I hated the movie Django Unchained, and here’s why.
And for those of you who want to say the classic, “How did slavery affect you – you’re a CEO!” you have missed my point in writing this completely. I’m not trying to discuss the long term effects of slavery on people in this country. I’m writing to let you know I did not like a film. Stop making things bigger than they are.
Before I begin, let me say I don’t give a fuck that it’s fiction. I don’t care. If there’s any subject that does not get enough authentic portrayal on the screen, it’s slavery. This movie was never meant to be a documentary, but that should not give a director freedom from critique when his story is about what Condoleezza Rice calls, “our nation’s birth defect.”
Last disclaimer: I DID NOT FINISH THE MOVIE. After the first “Mandingo battle”, and Leo’s incessant use of the n-word, I had to leave. So perhaps I missed something that would change my opinion. Please tell me in the comments. (FYI “Mandingo battles” never happened. Not because it was too brutal, but because it was bad business.)
1. It casts slaveowners as almost sociopathic, unrelatable monsters.
Now before you think I’m advocating we make slave owners appear to be role models, let me finish my thoughts. It’s very easy for us to look at Leo’s character, as well as many of the other slave owners in the film as monsters. They are reprehensible, and the level of their brutality, both verbally and physically, makes it very easy for us to disassociate ancestors from being part of the horrific effects of the nationally-endorsed practice of human trafficking (read: slavery).
I was not there, but I imagine many neighborhoods “looked” like the ones we live in today, perhaps with more space in between because it was an agricultural lifestyle. The people in these neighborhoods were not monsters in the light Quentin portrays them, but they had their slaves. There were no doubt reprehensible punishments handed down to slaves by not just the stereotypical slave master, but his sons. The n-word was not just spewed from an evil man, snapping from his mouth as much as from the end of a whip. It was also said by the young children, wives and relatives of many that their counterparts would call, “civilized people”.
There’s a reason we had Jim Crow laws. The dehumanization and marginalization of blacks was a family practice that lasted well into the 1960s. Quentin’s movie, to me, gives many folks the ability to separate their genealogical past from this brutality. There is no way our great, great grandfather was that evil. The stories I hear are yes, he owned a few slaves, but he was a good man.
No, young grasshopper, your great grandfather participated in human trafficking, and he only got a pass because our country allowed it.
For this film to be accurate, I feel it (did it?) should show a young 13-year old girl taught to dehumanize a grown man. It should show a slaveowner that never whips a slave, but expects them to work 18 to 20 hour days. It should show the father and son who just donated clothing and food to their neighbor on their way to a slave auction. Django’s portrayal of slave owners let’s too many people off the hook. Critics seem to give him credit for “rewriting history”, but I think what he’s really done is made slave owners sub-human. This is not true. They are just as human as the grandfathers many folks have sitting in a chair two feet from them—today. Some of these grandfathers hung men by their necks and were never prosecuted. Some could not stand it when schools were integrated. And some participated in rallies against the civil rights act.
Dehumanizing slave owners is as reprehensible as dehumanizing slaves.
2. It humorously marches past the lives of so many slaves.
You can’t make a movie about a few men freeing millions of people. You can’t. And if you’re thinking Lincoln was that film (or that person), you seriously do not understand how money, power and politics work. So before I begin this next though, understand I get that a film about two guys freeing all slaves would really be fiction.
Throughout the film, there are slaves that will no doubt live their entire lives unfree, abused, raped, and forced to work long hours. The film attempts to have us forget these people because Jaime Foxx is on a horse, and he’s in love. Fuck that. It’s a free country, so I chose not to watch a film where slaves humorously hold up guns in the service of their master. See, while the film cuts to the next scene, the people in the previous scene are still living under a horrible slave master. At this point you are probably screaming, “THIS IS A FILM!”
Yes, it is a film. I am debating the credit Quentin is receiving for the “revenge” that slaves apparently get in this film. The world was fucked up for African slaves, people. I don’t like watching a film that portrays a young man as a prop in a humorous scene who’s story arc (if anyone cared to write it) is filled with hopelessness and sorrow. I don’t ever recall seeing Inglorious Basterds use starved, overworked Jewish people as a prop to add humor. Others agree.
3. It paints a laughably easy-life for some slaves.
When I saw a slave woman swinging on a swing as if she said, “Bossman, I’m taking a break” and he said, “OK”, I nearly fell out of my chair. Are you serious? Some of the cinematography makes slavery look like little more than a minimum wage job. The film makes slavery look like something where if you do your job right, you live ok, although not free. But if you mess up, you’re in BIG trouble.
From everything I have read, slaves where given the bare minimum. They were not congregating having conversations. They were expected to work. The film (to the point I saw it) never shows the true housing conditions of slaves – it actually shows “comfort girls” looking as well-treated as a hotel guest. It never shows the long hours of work. It simply uses people with brown skin to remind you that yes, this was the slave days. They’re props for a thinly veiled blaxploitation film.
4. I am tired of these “above and beyond” films.
I don’t need to see another film portraying an educated white man taking an ignorant black person under his wing, almost selflessly. The bounty hunter in the film gives up 1/3 of his bounties to keep his slave working with him? He BOUGHT HIM. He can tell him what to do, right? No, no. We need to see that there were “good folks” back then. Enlightened people who saw past this horrid slavery thing.
That’s all we hear about. They existed, but many more people who did not give one shit about slaves existed. Let’s stop following the story arc that makes people feel warm and fuzzy. This story is done too many times. Blood Diamond. A Time to Kill, Dangerous Minds. I can go on.
Look, let’s all agree slavery slowed some folks down (a lot), but unlike any other country in history, we have the ability to right our wrongs and work every day to create opportunities for all Americans. Every year the chances of being successful as a young black person improve—I fundamentally believe this. I’m over slavery as a crutch. But I’m tried of these “white guilt” films. Own up to being from a country that institutionalized human trafficking of black people, but eventually elected a black president, and move on. That’s the tragic, but great story of our nation.
Conclusion: Screw this movie.
Screw this film. Django uses slavery as a backdrop to a dramedy, only bringing it to the foreground to satiate our need for the violence expected from a Tarantino film. That’s horrible in my eyes. I”m not teling you not to go—who the fuck am I?—I’m telling you why I left the film.
Note I did not mention the excessive use of the n-word in the film. Whatever. This writer felt the need to use it
Do we really need comedic entertainment with slavery as the backdrop? In the opening scene, the bounty hunter hands his rifle to a slave, surprising the slave, and everyone in my theater. Laugher erupted as the slave looked at the bounty hunter with shock.
It’s not funny. That dude’s a slave. Probably had a family. He’s a fictional character in a movie, but perhaps his ancestor—which by the way could in theory be my own grandmother—had to deal firsthand with the effects of this subjugation. Too soon? Yeah, for me it is.
For a much better articulation of what I feel, without revealing the story, read this article.