I have been purposely avoiding watching all the “popular” films of slave narratives that have been released in the past few years because, among other things, I feel like there’s something really messed up in expecting Black people to be the cheerleaders of these movies.
I also find that violent movies trigger anxiety so thick and disarming that it takes days to breathe normally again (which is why, to all my friends, I will never go to horror movies with you.)
But I found myself sitting through Django Unchained a few weeks ago, because it was assigned in a class. And good gawd, I don’t know were to begin in addressing the complete fuckery that is that movie.
I was pissed two minutes into the introduction.
It was clear as the whimsical music juxtaposed with the imagery of men slaves trudging across the American landscape that the design of the movie was to be an ironic and tongue-in-cheek portrayal of one of the most explicitly violent, gruesome and horrifying periods in American history. It made me quite literally sick to my stomach, nausea rolling over my senses as I realized this is yet another instance of white exploitation of the atrocities that white people have committed for centuries against Black Americans.
It is a half-Western, half-“tale of vengeance” narrative designed to both depict the sickening violence and tragedies of slavery with characters all on the spectrum tragic Negro personifications.
Django Unchained is a traumatizing, demoralizing depiction of slavery whose portrayal is modern-day Minstrel Theater featuring Black actors in theoretical Blackface.
In reality, it is a collection of very famous Sambos dancing to the tune of the white director and the white audience—the white, hipster audience—to entertain and amuse them. It is a story written from a white savior lens, designed to show white people “how Black people bleed too” during a faraway period of time; “that one time we (white America) really sucked.” The white savior narrative is in the screenplay itself! It is in the German bounty hunter who saves Django from being sent from one plantation to another—not, mind you, from compassion or empathy or any true vehement hatred of slavery, but because he say a use in Django, and eventually, the slave’s humanity as well.
Throughout the movie, Django had to prove his humanity even to his partner who, although he becomes increasingly swayed by morality as the story progresses, only becomes so when forced with the inhumanity that Black slaves were faced with. So when the denial of the everyday brutality of injustices of slavery became unavoidable, he was forced to see the nature of slavery, and his passive acquiescence to it, for what it truly was.
It was an opportunity for the director to exploit a period of American history that was interesting (and provocative) to him, and attempt to create a discussion on the repercussions of the period… which, because of the nature of the execution, was disingenuous at best.
It did, however gruesomely depicted, show an accurate portrayal of the violently demoralization and brutal barbarity of American society. The dogs being set upon the slave hoping for freedom, tearing him limb from limb; the Mandingo fighters grappling, fighting, bludgeoning one another with fists to the death; the women threatened with rape since they were property anyways. All of it can be found in slave narratives.
I found myself nauseated throughout the movie, and ashamed with myself during those rare moments where I, bewildered, found myself cheering for Django in his bloody revenge, especially against the head house slave, the butler, Joe. Their exchange at the end of the massacre raised some small triumph in me, because the parallel shows the longstanding struggle between the Black person so desperately fighting for the approval of the white man and their counterpart—the Black person fighting for their own identity and right to exist unapologetically as themselves.
I hope to some degree that the final image can be symbolic of a future generation of Black America—riding off triumphantly with their house of their oppressors in flames behind them, leaving just a new future before them.
But even more than that I hope that some day the narratives of Black America are told by our conscious Black folk, and that our stories will someday include our whole narrative of our history and our triumphs and our struggles and our oppression and how we, unlike so many different peoples forced into slavery through the history of humanity, we created ourselves, and found a way to love ourselves in a new nation, on a new land that hated us.