wanting one of said levels.
posted by freebird at 9:47 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Django Unchained trivializes slavery by reducing it to its most barbaric and lurid excesses.

This is a really interesting point.
posted by freebird at 9:48 PM on February 27, 2013


Am I the only person who does not see this, Basterds and Bill before it as a continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge? I see Django Unchained on the same level as Brotherhood of Death. To call it out as misrepresenting history is really, really missing the point?


On the contrary, at least with Basterds (SPOILERS AHEAD).

I think my following interpretation may add something to the discussion. If everyone thinks it is too much of a derail please feel free to tag it and have it deleted.

To call them simply violence picks, in my opinion, is to suggest that all the dialogue in the movie is just filler or requisite character development. Regardless of whether you love or hate the guy, he has shown himself to be someone who thinks (and over thinks, perhaps) quite a bit about subtext in film. It seems unlikely to me that he doesn't attempt or give thought about such meaning in his own films.

Basterds to me (and I may be able to dig up some articles if not things previously on the blue that argue something similar) is about who gets to write history, how people view themselves in the present, and how the messy moral complexity of reality is simplified, for better or worse, when history is later immortalized and coded via culture. In this case via film.

The titular Basterds have an MO that attempts to stop past actions from being rationalized and simplified into a narrative. By carving swastikas into the heads of the nazis they hope to disable the ability of those nazis to revise history. The most striking case of this is when Hans Landa's actions, in the film's timeline, actually bring an end to the war and to Hitler. He attempts to revise history by having a condition of his actions being that he be seen by history as never a villain. The Basterds carve his forehead in an attempt to stop this revision. The irony of course is that The Basterds themselves and their actions are historical revisions made possible only by the media of cinema.

---------------------------------------------

None of this is to say that those who found Basterds objectionable when it came out are wrong or without argument. There is certainly a debate to be had there. It's just that, in my mind, if the prevailing opinion becomes that it is objectionable then I think it needs to be looked at both for in a narrative and subtextual light.

Because of his simple description of Basterds as "cool" I was slightly wary going into Williams's article but the fact that he very specifically breaks down his argument via specific scenes suggests that he has a formidable argument regarding Django being objectionable. I would give my own opinion but, again, I'll have to see Django first.
posted by sendai sleep master at 9:52 PM on February 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Am I the only person who sees this, Basterds and Bill before it as a continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge?

Basterds was very talky, and spent so much time commenting on the nature of violent revenge it was barely about violent revenge. Django at least was still a Western.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:52 PM on February 27, 2013


I also should add that I, hoping to see Django soon, was going into it hoping that it would operate on a level, like Basterds, that questions itself by being semi-explicitly about historical narrative and history as interpretation that may lead to great injustices. Like, say, the institution of slavery for centuries.

I will be very disappointed if it does in fact turn out to be Tarantino being misguided and racist.
posted by sendai sleep master at 9:55 PM on February 27, 2013


So, Basterds was "continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge" but it was also "barely about violent revenge"? Sounds complicated, so I guess we both think it had a lot going on!

I think that it was still a great WW2 movie though. The little details of spycraft and genre he nailed were so perfectly executed I think it would be possible to enjoy as only a WW2 adventure. But, there's no debating about taste.
posted by freebird at 9:58 PM on February 27, 2013


Django Unchained, or The Help: "Django Unchained trivializes slavery by reducing it to its most barbaric and lurid excesses."

freebird: "This is a really interesting point."

I know, right? And the article backs that up really nicely; there were plenty of very nice, civil, unabusive, even kindly and paternalistic slaveowners, and Django Unchained utterly ignores them - as if slavery would be okay if the slaveowners were kindly and paternalistic and didn't beat slaves and force them to sit in hot cellars and threaten to cut off their genitals and run Mandingo fights.

I mean - those abuses were terrible and all (the ones that actually happened, anyway) but they absolutely weren't the central injustice of slavery - and that central injustice is completely disregarded in Django Unchained.
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


The closest the US has ever come to reparations for the unimaginably immense costs of slavery was a grudging, century-long process of allowing black people to have the same rights as white people. So another white person making oodles of money off slavery? Yeah, I can see how that rankles.
posted by threeants at 10:02 PM on February 27, 2013


Am I the only person who sees this, Basterds and Bill before it as a continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge? I see Django Unchained on the same level as Brotherhood of Death. To call it out as misrepresenting history is really, really missing the point?

I also see it more through the Tarantino lens than through the historical lens. From a black perspective, I totally see where Williams is coming from, as well as other vocal critics like Spike Lee, and Tavis Smiley. I don't agree with them, but I get their perspective. There's a specific tradition and viewpoint that views pretty much everything coming from mainstream white culture with suspicion, and rightly so.

I do have a problem with the criticism that the movie doesn't fully capture the enormity of what slavery was, or it's effect on the black experience. There's a reason Toni Morrison has Nobel and Pulitzer prizes sitting in her trophy case. What she does is not easy. The critics are right that it's a much bigger thing than we see in Django, but wrong that Django needs to capture all of that big thing in order to be relevant. We need lots of stories from many different perspectives to properly enter that chapter of history into it's proper place in the public consciousness.

I don't think we'll ever get to a point where we can really deal with the subject of slavery in popular culture properly until we come to grips with how fully intertwined slavery is with American history. I think people on both sides of the table do themselves a disservice thinking that somehow black folks "own" that history. Very few of us grow up with anything resembling a real accounting of how we got to where we are as a country. We all benefit from finding bits of the truth wherever we can.

I personally liked the movie because I saw it as using a fabled view of history as a thinly veiled allegory of present day racial dynamics.
posted by billyfleetwood at 10:05 PM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


billyfleetwood: "I do have a problem with the criticism that the movie doesn't fully capture the enormity of what slavery was, or it's effect on the black experience. There's a reason Toni Morrison has Nobel and Pulitzer prizes sitting in her trophy case. What she does is not easy. The critics are right that it's a much bigger thing than we see in Django, but wrong that Django needs to capture all of that big thing in order to be relevant. We need lots of stories from many different perspectives to properly enter that chapter of history into it's proper place in the public consciousness."

I agree (as does the article I've been prattling on about, incidentally) that no film can address every aspect of the past completely. However, I don't think we "need lots of stories from many different perspectives." Maybe a few perspectives would be good, but it would be best if those perspectives don't misrepresent the past or even misrepresent themselves. Tarantino has presented Django Unchained as his effort to give young black men a hero through a revenge flick; he's crowed about getting people talking about slavery for the first time in decades. I don't think it's a bad thing to examine the movie itself and judge it on its own merits. As my new favorite article points out, what's more interesting is that not only Tarantino but almost everyone else making movies about the black experience have decided that the best way to deal with historical events is on clearly ahistorical grounds.
posted by koeselitz at 10:23 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


sendai sleep master, I didn't see Inglorious Basterds but am intrigued now that you describe it as being about "historical narrative and history as interpretation." I think DU falls down because it doesn't really allow for that discussion, the viewers are just yanked along on a revenge fulfillment fantasy.

billyfleetwood, your view that DU works as an allegory of contemporary racial dynamics is interesting, but would be more convincing for me if Django had more agency. I do think the complaints about DU's bad history stem from more than either a) Everything Must Be 100% Accurate or b) how dare a white man tell a black story. Ultimately, Tarentino is telling a tale of revenge, but not a self-made avenger a la the Count of Monte Cristo.
Film critic Manohla Dargis, reflecting a decade ago on what she saw as a growing Hollywood penchant for period films, observed that such films are typically “stripped of politics and historical fact…and instead will find meaning in appealing to seemingly timeless ideals and stirring scenes of love, valor and compassion”
koeselitz, glad the article is provoking some thought! I was pondering how to put it up as a FPP here and then was excited to see that Charlemagne reopened the discussion on DU.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:25 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


In Tarantino’s depiction, however, it is not clear that slavery shorn of its extremes of brutality would be objectionable.

I disagree with this. Slavery is objectionable because people were seen as property rather than persons with rights, based on their race. Candie describes the phrenological basis of his belief that black people are subhuman, animals, and therefore not to be ascribed rights but to be treated as property. Schultz undermines this pseudoscience by educating Candie as to the genetic heritage of his favorite author, Alexandre Dumas. Thus it is shown that it is not merely wrong to treat black people cruelly and violently, it is wrong to treat them as less than equal.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:36 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


The ending of Django Unchained made me very sad.

Indeed, I cried.

The movie finally coalesces into a pure fantasy, and the historical impossibility of the fantasy was very distressing to me.

I wonder if that was the intent of the director.
posted by striatic at 10:40 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because of his simple description of Basterds as "cool" I was slightly wary going into Williams's article but the fact that he very specifically breaks down his argument via specific scenes suggests that he has a formidable argument regarding Django being objectionable.

I'm less sure. He actually gets some things about Django flat-out wrong. ("In fact, in this entire, nearly three-hour film, there are no scenes with black people interacting, or even looking at each other, in a respectful or productive way." Yes, there are. Django and the girl at the first plantation; Django and Hilde, multiple times.)

And he either misses or ignores the intended implications of several other scenes. ("In the third act, after seeing Django kill the Australians, the blacks sitting in an open cage neither communicate with each other or consider stepping outside of the cage." And ... are we to assume they never left the cage? That they died of starvation for fear of leaving it? No. Obviously not.)

He's even somewhat self-contradictory at one point, saying both:

"Hey, remember when Tarantino was selling those emaciated Jewish prisoner action figures with the concentration camp tattoos? So funny and ironic and harmless, right? No. That would have been cheap and disgusting." (I was having Indiana Jones beat up toy Nazis in 1982, so ... maybe it's not as taboo as he would think?)

and

"A big reason slavery is avoided in American storytelling is guilt. Unlike the Holocaust, when it comes to slavery, our people were the bad guys. But we're not German, so we can rail on Hitler and the Nazis all day without thinking critically about our legacy."

I actually think this latter point is completely spot-on, but if there's such a crucial difference between Us-Villains and Them-Villains, why is the fact that we supposedly wouldn't make camp survivor action figures (and, one assumes, the Nazis to guard them) somehow indicative of how vile Django figures are? Aren't Us-Villains and Them-Villains different, like he said?

Ultimately, I don't think he's wrong when he says:

"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."

but when he says, "It was choose-your-own-adventure heroism to create figures that took complete agency in the acquisition of their freedom. A very cool idea," of Basterds, he ignores that those heroes-with-agency were American Jews. They weren't rescued from any camps. Most of the points he tries to make about Django could be applied to them as well. But he doesn't see it -- perhaps because one movie is about something he takes personally, and the other isn't. He may be blind to UB's flaws, or he may be perceiving flaws in DU where there are none. Given his accuracy on some of these points, I lean toward the latter.

The piece koeselitz is enamored with, on the other hand, is quite good, though I admit it's also quite long and I'm doubt I've fully grasped it in its entirety.
posted by Amanojaku at 10:52 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Basterds to me (and I may be able to dig up some articles if not things previously on the blue that argue something similar) is about who gets to write history, how people view themselves in the present, and how the messy moral complexity of reality is simplified, for better or worse, when history is later immortalized and coded via culture. In this case via film.

We touched on this in a previous thread. I watch Basterds maybe once a year, and the more it makes me think about these ideas, the more I'd put it up with Jackie Brown as QT's two best films.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:00 PM on February 27, 2013


I'm glad I wasn't the only one that couldn't really follow Williams article through; all the cherry picked "facts" got in the way of the actual facts he got wrong.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:02 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


To paraphrase something somebody said before, if you want to see Hollywood fantasy revisionist bullshit, watch The Help or Django. If you want to see indirect biting racial commentary, watch Planet of the Apes. Hollywood is only capable of so much.
posted by phaedon at 11:53 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I watch Basterds maybe once a year, and the more it makes me think about these ideas, the more I'd put it up with Jackie Brown as QT's two best films.

I guess I'm going to have to watch Basterds again. I think Jackie Brown is his best film, but I seem to be one of the few who thought Basterds was terrible.
posted by homunculus at 11:53 PM on February 27, 2013


What's the story with the NSFW image in the second link, anyway?
posted by homunculus at 11:54 PM on February 27, 2013


To paraphrase something somebody said before, if you want to see Hollywood fantasy revisionist bullshit, watch The Help or Django. If you want to see indirect biting racial commentary, watch Planet of the Apes. Hollywood is only capable of so much.

Which is the old one (Rise, maybe?) that was clearly a movie about militant African-American revolution that felt like it was telling the audience to rise up? It shocked me when I saw it (in a good way).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:05 AM on February 28, 2013


Jesse Williams is wrong in his opinion that Django was the only slave interested in escape in the film; just off the top of my head I can recall that Broomhilda tried to escape numerous times, as did the poor slave who got trapped up a tree by the dogs. It seems like Mr Williams did not give the film a thorough viewing.
posted by dazed_one at 12:09 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just can't get over how everybody seems to mistake this Tarantino character for a Toynbee, while he is just a Barnum.
posted by ouke at 12:52 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


homunculus, this blog post (same NSFW photo, from W Magazine) answers some of the context and also commentary relevant to the FPP.
posted by dhartung at 2:38 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"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."

When did Tarantino claim to be creating a real solution to *any* problem?

"In fact, in this entire, nearly three-hour film, there are no scenes with black people interacting, or even looking at each other, in a respectful or productive way."

Uh, Broomhilda and Django?

"Were such words used in "Inglourious Basterds" more than 100 times? How about 70? OK 30? 10? Thankfully, Tarantino knew that he was perfectly able to tell a story without such gimmicks. (He also knew the community he claimed to be avenging wouldn't stand for it.)"

Cue hushed parentheticals: (And African-Americans would?)
[back to my regular overuse of parentheticals]
That can't be what he's trying to say, but I can't figure out another way to parse here. I get that he's saying that these films couldn't be more different (dissimilar narratives, despite what many others have said previously), by showing how the treatment of African-Americans and Jews weren't the same in each; e.g., the 100+ uses of "nigger" in DU and the almost nil use of anti-semitic slurs in IB. But these terms and their uses (and therefore the reactions to them) aren't equivalent. Even in quasi-authentic historical representations of them. And especially in the context of how we *today* perceive these historical representations. There is something dialogic and intertextual going on with the use of "nigger" in DU, as if its use is indexing two different meanings in time at once...similar to the anachronistic use of Rick Ross' 100 Black Coffins playing during the return to Candieland. This juxtaposition simply CANNOT be created with anti-semitic slurs and a scene featuring Jews because the dialogic is entirely different and the use of "kike" or other terms has no equivalent visible culturally and ethnically reappropriated meanings today. For anti-semitic slurs, it's relatively the same damn lens today as it was then.

Anways, I'm getting off my point here...he can't have it both ways...either the use of these terms isn't equivalent and therefore the differences in reaction (who would stand for it and who wouldn't) isn't actually implying something about differences in these two groups of people (one still oppressed and lacking in self-agency, the other able to stand up for themselves and everybody (or at least Tarantino) knows it), or they are equivalent and the reactions to them aren't (Jews wouldn't stand for it, but African-Americans would?).

Well, they're obviously not equivalent. These terms have had different usages over time and largely incomparable histories and each went through their own cultural evolutions. Expecting the frequencies of those words as used by characters in their respective films to match up...well that is super ridiculous. But, tbh, I don't think Williams is trying to say that either.

Basically, I've gone around in circles with this paragraph, trying to figure out wtf he means. Because the rest of the piece hinges on agency, especially how the black characters in DU don't have much (compared to the Jews in IB)...yet it sounds like he's saying...well, that can't be right either.

I also think the agency thesis he's got going on there falls apart on both sides of the coin, but that's a whole 'nother longass comment. Possibly connected to this longass one I suppose.

Sum, I'm both baffled and slightly offended here (should I be?)...maybe that's what he's trying to point out? If so, how meta meta meta...

I do think he brings up several good points though. There is indeed problematic and arguably racist messaging going on with DU, and especially with the commodification elements of the movies (the dolls), as well as a case to be made about gimmickery. But I got a bit stuck here on how he's framing those issues. I can't fully explain my uncomfortableness with it all, but I really wish he'd focussed more on DU, separate from IB. Anybody else getting my read on this?

koeselitz: "what's more interesting is that not only Tarantino but almost everyone else making movies about the black experience have decided that the best way to deal with historical events is on clearly ahistorical grounds."

This is one of the reasons why I think that both IB and DU are first and foremost movies about movies. These two films point out, in several different ways, the problematic ahistoricity of the medium itself — the movie — in depicting history. He literally takes the events, the issues, the historical elements and blows that shit right up, bigger and better than most directors dare (imho, ymmv).
posted by iamkimiam at 2:58 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with any problem one has with any Tarantino movie since Jackie Brown is that the complainer assumes that Tarantino didn't already think of that. I don't think that's ever a safe assumption.

But so what if he did? The movie is still the movie, and the fact that 'he knew you were going to say that' doesn't mean you're wrong. It could just as easily mean that he should have known better but he chose to do it anyway.


Am I the only person who sees this, Basterds and Bill before it as a continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge? I see Django Unchained on the same level as Brotherhood of Death. To call it out as misrepresenting history is really, really missing the point?

Not if he then boasts about how much good you've done the world by encouraging historical discussion, it isn't. That's just goalpost-shuffling. Get praised? It's about history, so it's meaningful! Get criticised? It's pulp, so it's meaningless!

Besides that, context matters. Yes, Tarantino is all over the record as loving grindhouse stuff, and sure, whatever. Grindhouse and pulp are part of a culture's underbelly, and that's interesting in itself, and they have their own kind of artistic energy. But Tarantino is not making grindhouse stuff. He's making big-budget, big-studio, big-release films. When you have to make a movie on two dollars and a stick of gum, and only a small audience expecting nothing more than entertaining scuzz is going to see it, you are not in the same position as a man making a film with millions at his disposal and the world watching.


I'm neither black nor American, so I'm hesitant in the extreme to make any kind of call about whether Django is a good thing or a bad thing; I've heard some African American writers pro and others con, and I don't think it's up to me to contradict any of them. But as long as there's a discussion, I think that there are certain blind alleys, and 'Tarantino is a fan of old pulp' or 'Tarantino knows he's being controversial' are among them. Doing something with a wink is still doing it. Doing something because people you admire for complicated reasons did it is still doing it.

Tarantino's a big boy, and he does things on a big scale: he may like obscure cult movies, but he doesn't make them. His movies make serious money and they get released on a serious scale, so they merit serious comment.
posted by Kit W at 3:17 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I agree with some of the points of the article, but I think the criticism about Schultz being the one who kills Candie is way off the mark. He doesn't do it as a noble sacrifice to help Django, he does it because his big plan failed and he can't stand being humiliated by the bad guy. He fails the exact kind of "keep your cool" test that Django has been faced with over and over again throughout the film. Schultz's death is also necessary for Django to have his actual heroic struggle for freedom that takes up the rest of the film, so I don't really see how his character could have been killed off in another way without it feeling cheap.
posted by burnmp3s at 4:47 AM on February 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


His movies make serious money and they get released on a serious scale, so they merit serious comment.

They may get "serious" comment, but that doesn't mean they deserve it. Then too, a lot of "serious" comment is just haymaking by people whose livelihoods it is to make "serious"comments. From what I've seen of QT's work, I'm thinking a trivial man laughing all the way to the bank.

I mean to say, Titanic made an ocean of money, doesn't mean it or James Cameron deserves serious comment.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:21 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't slavery itself a barbaric and lurid excess? That is the point Tarantino makes so expertly.
posted by Renoroc at 5:51 AM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Am I the only person who sees this, Basterds and Bill before it as a continuous grindhouse triple feature of blood and revenge?

Does that mean that they're somehow immune to critique and analysis? That's not how culture works.
posted by kmz at 6:06 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


How come the film had very few examples of the actual grinding monotony of slavery? Like, slaves slaving away. The slaves were always just kind of standing around.

Even my fiancee (a descendant of slaves) whispered to me, "What are they doing?! Get to work!"
posted by Ghost Mode at 6:35 AM on February 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


They may get "serious" comment, but that doesn't mean they deserve it. Then too, a lot of "serious" comment is just haymaking by people whose livelihoods it is to make "serious"comments. From what I've seen of QT's work, I'm thinking a trivial man laughing all the way to the bank.

But that assumes that films can only be commented on in the tone they themselves set, which just isn't the case. Trivial work gets analysed by cultural historians and communications theorists in universities all over the place. Serious films get joked about. The tone of the creator does not bind the tone of the viewer; cinema may be powerful, but it's not that powerful. In effect, you're saying that authorial intent must be the invariable determining factor. Barthes's 'Death of the Author' has been misquoted to death in popular culture by now, but it does seem relevant here: what Tarantino was thinking when he made the film and what kind of a film it is are two separate issues.

Films are part of how a culture talks to itself. There's nothing incongruous about saying 'This is piece of work about a serious subject which is light-minded enough to do all sorts of problematic things with it.'

And besides, even if we are going to factor in a director's state of mind, Tarantino himself clearly takes trivia seriously. His whole aesthetic is built around his love of cultural ephemera: when a man bases his life's work on something, that's not treating it as trivial. He takes it seriously in his way by making films about it; why shouldn't critics get to take it seriously in their way too?

You seem to be equating 'serious' with 'po-faced', and I don't see that in any of the pieces I've read: they're engaged, interested, thoughtful. You may or may not agree with the arguments they advance, but dismissing all 'serious' commentary at a stroke cannot possibly be a good idea.
posted by Kit W at 6:36 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So Tarantino is essentially making "Reality T.V."...movies...
posted by incandissonance at 6:43 AM on February 28, 2013


Django is not a black revenge fantasy, it's a white forgiveness fantasy. We white people love to think that if it was us living in those times, we'd be just like Schultz.
posted by Tom-B at 6:51 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


Judging by the thread, it's more like Django Unchained is an inkblot test.
posted by Burhanistan at 6:51 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


If you think about it, all of Tarantino's films are just efforts to trick the rest of us hifalutin' folk into seeing the exact kind of cheap-ass wacked-out grindhouse stuff from the 70's that Tarantino has always loved and has probably always been mad that "serious filmgoers aren't supposed to like".

It's like he's tweaking the nose about what our cultural scripts are for what "serious filmmakers" are supposed to do: oh, you want a vampire film like Coppola did with Dracula? Here, have From Dusk Till Dawn. Oh, serious filmmakers are supposed to tackle issues like the Holocaust or race? Here, have Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. Oh, serious filmmakers are supposed to do World War II movies? Well, hell, Inglorious Basterds counts for that too.

But at their heart his movies are all still the wacked-out grindhouse stuff that the "serious movie public" turns up their nose at, and he's gotten away with making us watch ("haha, you would have thought that kind of action was crazy if it were in Abominable Doctor Phibes, but just because it's in something that's supposed to be serious you're eating it up! Joke's on you!")

It's kind of like he's the Duchamp of filmmaking.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:26 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not if he then boasts about how much good you've done the world by encouraging historical discussion, it isn't. That's just goalpost-shuffling. Get praised? It's about history, so it's meaningful! Get criticised? It's pulp, so it's meaningless!

Care to be specific? Because those are really broad generalizations/hyperbole and I have never heard him waffle on any of the points like your spelling out here.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:39 AM on February 28, 2013


Django is not a black revenge fantasy, it's a white forgiveness fantasy. We white people love to think that if it was us living in those times, we'd be just like Schultz.

Well from the audience perspective, we would be most like Shultz because we would we are not entrenched in the racist slave-owning culture that the film is set in. The audience is always going to see themselves as a foreign outsider in that kind of situation, which is why stories set in very different cultures than that of the audience tend to feature an audience surrogate protagonist in a fish-out-of-water scenario.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:27 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


...but I think the criticism about Schultz being the one who kills Candie is way off the mark. He doesn't do it as a noble sacrifice to help Django...

It's also because to just walk away at that point would be to have aided and abetted slavery, however indirectly, by simply paying Candie for Hilde. They didn't rescue her. They just ... bought her. Yeah, they're going to set her free, but they're still dealing in slavery. And that's what Schultz can't let go. The only moral solution then (and, is implied, to slavery in general) is not a peaceful economic one -- it's killing all the fucking slave-owners, period.

Schultz's death is also necessary for Django to have his actual heroic struggle for freedom that takes up the rest of the film...

Also true.
posted by Amanojaku at 8:37 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tom-B: "Django is not a black revenge fantasy, it's a white forgiveness fantasy. We white people love to think that if it was us living in those times, we'd be just like Schultz."

This strikes me as a pretty insightful comment. Because we know we WANT that to be true, but... speaking as a white American, this is my take: Really, if we were there, if we were able to make a change in the history of slavery in America, most of us would be just like the other whites in the film: Maybe privately disturbed or offended but so indoctrinated in the normalcy of the thing* that it would be difficult for us to really make much of a change. The only white character that saw slavery without accepting it as inherently right was a man from Europe - Shultz. He was really the only sympathetic white character in the entire film, and the only one (with the exception of the northern store owner showed briefly in the winter scenes) who treated the black characters - all of them, not just Django - with the respect you would hope any human deserves. And that's interesting to me. Because there were many people then - and now, for that matter - who accept that slavery is wrong, but still feel that there is some biological basis for feeling whites are superior. Maybe some people HAVE to feel that way because it's the only way they can personally justify the reason behind this stain on our nation's history.

Tarantino's film allows us to vicariously feel good about our guilt, by rooting for the black guy, by watching him smash a small part of the edifice of slavery. But we also know it's fake, that it never happened this way, that even in a war that nearly split the country in two there were as many economic reasons as humanitarian ones explaining why the North fought to win. No matter how much we'd like to pretend it's true, the war wasn't about slavery, and winning the war didn't fix the problem. Desegregation didn't fix the problem, affirmative action didn't fix the problem, removing anti-miscegenation laws didn't fix the problem, electing a black president didn't fix the problem. But, like watching a slave take revenge against the men who killed his friend and abused his wife, these things made us feel like we were doing SOMETHING to right history. Knowing full well the entire time that history can't be righted, it can only remain as written.

*I have a few other minor quibbles with the FPP article relating to this same concept. The argument that the freed slaves wouldn't immediately unshackle themselves or exit the cage... That there were blacks who were not working, as well... these actually felt more authentic to me than a shot of a field full of people picking cotton. Because slavery was not an institution in which all blacks were treated as beasts of burden. There were almost caste level differences, with field hands lower than house slaves; the comment that Broomhilda had been branded, and thus was no longer fit for house slave work, touched on this as well. Her worth was in her looks, obviously. The slaves wearing the same clothes as the white women disturbed me, because like Hildy I know what that meant: The women were there for the enjoyment of the white men, both as servant and as mistress. And Jackson's character exemplified one of the most horrendous psychological aspects of the institution to me - the Stockholm syndrome of slavery in which the few blacks privileged enough to be treated better than the rest were often more abusive than the whites (and therefore more hated by the the regular field slaves). To be black and have no compassion for your fellows? To be so indoctrinated that you KNOW the field slaves - as black as you - should be treated as less than animals? That is a mindfuck that I wouldn't wish upon anyone.

Back to the men in shackles again. If you've been a slave your whole life you might wish for freedom. But when freedom suddenly comes, how long does it take you to step out of the cage? Everything you have ever been taught shows you the cage is your place. This is not something you can just shrug off in an instant. The devices briefly shown in a few scenes - the collars with sharp protrusions, the leg irons, and other implements of torture - these were created to break spirits. And most were indeed broken. Candie was right, but for the wrong reasons. Django was not one in one thousand because of his intellect. He was one in one thousand because only one out of many could be placed into that system and not be utterly broken by it. And this is the white guilt: We created a system that psychologically damaged an entire ethnic group, a damage that cannot be repaired in one generation, or in ten generations. We can have a revenge fantasy, or a forgiveness fantasy, but the only real fantasy is the thought that we've moved beyond the damage and are facing a future in which race no longer matters.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:45 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Addendum: Tarantino is either a simpleton who like blood and explosions or he's a brilliantly incisive filmmaker who operates on so many levels of commentary and meta-meta-commentary that I can't keep up and can't get it all into my head in a single viewing. It has to be the latter, in my mind. Having one movie with multilayered levels of interpretation, that can happen by happy accident; but he does this regularly, with varying degrees of success, and this is not a coincidence.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:53 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Tarantina does so many things so well, but plot and story do not seem to be his strengths. All of his recent films seem at their core to be focused primarily on the seeking of revenge. It's like a 12 year old boy is making these films. They are pretty, sometimes witty, often comment beautifully about prior films or genres, but the core message is adolescent fantasy revenge. Yuck! Django Unchained is the first movie I have ever walked out of. It was beautiful, well acted etc., but the story was so over the top stupid I couldn't take it. I know that is his shtick, and I think he believes that it enhances or comments in some fashion upon his message, but the story still needs to work on its own. The trend for Tarantino has been to be ever more over the top with his stories. It reminds me of Madonna being ever more sexually provocative until it eventually turned more fans off than on. I am not sure Tarantino has quite achieved that yet, but he seems to be on his way.
posted by caddis at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2013


Random thought about the white forgiveness theory of the film...
The script was originally written for Will Smith as Django. I think this says something about where Tarantino was intending to go with its message. Smith and Jamie Foxx are generally typecast (with supporting characters) in very different ways. In my imagining of Smith as Django, I think it's ultimately a better film with Jamie Foxx, but we'll never know the reception and how its impact would be different. No doubt it would be though.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:24 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


That Reed article is bloody brilliant. This, in particular, effectively skewers everything that's maddening about nominal-Left "poptimists" who refuse to look behind the curtain at how popular culture is produced and marketed and why:
... nothing could indicate more strikingly the extent of neoliberal ideological hegemony than the idea that the mass culture industry and its representational practices constitute a meaningful terrain for struggle to advance egalitarian interests. It is possible to entertain that view seriously only by ignoring the fact that the production and consumption of mass culture is thoroughly embedded in capitalist material and ideological imperatives.
... For two decades or more, instructively in line with the retreat of possibilities for concerted left political action outside the academy, the popular culture side of that debate has been dominant, along with its view that the products of this precinct of mass consumption capitalism are somehow capable of transcending or subverting their material identity as commodities, if not avoiding that identity altogether. Despite the dogged commitment of several generations of American Studies and cultural studies graduate students who want to valorize watching television and immersion in hip-hop or other specialty market niches centered on youth recreation and the most ephemeral fads as both intellectually avant-garde and politically “resistive,” it should be time to admit that that earnest disposition is intellectually shallow and an ersatz politics. The idea of “popular” culture posits a spurious autonomy and organicism that actually affirm mass industrial processes by effacing them, especially in the putatively rebel, fringe, or underground market niches that depend on the fiction of the authentic to announce the birth of new product cycles.
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:24 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


A big reason slavery is avoided in American storytelling is guilt. Unlike the Holocaust, when it comes to slavery, our people were the bad guys. But we're not German, so we can rail on Hitler and the Nazis all day without thinking critically about our legacy.

It is not easy to reconcile slavery with what the United States represents to many Americans, so the natural human response is to repress the irreconcilable truth. Repression and denial are such powerful psychological mechanisms. I appreciate Django Unchained just for getting people to spend a little time thinking about the reality of slavery.

The critics are right that it's a much bigger thing than we see in Django, but wrong that Django needs to capture all of that big thing in order to be relevant. We need lots of stories from many different perspectives to properly enter that chapter of history into it's proper place in the public consciousness.

I agree. I thought the best parts of the movie were the more realist depictions of the Antebellum South. It hit me how slavery was an every minute of every day for an entire life experience, and the unimaginable horror of that is hard to get across.

It is a crime that Schultz was nominated over Samuel L Jackson for an Oscar. Jackson was absolutely amazing, though I wasn't thrilled with his character. I thought it was unfortunate the movie didn't show more of the formation of African American culture and music under the conditions of slavery.

This Civil War Emancipation blog is really good.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2013


It is a crime that Schultz was nominated over Samuel L Jackson for an Oscar. Jackson was absolutely amazing, though I wasn't thrilled with his character.

Hmm. I wonder if the things that made Jackson's character intriguing, and would have drawn the Oscar buzz, were given short shrift - those very brief glimpses you got that his limping and frail and eager-to-please personality were all a total act. There's a moment where you see him cutting the check for something; the speech he gives Django in the barn where he tells him that they're sending him to a mining company; a moment where he and Candie are both discussing something in the study and both have brandy; and then, at the very end, when everyone else has been shot and it's just him and Django, and he suddenly stands up straight, loses his limp, and drops the act. It's just a tiny glimpse into the idea that his character is extremely canny, and has been putting on this ingratiating act just to survive, and Candie's been the only one who knows just how smart this guy is, but they both playact these obscene weird roles they have to in order to get by.

But those glimpses at the truth of things were so small, and the bumbling servant act was so broad, that it may have overshadowed everything and people just didn't see the nuance.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


This point was made in one of the previous Django threads, but the main difference between its revenge fantasy and Inglourious Basterds's is that, unlike Nazis, you don't have to look very hard to find sympathetic depictions of slaveholders. White liberals tend to regard them as generically evil, but the most common depiction of antebellum white southerners in our society, even now, is as a bunch of scrappy but tragic unfortunates whose lives were torn apart by the horrors of northern invasion. Rhett Butler and Jesse James are the baseline. In that context, I don't necessarily think it's too much to drive home the violence inherent to the lifestyle that generations of southern gentlemen and the good ol' boys they employed fought and died to preserve.

Tarantino is keenly aware of narrative's power to manipulate the audience's sympathy, and I think he knew that he had to make the slavery scenes grotesque and awful in order to drive away any lingering sympathy the audience might have had for the romanticized plantation life.
posted by Copronymus at 10:51 AM on February 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


"I thought it was unfortunate the movie didn't show more of the formation of African American culture and music under the conditions of slavery."

See, I feel like the movie didn't either, and yet in its own way it did. There was scene after scene that was a visual recreation of iconic images from other, past representations of African-American culture and music in film. Constant allusions. And even a scene or two that depicted antebellum south imagery, but with character switches. The one that sticks out most in my mind is when they all arrive in Candieland and are settling in...Django is watching Hilde being taking inside (avoiding spoilers here) and there is a lingering shot of Django, Dr. King, Candie's sister and Stephen in front of the plantation house. It's setup like a movie poster of Gone With the Wind, with all of them foregrounded and backgrounded in different ways, leaning against the pillars and whatnot. Except instead of Rhett front and center, it's Django. It struck me, that. Super clever. There were many more like it, and the choice of music created that effect as well, but I'm not versed in these past films enough to know exactly what the references were. The Jim Croce I've Got a Name scene, the shooting on the hill scene, the charging of the KKK, Django and Hilde running away together, the final ride off in the sunset...I could swear some if not all of these were nods. The changes in music, pacing, and especially film and lighting suggest it to me. But like I said, I don't know enough to say what was what, but I hope to god some film buff does a ridiculous infographic of the whole thing.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2013


Care to be specific? Because those are really broad generalizations/hyperbole and I have never heard him waffle on any of the points like your spelling out here.

To some extent I was conflating Tarantino's claim to historical justification and the reactions of his fans to criticism, which was poor phrasing on my part, but I do get a whiff of that off Tarantino's own words.

On the one hand, he's saying this: 'I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way they have not in 30 years ... Violence on slaves hasn't been dealt with to the extent that I've dealt with it.' This is a claim to seriousness: he's saying, in effect, this is a serious subject and I deserve credit for calling attention to it.

On the other hand, there's the statement, 'Even for the film’s biggest detractors, I think their children will grow up and love this movie. I think it could become a rite of passage for young black males.' That's partly a 'History will judge me' statement, of course, but it's also an appeal to the younger generation: this is fun, it's awesome, it's male bonding, it's only uptight too-serious people who don't get it.

I find the implications of his claims rather slippery, in the way that justifications tend to be when somebody hasn't thought things through before they did something and is defending themselves on the fly.
posted by Kit W at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well from the audience perspective, we would be most like Shultz because we would we are not entrenched in the racist slave-owning culture that the film is set in.

Agreed --- when people talk about what "we" would be like if we lived back then --- would we be against slavery, or not, or what --- it depends on what they mean. If modern-day us were taken in the TARDIS back to slave times, I think most of us would be anti-slavery, sure. Obviously there are some modern day racists who long for those times, but the majority of people today have been steeped in anti-slavery messages (a good thing) and would react appropriately.

If you mean someone with your genetic makeup who was raised in the antebellum South --- well, thats not you. That person would be so different from you, raised in an entirely different climate, that its basically impossible to know what they would do. Just because they're your identical twin doesn't mean they think or behave like you.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:06 PM on February 28, 2013


I wrote an article about how Tarantino gets across the dehumanization of slavery in Django. I thought it was a good movie, but I'm not an expert in the topic...

I think there's a weird pull between plausibility and fantasy in Django. On the one hand, since it's a movie, if Tarantino desired he could have made Django the hero from the beginning. On the other hand, I think one of the reasons he included that "training" sequence with Schultz was to keep the entire audience on board. The shift from Schultz being the hero to Django being the hero is gradual but it happens continuously for the whole movie. By the time they get to Candieland, Schultz is out of his depth and Django is in charge. And Tarantino does the same thing when he gradually escalates the violence of the movie. The point is to keep even the most racist members of the audience on board until the end.

In other words I don't think Django is a deep discussion of slavery. I think it's a kind of Slavery 101 for people who still hold deeply wrong ideas about American chattel slavery based on how they've seen in portrayed in other mainstream movies.

Also about the focus on horror and brutality being the wrong tactic: it's a Tarantino movie, violence is what interests him, no? Like Tarantino would ever make a subtle movie about the horror of inequitable labor relations. Plus, besides the dehumanization of slaves (which I think he does show in Django), it's a horrible system because there is nothing in place to stop brutal excesses from occurring. Whether some slave owners were less sadistic than others is not the point. And anyway it's not like the violence in Django is random: it always operates to keep the slaves enslaved by keeping them from being fully human. It's central to chattel slavery.

But the author's points about how Django (and Schultz) (and Stephen) are the only characters who act in the film, how there's not enough meaningful interactions between slaves - only an exchange of knowing looks - how it's lame that Schultz gets so much screentime, are all pretty spot-on, I think.
posted by subdee at 12:13 PM on February 28, 2013


Also about the focus on horror and brutality being the wrong tactic: it's a Tarantino movie, violence is what interests him, no? Like Tarantino would ever make a subtle movie about the horror of inequitable labor relations.
posted by subdee at 8:13 PM on February 28 [+] [!]


A large part of me thinks it would have been nigh impossible to answer the flaws people are raising and it have still be a Tarantino film.
posted by Erberus at 12:31 PM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


I still need to finish some of the links in this thread, and am still chewing over a lot of this, but one thing I wanted to mention something I've touched on in past Django threads that I consider another excellent piece of evidence that Tarantino thinks more about the subtext of what he's doing than he maybe sometimes gets credit for:

A lot, lot, lot of people I know/read that have seen the movie complain about how particularly jarring Tarantino's cameo is in this movie, even by his past standards. And it does stick out I think. But I didn't mind for two reasons:

Firstly, a good chunk of the scene with the Australians is played for laughs right up to a climax that is half Western half Looney Tunes (to not get too spoilery about it). Which, by the way Im about to get rather spoilery, but before I do: I think it matters that he's showing up with this hilarious(ly bad) accent and stuff in a comic scene rather than something requiring a finer, more dramatic touch from him.

Secondly: The director. Of this movie. Puts himself in the movie. And then blows himself up. Like literally. That's exactly what happened. I partially think he did it because he wanted to have a fun day on the set doing the gag they used to fake the explosion that kills him. But I also think that particular thing serves a very important subtextual purpose.

There's not really too many ways for Tarantino to comment on his own role in the proceedings (as well as that of past filmmakers, particularly white ones) without the movie climbing up its own ass. Basterds got away with being in no small part about movies and how we watch them because it was set in a time period where movies existed in a form not that far off from today. No such luck with something set that far in the past. So he acknowledges that he's not necessarily that many steps removed from all this by putting himself in the movie and then blowing himself up.

Obviously, that doesn't absolve him of anything in the movie that's problematic, but I thought it was a pretty clever touch and redeemed for me a scene in the movie that a lot of people seemed to hate because of his presence in it.
posted by sparkletone at 1:07 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would like to say as a white American male, and as a mature grown adult, I purposefully do not mix up my fantasy and reality. Just because we retreat into a story for a short time doesn't mean to assume a parity with reality. The least I, or anyone, can do is try to treat everyone with respect as equals rather than some kind of end goal of a wink and nod letting me know everything's cool. So, no, I personally never actually FELT that SOMETHING was being righted while I watched Django Unchained

Also, it really isn't an odd thing for me to understand that out of the dozen or so speaking parts in DU that almost all of the white characters were complicit with slavery in a film that took place during the slave era in the American south.

This is a claim to seriousness: he's saying, in effect, this is a serious subject and I deserve credit for calling attention to it.... it's also an appeal to the younger generation: this is fun, it's awesome, it's male bonding, it's only uptight too-serious people who don't get it.

I find the implications of his claims rather slippery, in the way that justifications tend to be when somebody hasn't thought things through before they did something and is defending themselves on the fly.


I don't really see either comment as problematic, but I also wouldn't hold two totally different contextual specific comments together, impute my own observations, and then announce it as slippery and off the cuff. His first comment is a factually true, whether you liked the movie or not, but his second is just an opinion that I don't find to be wrong.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:38 PM on February 28, 2013


I can’t help but think Williams hated the movie before he watched it. Gave it a once over, maybe twice, and then started putting together a bunch of flimsy complaints. I wouldn’t say he didn’t have any points, because he does actually make a couple of good ones, but I found a few innacuracies.

Tarantino's plantations are nearly empty farms with well-dressed Negresses in flowing gowns, frolicking on swings and enjoying leisurely strolls through the grounds, as if the setting is Versailles, mixed in with occasional acts of barbarism against slaves

These scenes are given about as much screen time as the scenes of the workers in the fields. This is like saying the Cleopatra Club was a delightful supper club where people sing happy songs.

Yet on the road he dines with his slaves, and at home, his fields are mostly empty and he only seems to have slaves in his house. Is this one of those rare slave plantations that primarily trades in polished silverware and gossip?

Never mind the box scene or the one with the dogs, why does Williams assume it’s a house on a vacant lot with a couple of people hanging out?

In fact, in this entire, nearly three-hour film, there are no scenes with black people interacting, or even looking at each other, in a respectful or productive way.

There are at least four scenes I can think of off the top of my head, but although that’s not a lot the bulk of the speaking parts is between five people.

If only one black person (Django) displays the vaguest interest in gaining freedom, while the rest consistently demonstrate that they wouldn't do anything with that freedom

There were four failed escapes, and another ten attempts that had the appearance of success.

"Django" is just a random guy, who, to no credit of his own, was plucked from slavery by an impressive white man and led on a journey to save his wife.

Django already had all the skills, Schultz taught him manners and how to read, that’s it. He could already shoot and he had the wherewithal to find and kill two of the overseers shortly after being freed, and was going to get his wife without Schultz anyway - he announced that sitting at the campfire. So how did Django not have any agency?

And while we have our trusty authenticity card out

I’m sorry I missed the interview where Tarantino said Inglorious Basterds was supposed to be authentic, does anyone have that or is this just a false equivalence?

Think for a moment of the lengths that Tarantino went, to create a heroic triumph for his "Inglourious Basterds."

I’m curious as to what he’s suggesting and even more curious as to how he thinks the reception for the movie he is suggesting would go. My money would be on not good.

End of article: Diverges into odd framing of the Holocaust. Praised the trivialization in IB, and then craps on DU for being a trivialization.

Blog. NSFW image probably due to the fact that Williams spends a lot of time stating that Tarantino is at least insensitive to racial politics, and so why not throw a shot of him from a Playboy shoot that has no bearing and shares no context with what he’s about to write? Let’s see. Sets up a strawman, knocks it down, bravo. Compares DU to kidnapping, bravo. Moving on

Without so much as a glance, Django walks directly away from his fellow men.

Django was very interested in what the men did as he started to ride away.

Could the black men not have looked to North Star themselves? Displayed human initiative by assembling supplies from the wreckage or anything else a real, experienced adult man might do?

I don’t know could they? What would you rather have seen? How would that serve the story? Would it actually at all assist in moving the story along?

You didn’t notice that the black people in this scene appeared lobotomized because that’s usually how slaves are portrayed.

What I did notice is men who have been shackled and marched for at least several days with little food and clothes through freezing whether, but I guess this is one of those subjective things Williams talks about.

Except that for this entire scene he’s been doing just that: picking out his own clothing.

Actually, he tries on one hat while looking around. If I go into a store with a friend and try on a hat I don’t assume I am picking out a new outfit for him to buy me.

Django appears to save her from further whipping

No he doesn’t, they escape then both get whipped and branded. Sometimes montages aren’t exactly linear.

The Brittle brothers are not generic representatives to Django … just walk up and destroy them in 40 seconds flat. Slavery’s not that big a deal if you show some initiative.

Are they a generic representative for slavery or not? Does Django show initiative and agency or not?

Why must the field slaves remain faceless and out of frame for the entirety of this nearly three hour film

Except… for all the other slaves… ? The movie is called Django Unchained. It’s about a slave who is freed and goes after his wife, that is the premise. We all could go on at lengths about how slavery is portrayed in the film, but I think most people agree the film is not about slavery, tilling the fields, or picking cotton.

In fact, they were totally relatable, funny, regular guys bickering. Just like us, ha ha lol facebook.

I wouldn’t say funny amounts to “relatable” and “regular”.

So Django is so incredibly dumb that he, himself, did not know that his own wife’s name, Broomhilda Von Shaft, was German?

OH FFS NO, he knew that. What he did NOT know was that Schultz was German or how Schultz knew Broomhilda was a German name.

King just told the black guy a story about traveling to the mountain top.

It’s called a motif. Artists like to use them in their works.

He’s the same asshole to every black person he encounters.

He’s an asshole to Stephen and the “fighter” who he then later frees. He didn’t go around making friends, but I wouldn’t say he was an asshole to everyone else.

They never discuss behavior, just an oddly timed target practice montage.

He was a slave for +40 years, he’s got that covered. Let’s also keep in mind the scene where Schultz talks about “acting”, but whatever suits your argument I guess.

If these are the house rules, why is his black servant standing at the front door throwing around sloppy french to the guests?

Maybe because she is Candy’s personal servant and even though he likes French he doesn’t understand it so that is probably the closest he wants her to get to speaking it? That doesn’t really seem much of a stretch for me, but hey subjective viewing going on here.

But he’s never challenged by anyone with any authority so we’re never really at risk.

Wait, what? Is he still talking about DU?

Is this not the classic liberal white savior role, trotted out like all the rest?

No, classically the white guys would live and get all the accolades.

Whoa, this whole time, Django had forgotten about his wife.

No, he didn’t.

This marks Stephen’s first sober moments after he no longer has a slave master

Except for the scene where he directs Candy into the study and he relaxes with some scotch.

Django never even looks at them, he drinks all the water in front of them, grabs a horse, barks at them to give him the bag of dynamite, turns his back and rides off without the slightest acknowledgement.

Except he does look at them, doesn’t drink all the water, and frees them, leaving them a horse and the rest of the supplies.

He’s Candie’s lap dog.

This is miles off how the dynamic between Stephen and Candy actually played out.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:00 PM on February 28, 2013 [10 favorites]


I may quote him too much, but I'm surprised at how much Django Unchained matches up with Mark Ames says about slave rebellions in 'Going Postal'.

He devotes a whole chapter to the question, and points out that the system convinced slaves to align their interests with their masters to the point where many slave rebellions were stopped by other slaves:

Our idea of what a revolution is like, how it is carried out, and who it is carried out by has been warped by our own cultural propaganda, and by the romantic Marxist propaganda of the twentieth century. We have this idea that revolutions are led by rational-minded, tea-sipping men in three-pointed hats who discuss the rights of man while burning the candle at both ends. Or we’re warped by the Marxist ideal of revolution: a rational, inevitable historical process in which the most enlightened, most sympathetic, least overdressed human beings team up with the Historical Trend itself to effect a glorious, clean revolution. In fact, revo- lutions are messy, ugly, gory affairs. Nowhere in our popular notion of revolutions are such factors as stupidity, bad luck, unintended comedy, and revolting mad- ness allowed in. Yet most of the time revolutions are “led,” by people we would call nutcases and who indeed were considered nutcases during their time (and in all likelihood were nutcases). While time and distance provide a romantic vew of rev- olutions, at the time when they actually occur, they usually seem bizarre, uncalled-for, frightening, and evil to their contemporaries, which is why they almost always seem sniffed out at their inception.
To illustrate this point, look no further than America’s rare examples of domestic rebellion. We tend to think that all rebellions or domestic uprisings were as well understood in their time as we understand them now, but the fact is that most rebellions took place in a kind of contextual vacuum, rendering them little more than outbreaks of seemingly senseless, crazed violence. This is how they were viewed until later, when an intellectual or ideological frame was provided to explain or ground them and to give them a sense of dramatic order. Today’s rage murders fit the pattern of rebellions before they have been contextualized.
Domestic uprisings in this country are extremely rare. Nowhere is this more painfully obvious than in slave uprisings. The number of documented slave rebel- lions in the United States, from the mid-1500s up through the end of the Civil War, number under a dozen. Yet slavery was perhaps the most savage, gruesome policy ver carried out by white Americans, a remarkable honor given our encyclopedia of genocides. Over a period of four centuries, it is conservatively estimated that more than fifteen million Africans were forced into slavery by the colonial powers and in the process some thirty or forty million more died as a result of slave raids, coffles, and barracoons or slave warehouses. While not all of that is directly attrib- utable to colonial white Americans, the numbers are staggering nonetheless. Yet it only produced a few rebellions in American territory, mostly minor rebellions at that, a few of which are being contested today by historians as possible outbreaks of white paranoia rather than genuine black rebellion.
The low number of slave revolts might strike many Americans as shocking and disheartening. It would seem that slaves should have rebelled far more often. For one thing, they had the numbers. In 1800, the United States population was five million, and of that one million were blacks, ninety percent of whom were slaves. According to the census taken in 1820, 40 percent of the South’s population was black, and in some areas they made up 70 to 90 percent of the inhabitants.
Given those demographics, why didn’t they rise up more? Why didn’t they kill their masters and restore their dignity, the way we’d like to imagine we would our- selves? The most obvious answer is that the slaves knew they would be slaughtered trying. Unlike, say, slaveholding regions of the Caribbean, the United States was sufficiently militarized and its methods of domestic repression so well-refined that it was totally assured of crushing any domestic revolt, slave, peasant, prole- tarian, or otherwise. If the Confederates, fielding a great army with the best offi- cers and weapons in the world, could get crushed and destroyed by the United States, think of the odds a band of slaves, with no chance of blending in with the dominant population, had! Instilling fear is one of the most effective ways of cre- ating a docile, obedient slave population. Today, for example, TV shows like Cops, which show that lower-class criminals have no chance of outfoxing the omnipo- tent state, combined with terrifying stories about U.S. prisons, are two highly effective tools in keeping the population docile and workfocused. This is some- thing Michael Moore missed in Bowling for Columbine: fear works not only on the dominant middleclass to emotionally separate them from the criminal under- class, but also on the underclass, the TV show’s target audience, to remind them that if they dare step out of line, they will lose.

But the broader reason why there weren’t more slave rebellions is simpler: most slaves didn’t want to rebel. This depressing fact is not limited to African slaves in America, but rather is a product of human nature and our ability to adapt, to be conditioned out of fear, and to serve. Frederick Douglass explained that slaves chose not to rebel out of a fear of the unknown, which, he wrote, quot- ing Hamlet, had made slaves “rather bear those ills we had/than fly to others, that we knew not of.”
Indeed the only time America’s slaves stirred in large numbers was when they were bribed and lured into rebellion by the whites, and even then their response was relatively feeble. During the Revolutionary War, the British, hoping to incite behind-the-lines slave rebellions against the colonials, offered freedom to any slave who rebelled against his white master or sided with the Crown. Remarkably, as a puzzled Winthrop Jordan noted in White Over Black, “During the Revolution, British armies provided opportunities for escape to freedom, but, almost surpris- ingly, no important slave uprisings took place.”

This irrational yet perhaps instinctual mammalian tendency for a subordi- nate human to identify his interests with the master’s/boss’s/company’s, in spite of the huge difference in profit that each side gains in this relationship, is identi- fied by historian Kenneth Stampp as one of the six key slaveholder tactics for cre- ating a good slave. Those six were:
1. Strict discipline to develop “unconditional submission”
2. Develop a sense of personal inferiority
3. Development of raw fear
4. Establish notion that the master’s interests are the same as the slave’s 5. Make slaves accept master’s standards of conduct as his own
6. Develop “habit of perfect dependence”

posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:00 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


By the way, if anyone is curious, the "1 in 10,000" line is a play on Du Bois' essay "The Talented Tenth"

the shooting on the hill scene - probably a reference to the opening scene of A Few Dollars More

the charging of the KKK - Birth of a Nation
posted by P.o.B. at 2:11 PM on February 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


threeants: People are boring. Archetypes are more fun.

If this is a widely-held opinion, it certainly explains most of the movies they put out...
If?

Porn outsells "legitimate" movies.

Top-grossing 10 films of 2012
: The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Avengers, Brave, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, Skyfall (2012), Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Men in Black 3

Etc.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:28 PM on February 28, 2013


One of the interesting points being made is about THE BANALITY OF EVIL, which is a phrase I've mostly heard used in regards to the nazis and the holocaust, and less about American slavery.

The sensationalistic aspects of the film... the Mandingo fights, the whippings, the violence and even vocal derision and humiliation of the slaves, those were acts of individual barbarism on too of an inherently barbaric instititional system.

The lawyers exchanging pleasantries, signing contracts and filing them with city hall. The tricky nature of what a freed man's status was in a place that still held slaves. All of thos, however polite, was barbarism. I do think Tarantino offers us glimpses of this, and *might* have shown us more had his movie not been clocking so long already.

Inglourious Basterds, coincidentally, did not offer us the banality of evil, they showed us the thoroughness of Hans Landa, and how "normal people" contributed to something as horrific as the holocaust in the rank-and-file of the nazi party, but it was revenge against the beaureaucrats more than the bookkeepers, and I don't think it needed to be. I think it's important to show the barbarism as well as the banality, but not every time.

One of the interesting things about Django Unchained, is that it very briefly explored the banality of HEROISM in the brief scene of Django and Schultz logiccing out a plan to rescue Hilie after tracking down her [purchase history?]. Throughout Tarantino's career he has shown and legitimized barbaric and often inequal revenge, but this is one of the first films where his heroes didn't just go off half-cocked into a gun fight, even if their plan was ridiculous, cartoonish, and over-the-top.

I feel like it is a piece of its time, alongside Zero Dark Thirty, as a film about the banality and barbarism of the righteous.
posted by elr at 2:37 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Charlemagne In Sweatpants, I hope I'm not diving too quickly from esoteric comments on the human condition to, well, kitch, but it always grated me when Captain Kirk monologued about how you couldn't enslave humans, because Their Greatest Virtue Is Their Desire For Freedom!

You can bend to your will humans with a helluva lot less energy than you can birds, fish, and possibly even sheep.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:43 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank you, P.O.B....you said everything I wanted to say and much, much more.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:46 PM on February 28, 2013


>He takes it seriously in his way by making films about it; why shouldn't critics get to take it seriously in their way too? ... You may or may not agree with the arguments they advance, but dismissing all 'serious' commentary at a stroke cannot possibly be a good idea.

See, I'm not convinced that he does take it seriously. He may talk a good game, but as with a lot of motormouths, there's less there than meets the ear. Certainly I can't recall a single thing memorable that he's had to say, and if by their works ye shall know them, well, he's got some 'splainin' to do. (And come along, what is that picture of him with the naked starlet all about if not some serious unseriousness? He's playing us.)

As to the serious students of trivia, I'm pretty reactionary - plenty of good movies to think about and treat seriously. His are not among them. Put that brain power to a serious use!

But then, I'm not a very serious person.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:34 PM on February 28, 2013


Tarantino sucks people in with the gore and then lectures them about serious subjects. To be honest, I'd kinda prefer him to be the film maker you think he is. He could be the new John Carpenter or Sergio Leone.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:41 PM on February 28, 2013


Tarantino sucks people in with the gore and then lectures them about serious subjects. To be honest, I'd kinda prefer him to be the film maker you think he is. He could be the new John Carpenter or Sergio Leone.

That's kind of what I was hoping his half of Grindhouse would be (much like Planet Terror is mostly just Rodriguez going completely apeshit on screen for a while)... And then....
posted by sparkletone at 6:45 PM on February 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't really see either comment as problematic, but I also wouldn't hold two totally different contextual specific comments together, impute my own observations, and then announce it as slippery and off the cuff.

If you disagree with me by all means disagree, but please be civil about it rather than implicitly accusing me of projecting or inventing and boasting of your superiority to me. More evidence, since you're in favour of that, and less personal sniping, if you please. I'd be perfectly happy to debate the pros and cons, but not if your way of disagreeing is to play 'I'm a better person than you.'


His first comment is a factually true, whether you liked the movie or not


Leaving aside the rude implication that I'm just finding causes to quarrel with Tarantino because I didn't like the movie - which is not factually correct, I have no opinion on the movie - you're saying it's factually correct that people haven't been talking about slavery for the last thirty years? Seriously? The black commenters I've read who didn't like the film (which is not all black commenters, of course) were particularly pissed off by that remark precisely because it denigrates everybody who has been talking about history in the last thirty years. Black rights activists tend to talk about history and slavery quite a bit because it's kinda relevant to their point, and some white dude dismissing that because he Totally Does It Better is not polite.

Since Django, maybe people have been talking about it 'in a way they have not', but that way is different largely because it involves a lot of saying 'Gee, that Quentin Tarantino, huh?', which is hardly a blow for history and black rights. 'Was that white guy being a jerk about slavery?' is not a question that we've spent thirty years desperately needing to debate.
posted by Kit W at 12:37 AM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please be honest about what I said rather than fabricate things so you can lecture down your nose at me. Rudeness in a conversation is not a great thing, but intentionally being dishonest is not even attempting to have a conversation.

you're saying it's factually correct that people haven't been talking about slavery for the last thirty years? Seriously?

So I'm a proxy for Tarantino? No, I'm not, but wait, Tarantino didn't even say that though, right? No, he didn't.

'I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way they have not in 30 years ... Violence on slaves hasn't been dealt with to the extent that I've dealt with it.'

By the way, that links right to your comment. That was what was said, right? And actually I would probably go back on my agreement and split the difference between the time since The Color Purple, and say Amistad sparked possibly as much conversation with random movie goers.

We could debate the content of those conversations, and why dismissing any conversation, rather than none at all, is a bit bull headed in the service of apparently nothing. But you know what, I'm not going to continue this conversation because now you're casting a false light on me for no reason and I don't appreciate that. I'll try to work on my tone, and perhaps you can try to work on that hyperbole.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:32 PM on March 1, 2013


So I'm a proxy for Tarantino?

No, you are the person who said that his first comment was, I quote, 'factually true.' From this, it is hard not to conclude that you were stating that you yourself considered it factually true, and that therefore disagreeing with you about it was disagreeing with you, not Tarantino.

If you think this is hyperbole, I think you need to work on your reading as well as your tone. Whatever you like, but please don't hassle me with any more personal accusations for making general statements about public figures. It is threatening and weird.
posted by Kit W at 3:41 PM on March 1, 2013


You're blowing my mind here. You can't tell the difference between what you claim was said and the original statement?
posted by P.o.B. at 5:15 PM on March 1, 2013


All of this seems to make a lot more sense if you change "factually true" to "factually verifiable", no? Is that the intended meaning here, P.o.B.?
posted by iamkimiam at 5:46 PM on March 1, 2013


Well, no, what I think is that there is a huge difference between "nobody is having a conversation about slavery" which nobody said except when Kit claimed I did, and "people haven't talked about slavery in (this) way in 30 years" which is what Tarantino said. The former is a blatantly ridiculous thing to even assume, and the latter is a rather contextual specific statement that probably has some merit. Mea Culpa for agreeing with it.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:00 PM on March 1, 2013


P.o.B.: "Also, it really isn't an odd thing for me to understand that out of the dozen or so speaking parts in DU that almost all of the white characters were complicit with slavery in a film that took place during the slave era in the American south."

Almost all of the white characters except for the second most important character in the movie. And thank god for that, right? Otherwise us white folk would be presented with the uncomfortable reality of a film where all the white people are evil.

Honestly, it would have been a better movie, a more interesting movie, above all a less cozy and comfortable movie (and it was both, to a large degree) if Schultz had been evil, or at least had turned out to be evil, maybe by betraying Django in the end. But as it is, we get the comfort of knowing that there's just that one awesome white guy, and we all get to identify with him.
posted by koeselitz at 1:26 AM on March 2, 2013


[Comment deleted. P.o.B. and Kit W, probably better for you both to go ahead and drop it with each other, but if you choose to follow up, please don't make it personal.]
posted by taz at 2:08 AM on March 2, 2013




Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No Politics at All, and Why
On reflection, it’s possible to see that Django Unchained and The Help are basically different versions of the same movie. Both dissolve political economy and social relations into individual quests and interpersonal transactions and thus effectively sanitize, respectively, slavery and Jim Crow by dehistoricizing them. The problem is not so much that each film invents cartoonish fictions; it’s that the point of the cartoons is to take the place of the actual relations of exploitation that anchored the regime it depicts. In The Help the buffoonishly bigoted housewife, Hilly, obsessively pushes a pet bill that would require employers of black domestic servants to provide separate, Jim Crow toilets for them; in Django Unchained the sensibility of 1970s blaxploitation imagines “comfort girls” and “Mandingo fighters” as representative slave job descriptions. It’s as if Jim Crow had nothing to do with cheap labor and slavery had nothing to do with making slave owners rich. And the point here is not just that they get the past wrong—it’s that the particular way they get it wrong enables them to get the present just as wrong and so their politics are as misbegotten as their history.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:13 PM on March 3, 2013


Heh. We've been talking about that Django Unchained, or, The Help article for most of the thread here. I like it a lot.
posted by koeselitz at 11:13 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]




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