Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Django: A Story Still Chained

"Django: Unchained"...A controversial, racial, and political film released on Christmas day as a gift from Hollywood but to whom? The wrapping looks like Kente cloth, but upon closer inspection the Kente is fake.  But who cares, right, since the wrapping paper people generally throw away? It's the so called "gift" we're after.

Still, as with most things, presentation is half the battle. We're presented with a traditional western set in the south during slavery. I thought "westerns" were called "westerns" because they were set in the WEST! Oh well that's why it's called creative license! Which brings to mind some questions.

Could Django director, Quentin Tarantino, have made this kind of studio film marketable to mainstream ( showbiz talk meaning, "white people") without turning it into a western? Maybe, but realistically how much of the "mainstream" audience would pay to see an angry slave kill white people, "Nat Turner style," for his freedom?  Such imagery has been purposely omitted from the chronicles of American history.  So no matter how compelling the story, it just wouldn't "sell" at the box office unless....

 1. A white man with Hollywood clout executive produces and/or directs it (where has that been done before? Can you say Amistad? Beloved?)  

2. A white male A-Lister is attached as lead or co-star.

3. Named black actors that mainstream audiences recognize and black audiences support are attached as leads.

4.  You don't market it as a black film but a (insert name of the white director or producer) with a "universal" theme.  Generally, everyone can relate to a human fighting for his freedom, no matter the genre of the film, right? So why do box office receipts generally lesson when that human is black, the producer and/or director of the film is black too, and it ain't a damn comedy? Please comment!

Those three questions, reader, are why I say Django: Unchained is a story still "chained."  In 2013, a movie about American history as it relates to chattel slavery in this country is still not really free to be told through the Hollywood studio system for major theatrical release unless its linked or "chained" to an influential white man within that system. 

That said should black audiences thank Tarantino for his "gift" of finally seeing a slave avenge his oppressors by any means necessary? Or, do we tell him and the Hollywood system, "No thank you...we'll tell the story of our ancestors in a way that may not be marketable by your standards, but it will be honorable and not sold as entertainment like two Mandigo slaves forced to fight before a betting audience."

Whatever your opinion of "Django: Unchained", as a black movie goer understand how our history and unique culture is presented to the masses is still very important, especially when done for profit--a profit that doesn't benefit us collectively. 

Generally where and how we spend our money is what we collectively say, "yes" to.  That's how Hollywood sees it and that's why the tragedies of the Jewish Holocaust nor the Japanese internment camps of WWII are NEVER presented nor marketed as sci-fi, western, or any other genre of storytelling.  Those races of people collectively would not allow for it and have the financial clout in showbiz to keep it that way.

But even as I write this post, I ask myself, do we as black folk really act or think collectively anymore? When it comes to movies, Hollywood says we do. Look at the box office receipts! Just like the underlying motivation of chattel slavery from Africa to America was money, the underlying motivation for movies made in show BUSINESS is money too, not education! Cha Ching Tarantino and Weinstein Brothers! Cha Ching!


theComplex said...

Loving the conversation we've been having Alice! I guess I'll try to answer the questions you've raised.

"Everyone can relate to a human fighting for his freedom, no matter the genre of the film, right?"

Sure, 'Django Unchained' could be set in any film genre.

"Why do box office receipts generally lesson when that human is black, the producer and/or director of the film is black too?

People, for the most part, want to see heroes that look like them. I have my moments where I only want to see films and shows with mixed casting, or all Black or all Latino... of course that has to do with being overwhelmed with White-centric media.

Also, White is still the mainstream. We're still trying to assimilate, still worshiping as they taught us, still feeding their wallets.

Plop a White co-star in a Jennifer Lopez movie and it's mainstream. Add a Latino co-star instead and it's a Latino movie.

Stories about Blacks, Asians, Latinos are only really appreciated in those groups.

--and it ain't a damn comedy?

I understand that mockery can be seen in different ways, but comedy is often where a lot of truth can come out.

George Carlin was notorious for framing seriously fucked up things in a comical way, but it still made you go "damn, that really sucks. This is some bs..." He inspired you to want to do something about it... or at least think about. Chris Rock has similar moments.

It's a style of delivering a powerful message.

Does it lessen the blow? Maybe. And that may be what irritates people. Why should serious issues be reduced to comedy? In some ways, I feel it's the best way to reach people who would otherwise ignore the message entirely.

Hollywoodlvwork said...

Comedy can be a blessing and a curse especially when it comes to sensitive topics like slavery. A Facebook commenter referred to Django as a comedic action thriller last week. Ain't nothing that funny in this film to make it a comedy! It ain't Blazing Saddles!

The day we begin laughing at chattel slavery as a whole is the day we go back to the auction block. Truly, where do we draw the line? Or have we grown so comfortable in our race relations that we think no line exists anymore?