By James W. Breedlove
Quentin Tarantino has a reputation for treading a fine line in dealing with race and violence throughout his twenty year career as a film director. He has definitely gone beyond that line in his latest offering, Django Unchained, released on Christmas day.
Django Unchained is creating controversy because of its viscerally violent portrayal of slavery and the attention being directed at the number of times the incendiary N-word is used by white and black characters throughout the film. Among the impressively staged killing and sadistic bloodletting scenes are attack dogs savagely tearing a slave apart and black fighters being forced to fight Mandingo brawls to the death simply for the entertainment of a white plantation owner.
Director Tarantino has gone out of his way to further antagonize those that protested his paltry usage of the N-slur 38 times in his 1997 movie Jackie Brown; declaring that number excessive. Spike Lee who knows a thing or two about controversy had expressed concern over the usage of N*gger in that film.
Now Tarantino fills the Django script with the N-word more than 100 times, essentially saying, “Now what about this?” as he ruffles old feathers and some new ones. \
Spike Lee when queried about his feelings on the new film responded, “I can’t speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it… All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me… I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.”
Even the ultra-right wing Drudge Report weighed in with feigned criticism. For readers not familiar with the Drudge modus operandi it was intimately associated with the late Andrew Breitbart who released the edited videos used to railroad Shirley Sherrod out of the Department of Agriculture. The Drudge web site initially had a 40 point type headline of “N*GGER, N*GGER, N*GGER, N*GGER, N*GGER, N*GGER, N*GGER” under a picture of director Tarantino.
Jamie Foxx who plays Django in the film has described several of his personal experiences when promoting the movie on talk shows or other media outlets that helped him relate to the racially-charged subject matter that dominates Django Unchained.
While growing up in east Texas he frequently was confronted with the N-word. “Being called a n*gger as a young kid by white people was something I had to deal with, Having that done to me I was able to grasp what was going on in the script. When a project becomes magic and special it means that at certain points in the script it parallels your story.”
“I played the piano and that’s how I made money. My grandmother taught me piano. She said, ‘You need to learn to play this piano, boy, so you can go across on the other side of the tracks and make some money.’ The other side of the tracks is where the white folks lived. I was pretty well known in the city, but when I was 16 and a friend of mine who was 17, I get a gig to go play a Christmas party. So I go to this big home out in the country. I go, ‘Wow, this is nice.’ And the guy opens the door and he says [in a thick Texan twang], ‘What’s goin’ on here?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m here to play your Christmas party.’ ‘Why are two of you here at the same time?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t have a license and he drove.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, I can’t have two n*ggers in my house at the same time.’ ‘ Now you figure it out.’ So I go in, he gives me a jacket to play in, and as I was playing, they were doing racial jokes… But my grandmother had told me, ‘When you playin’ in those situations like that, you are furniture.’ So the lady at the house says [in a decidedly more feminine Texan twang], ‘I apologize for what’s going on. Could you sing us a song?’ And I sang, ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.’ And the guy says, ‘Wow, that’s good,’ and he handed me a hundred bucks at the end of the thing. And I was like, ‘Man, you can call me n*gger every daaaay!’ And when I went to give him the jacket back he says, ‘What are you doing?… I can’t wear that jacket anymore.’
“As black folks we’re always sensitive,” Foxx said. “As a black person it’s always racial. No matter what we do as black people it’s always gonna be that way. Every single thing in my life is built around race. I don’t necessarily speak it because you can’t. And that’s that. So stop talking about it.”
While Quentin Tarantino’s film is the latest blaxploitation there were others. The Legend of Nigger Charley starring Fred Williamson was released in 1972 and was one of paramount’s highest grossing films. Two sequels The Soul of Nigger Charley and Boss Nigger were made.
Tarantino has rationalized Django as a vehicle to hold up America’s sordid past like a mirror. However, it is difficult to ascertain if the gory violence, bloody revenge, extensive use of N*gger, and graphic cinematography gives the audience anything of substance either on the race or slavery issue especially as it relates to past or present social attitudes. We already know that both are debilitating abominations to this nation. Is Django the catalyst that will motivate America to rid itself of its Niggeritus cancer? I doubt it.
There was a time when holiday movies were rather pleasant to watch. They put us into the spirit of Peace on Earth Good Will to All.
However, this film with its outrageous blood, gore, and justifiable vengeance sets the tone for more Newtown type escapades. It may raise awareness of the atrocities associated with racism and slavery but the Nigger controversy will continue.
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