Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Quentin unchained...

So I debated whether or not to write something about Django Unchained. I had considered writing about the movie before I had seen it, because what I was planning on writing didn't have so much to do with the movie itself, but the reaction to it. However, because of laziness, and also because of a certain uneasiness with writing about movies that I haven’t seen, I decided to hold off.
Well I saw Django Unchained over the weekend, and while I’m still digesting the film, I think I’m at least comfortable writing a post about it.
Let me begin by saying that while Spike Lee is an intelligent man (or seemingly so), a creative filmmaker, and an undisputed maven in black cinema (an American cinema in general), I question his criticism of Django before even seeing the film. I can’t say that no one will find this movie racist (I personally did not, but more on that later), because it is subjective, after all, and that means that what I took away from it is not necessarily what someone else will take away from it. But I can’t help but accuse Spike Lee of bias, as he has a history of criticizing Quentin Tarantino (don’t get me wrong, I’m no Tarantino apologist) for being a racist; so the context of a white filmmaker – especially Quentin Tarantino – making a glib film about slavery naturally would rub him the wrong way. But as a filmmaker – especially a filmmaker that deals with racial issues – should at least give Tarantino a chance to make his argument before completely debasing the film, and calling it racist.
That being said, had Spike Lee seen the film, he still might have come to the same conclusion. And to be fair, I’ll agree with Spike Lee in saying that Tarantino’s use of the “N” word in his movies seems more about his potential desire for using a controversial word freely than to create authenticity in his characters and movies. In my reality – and my reality in no way reflects anybody else’s – people don’t just throw around the “N” word, whether that be in the company of black people or not. The “N” word is a taboo word, and just because a white person is friendly or comfortable with an individual or group of black people, doesn't mean that the word becomes standard nomenclature. In the black community it could be different, and I understand that, but I think Lee’s criticism is more of Tarantino’s white characters’ flippant use of the word, rather than his black characters.
Sorry, I trailed off a bit there. So while I understand Lee’s issues with Tarantino’s use of the “N” word, and the “N” word was used A LOT – I repeat A LOT – in Django Unchained, the use actually seemed very apropos to the film, and actually added a certain authenticity that Tarantino sometimes lacks in his historic pieces. If you read my blog, you might have stumbled upon a piece where I talk about the “N” word, so you know that I’m no fan; but as I said, it’s use in Django Unchained, while very liberal, actually seemed quite realistic. The use of the word itself, I hope at least, didn't solely create the impression in some people’s minds that this movie, or Tarantino himself, is racist.
Now to the film itself. I personally did not find the film racist. It is true that a filmmaker ought to be sensitive when addressing a topic such as slavery; but Quentin Tarantino is not a sensitive filmmaker, so while should doesn't equate to is, that doesn't mean he was being racist with his insensitivity. The film, similar to his efforts in Inglorious Basterds, is essentially a revenge movie where Tarantino rewrites history to make oppressed people beat their oppressors. While people may question why Tarantino made the movie, if I was to venture a guess I would say that it’s because he’s a filmmaker who is interested in the idea of oppression and social injustice, and therefore wanted to make a bloody farce based upon what would happen if history were fair.
That’s my take on the movie, but I’m interested in knowing what others thought of the movie. Did you find it racist? Did you think there was a point in Tarantino making the movie? Is it fair for Spike Lee to disavow the movie without ever seeing it?


Crystal Marie said...

The use of the N word wasn't really offensive, just gratuitous.

I also didn't find the movie racist, although I do think that by mixing actual facts and Tarantino fantasy (Mandingo hunting... a slave speaking French... etc), it could be a bit confusing. It almost would have made more sense if he had made it either completely fantastical or completely not.

Is it racist to reinvent history the way you like when it's about a sensitive topic like the peculiar institution of slavery? eh. I don't know.

Good post.

Michael Murphy said...

You make very good points. I can't disagree with you at all.