Today’s Christmas and the latest Quinton Tarantino film “Django Unchained”, featuring Jamie Foxx as Django, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Kerry Washington is being released today. The film is set in the pre civil war southern United States when America’s institutionalized enslavement of the people of Africa is running at its peak. These days when most people’s idea of black people in movies runs along the lines of the timid Aibileen Clark in The Help who was resigned to her fate of jumping at the beck and call of white people at the expense of her own black children, we have a movie about a black man bold enough to buck the racial status quo with guns blazing to save his woman.
I have yet to see the movie and I probably won’t bother to see it until we can stream it through Vudu. But from what I understand it’s a new twist in the style of the old spaghetti westerns made famous by Clint Eastwood. Django is a slave with a knack for tracking who wound up being owned by a bounty hunter who promised Django his freedom if he helped him apprehend the infamous Brittle brothers. When the job is completed, instead of taking advantage of his new freedom and high telling it up north, Django hangs around the bounty hunter essentially becoming the man’s partner. He develops his tracking and hunting skills and bides his time with the ultimate goal of finding and freeing the wife he lost to the slave trade.
Considering the debate over gun control initiated by the mass shooting by Adam Lanza of twenty first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Django is hitting theaters at just the right time to be impacted by the controversy over guns. But Django was fated to be controversial even without the mass shooting of Sandy Hook. Django is a movie about a black man shooting and killing a bunch of white people. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie with a black man on a righteous killing spree. You’d have to go back to the Richard Roundtree’s version of Shaft to find a black man given cart blanch to break out a can of whip ass on white people and even then there were restrictions.
I saw a discussion of Django on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show Sunday morning. One of the commentators who participated in a pre release viewing of the movie said it was immoral. A movie about a man killing people with the sole purpose of freeing his loved one was too unethical even though it’s already been done by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando and True Lies, Bruce Willis in all the movies from the Die Hard series, Jodie Foster in Flight Plan, Gina Davis in the Long Kiss Goodnight, Liam Neeson in Taken, Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition, and just about every James Bond film where the heroine gets captured and 007 has to roll up his sleeves and get busy to get her back. And if we had added a list of movies where the main character kills in order to protect somebody else’s loved ones we’d have Sylvester Stallone in Cobra, Jason Strathom from the Transporter series, Nicole Kidman in the remake of the Body Snatchers, Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games, Ryan Gossling in the Driver, or Tom Cruise in Knight and Day. A movie about people killing other people is a prime staple in the entertainment industry. But when the movie has a black person as the protagonist doing all the killing of the white bad guys, suddenly the genre becomes too immoral for some people’s sensibilities.
The idea of a black man indiscriminately killing white people, even white people who are depicted as the epitome of racists and the worst perpetrators of America’s history of the enslavement of black people, is just too foreign a concept for people to accept. A black man with a weapon who is willing to use it to defend himself or his family is just not something we are prepared to accept. The depiction of a black man living straight as an arrow is still not living straight enough to be able to justify killing without permission. Some of us are just not ready to accept the concept of a black man taking charge the way we accept others taking charge and doing whatever they need to do to set things right. With Django Unchained Quinton Tarantino is treading where nobody dares to these days.
On Melissa Harris-Perry they played a video clip of an interview with Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington talking about the movie. Ms. Washington said that above everything else she saw the movie as a love story. Despite all the guns and despite all the violence, here’s a man doing everything he can to get back to rescue his woman to save her from a life of enslavement, living the rest of her life as somebody else’s property. We’ve already seen this story from the perspective of non black people. Ever since Snow White little white girls have been conditioned to believe that their prince would one day come and rescue them to live happily ever after.
Black girls have never had a story that they could relate to. What black man was coming to save them in their time of peril? It doesn’t happen. Even when the Disney Corporation was trying to do their first movie featuring a black princess they couldn’t envision have a black man coming into her life. The Disney people were too steeped in the thinking that a black man having the love and commitment to do something great for his woman just doesn’t makes sense. Thankfully, Mr. Tarantino goes where others simply don’t have the vision to see.
There have been plenty of movies with black heroes. But those heroes are rarely depicted as being personally motivated. It’s usually the black guy that’s trying to save an entire neighborhood from a criminal or a black guy that’s trying to save the future from a super computer gone rogue. It’s rare to see the black man that endeavors to save his black woman from harm. And a black man with the cajoles to save his woman from slavery, the greatest atrocity white people have ever perpetrated against black people? Now that’s something new at a time when Hollywood is stuck on remakes, sequels, prequels, combic books, children’s books, and the same predominantly white oriented usual.