Sunday, January 13, 2013

Lest You Misunderstand: Django Unchained is a Movie by A White Filmmaker That Fulfills the Fantasies of White People in the Age of Obama

This is a football weekend. I am so excited to watch my Patriots win later today. I agree with Nate Silver: the championship will be a contest between Seattle and the New England Patriots. Bring it on.

Folks are still talking about Django Unchained. To point. Here is an interesting podcast with some smart folks at the website PostBourgie. I may disagree with their conclusions; I do respect the spirit of their dialogue.

I was going to post a critical essay on Django Unchained as promised, but decided to pass for the moment. That blog post is gonna become a longer article that I am going to try to get published in a journal at some point.

However, I am hoping to do a podcast about Django Unchained with a very smart person that you will find (hopefully) both entertaining and enlightening, and which will cover similar ground if the plan comes together.

Nevertheless, I do have two thoughts related to Django Unchained that I would still like to share here.

First, in response to the young black woman on the bus talking to her friends about the movie: Django is not a biopic or a "historical" movie. Jamie Foxx is not a real person. I do not know why you were crying during the movie. The events you watched were fictionalized.

However, I do understand where you are coming from. As a young black woman, you may have been shocked or surprised by the relatively restrained depiction of the Southern Slaveocracy that Tarantino presented. Our public schools are sub-par in many ways. Your history teachers may have failed you. I do not blame you for their shortcomings.

I once had a student sheepishly confess that she thought that the movie Forrest Gump was a biography. In thinking about Django Unchained, I am quite concerned that too many folks will make a similar mistake. I do not think that you are alone is misreading Django. 

Second, on the surface, Django Unchained is a "black movie." In reality, Django is a movie primarily for white folks, and that caters to the sentiments, self-serving lies, and fantasies of post racial America. I will not unpack that observation. I will leave it for you all to process.

After repeat viewings, I still love Django Unchained; however, I do not think that most viewers are privy to Quentin Tarantino's deft sleight of hand in regards to the deeper racial politics at work in his film.

Yes, he is a negrophile. He is also a master filmmaker. He is also a hall of fame first ballot member of the Legion of Ghetto Nerds.

Never forget that first and foremost, Quentin Tarantino is making a movie that suits the sentiments and emotions of white folks in post civil rights America through the motif of a Spaghetti Western slavery counter-factual revenge flick.

Ironically, white conservatives hate Django Unchained. If they could get past their deep anti-black and brown racism and prejudice they would see that Django is a neat fit for the public face of their racial politics. White racial resentment blinds them to this fact.

Quentin Tarantino is a genius. Part of Tarantino's genius is that most folks do not get the meta game that he is playing.

Well played Quentin. I salute you. 


Anonymous said...

Here is a link to the superhero white suburban man, complete with his caucasian fantasies:

Notice how he frightens the "minority youths" and "socialists."

- Buddy H.

chaunceydevega said...

@buddy. got to love the silas marner quote too. great cartoon!

Unknown said...

Let me be sure I get it.

1) Tarantino is a genius.

2) Tarantino's movie fits a certain white vision of slavery that is apt for the current, allegedly post-racial America in the age of Obama.

3) The white Americans who SHOULD love the movie hate it because they can't grasp #2 due to their hatred of black folks and general racism.

4) The white folks (like me) who think the movie is brilliant and stands on its own merits are probably very gratified by #2, regardless of their actual views, politics, actions, etc., but they're not smart enough to see what the real message is or why they're gratified.

5) Chauncey de Vega DOES see the real message.


6) Chauncey de Vega is a genius.

Does that pretty much get at the heart of things, CDV?

Suggestion: get over yourself a bit. You're not quite as brilliant as you seem to believe. And if Tarantino is an artistic genius, then his art will likely have a good deal more layers than can be reduced to what it appears you're doing. Nor will it have a simplistic, didactic, political message. Art, other than perhaps in the hands of teenagers and socialist realists working under the likes of Stalin, Mao, or even Hitler, is so much better than that kind of nit-wit stuff.

I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I'm smart enough to know that there likely ISN'T a smartest person in the room when it comes to brilliant art. So if Tarantino's movies are reducible to political messages, they're not what a genius filmmaker would be creating. And if they're not (and I don't believe for a minute that they are), then your analysis thus far leaves a great deal to be desired, and the hints you've offered as to what's to come don't sound insightful or useful.

chaunceydevega said...

@mpg. What I said stung a little bit. And yes, I do know more about film and cultural studies than you likely do. Just a fact. I have written about, published, given talks, get paid to teach about this stuff, etc. etc. etc. So I should know more about it than you do.

Am I always right? Of course not. Are there folks who know more about this stuff than I do? Damn right! That is part of the fun.

Given your superficial engagement with any of my claims, or with the film more generally, your ability to qualify if someone is a "genius" filmmaker is very much in doubt.

But, you are not even willing to be able engage the basic question here--what are the racial politics of the film? Film studies 101--remember that movies are not about the past or whatever time period they are depicting; they are about the present. Meditate on that basic fact.

Then ask yourself about the post racial moment and the politics of colorblind racism. How do those political frameworks influence the reception of Django. What are audiences, themselves, embedded in this society and reproducing its values, communicating with and from the film? You do not have to go and read Jameson or even Bakhtin to figure this stuff out. Ask yourself some hard questions and critically engage Django as a work of mass culture. This is all ephemeral. It also "matters."

I will make it even easier for you. Go watch the movie The Help, what is one of the most perniciously racist movies in recent memory.

Then think about Django. Could the audiences, especially white audiences, be responding to similar cues?

Aadonis219 said...

"So if Tarantino's movies are reducible to political messages, they're not what a genius filmmaker would be creating. And if they're not (and I don't believe for a minute that they are)..."


The risk you run in playing ignorant when its convenient for you to do so, is that I get address you as if you actually are a mental dullard and if your lack of wit is not a facade then no love is lost/feelings remain intact unscathed.That being said..

Do you not think for one second there may be a singular political message or implied political stance in any of Tarantino's films ? Have you not seen Reservoir Dogs ? - given the imagery and dialogue in Pulp Fiction do you not think for a moment there could possibly be a personal and possibly political implication by what you see/hear?

I would much rather not assume but given your surname, I would hope you should/would be keenly aware of Inglorious Basterds and its possible messages. A motley crew of Americans and Jewish persons in post WW2 revenge hunting former Nazis could not possibly have any political implications behind it right? The very fact that an African American would not have been green lighted to make a movie like D'Jango Unchained speaks volumes- the fact that Tarantino DID says a hell of a lot more.

Anonymous said...

The owner of "your Patriots" had Rush Limbaugh as his guest of honor last year in the Super Bowl.

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Do pick a name. I didn't know that. Money makes predictable bedfellows.

makheru bradley said...

Django also fulfills the fantasies of a few Black people. Most of these people don’t have a thimble of the courage of Robert F. Williams, Fannie Lou Hamer, Fred Hampton, and Geronimo ji Jaga.

Dick Gregory sees a connection between Django and Dangerfield Newby.

I’m not buying the Newby connection. Perhaps he said something, but I can’t remember Django making a single liberating statement like John Brown’s warriors. Django is on a personal quest to free a hostage—his wife who just happens to be held on a slave plantation in Mississippi. He does not give a flying flip about any other enslaved Afrikans. Newby may have been driven by the desire to free his wife also, but he joined an army whose objective was to start a rebellion against slavery. Sheridan Leary left his wife and child in Ohio to join Brown’s rebellion. He was killed at Harper’s Ferry. Osborne Anderson escaped from Harper’s Ferry; joined the Union Army and fought in the Civil War and presumably had an opportunity to kill the defenders of slavery.

Newby, Leary, Anderson, John A. Copeland and Shields Green all sacrificed their “personal freedom” to end the enslavement of their brethren. Only Anderson survived to fight another day.

Django is the epitome of Eurocentric individualism—the individual hero on an individual quest. He is the ultimate exceptional Negro, thus Tarantino is essentially channeling Thomas Jefferson:

“Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never see even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch. The improvement of the blacks in body and mind, in the first instance of their mixture with the whites, has been observed by everyone, and proves that their inferiority is not the effect merely of their condition of life."

Nevertheless, I would guess that most Afrikan Americans like the film.

[Opening on Christmas Day, 42 percent of the film's initial audience was black," according to exit polling data as reported by The Hollywood Reporter. "The Weinstein Company estimated that the percentage now is holding steady at about 30 percent."]

chauncey devega said...

"Django is the epitome of Eurocentric individualism—the individual hero on an individual quest. He is the ultimate exceptional Negro, thus Tarantino is essentially channeling Thomas Jefferson:"

I am going to have to meditate on that great observation! Lots is going to be written about this movie; any serious article/chapter will have to contend with your observation.