Sunday, January 6, 2013

Reveeenge! (Notes on 'Django Unchained')


Oh, Django Tarantino, you big troublemaker.

There are so very few movies about slavery that I think people had too many expectations from this one. Criticizing Tarantino for not telling the story of slavery right is pretty pointless. This isn't the story of slavery. It's not even a story of slavery. It's merely the story of a slave, just as the title announces it.

Also pointless: criticizing the lack of historical accuracy. It's essential that we, the viewers, are aware of that lack of historical accuracy, and I certainly appreciate the larger context offered by some African-American critics (because the truth is, I barely know anything about the history of slavery in America). With Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino established that he doesn't give a fuck about historical accuracy. I understand how that can be frustrating for some, but I also understand how this historical inaccuracy is vital for his revenge plots.

The criticism of exceptionalism: completely valid. And yet: westerns are about one hero, about one exceptional man (sometimes about one exceptional woman). So in the end: do we agree with Spike Lee, that the mere choice of the genre is offensive, or do we agree that the genre doesn't allow the depiction of a mass revolt, of a mass liberation and therefore exceptionalism is acceptable in this particular case? I'm a little lost here.

It would have been hypocritical of Tarantino not to use the N-word. In this particular context, I think it's a non-problem. Its excessive use is bound to make people feel either offended or at least uncomfortable. It is ironic, though, that in this case, Tarantino sort of brings into discussion historical accuracy to justify the excessive use of the N-word: "Personally, I find [the criticism] ridiculous. Because it would be one thing if people were out there saying 'You use it much more excessively in this movie than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi.' Well, nobody's saying that. And if you're not saying that, you're simply saying I should be lying. I should be watering it down. I should be making it more easy to digest. No, I don't want it to be easy to digest. I want it to be a big, gigantic boulder, jagged pill, and you have no water." (source: The Root, via The Ed Show, via New Black Man) But yeah, I agree: he shouldn't make it easy to digest.

And he really doesn't make it easy to digest. In terms of violence, I knew exactly what to expect. I had read the leaked script, after all. And yet it still took me by surprise. With Tarantino, there's always this feeling that he enjoys violence, the spectacle of violence, a little too much. In this particular case, I don't think he should have toned it down, but it did make me reconsider the excessive violence towards women in Death Proof. I'm having serious second thoughts about that one. I guess I'll just have to re:watch it.

Should a white director even dare to make a film that has anything to do with Black history / life? Hell yeah. The problem isn't this. The problem is that there are too few movies, especially mainstream movies, made by Black directors, just as there are too few (mainstream) movies made by women. The problem isn't with Tarantino. The problem is with the system. If Tarantino has an original script about a slave and wants to shoot it, I don't see what the problem is (especially because he doesn't come across as the type of white male director who doesn't recognize his own privilege; later edit: okay, forget I said that). But if a studio buys a script about a slave / slavery and doesn't even consider hiring an African-American director, than yes, that really is a problem.

The mocking of the KKK was, as expected, absolutely hilarious.

I liked the dynamic between Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) and Candie (DiCaprio). In Stephen's death I read a criticism of the happy, sassy Black servant that Hollywood has accustomed us to. (I was actually surprised to find such an old stereotype in Lee Daniels's Paperboy, which goes to show that the director's skin color doesn't necessarily ensure a stereotype-free movie.)

Can you believe DiCaprio has now been in two westerns?

I think for the first time, the soundtrack of a Tarantino movie hasn't quite worked for me.

It is my humble and quite uninformed opinion that from the point of view of racial representations, Django Unchained has a lot more redemptive qualities than Lincoln.

The one thing (about which I have no doubts) that does bother me about Django Unchained is the representation of women. Or should I say: the underrepresentation of women? He's done such a good job until now, offering big parts to women, I don't understand why he would stop now.

Despite its problems, despite its shortcomings, the great thing about Django Unchained is that it generated so many discussions on racial representations. A few links, only three actually, to texts I've managed to read so far:

+ Black Audiences, White Stars, and 'Django Unchained' by Ishmael Reed
+ 'Django Unchained': A Postracial Epic? by Hillary Crosley
+ Quentin Tarantino creates an exceptional slave by Salamishah Tillet

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