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DJANGO: It’s a movie I’ve been hearing about. After reading about why I should boycott it, and how some white dudes are pissed about it, and what Tarantino has to say about it, I’ve made up my mind to see it. I have hopes that doing so will be for me what Inglourious Basterds was for some of my closest friends, yet I’m wary. What will be made of a comedy about slavery viewed by audiences still living within a culture of slavery?

To make a film like Inglourious Basterds, in which the Holocaust is revised so that Hitler meets an awesome demise, at a time when no one (most people) would deny that the Holocaust a) happened, b) was terrible, and c) should never happen again or be forgotten, is pretty different than making a film about an institution which, in our culture, goes largely unacknowledged. Plus: Slavery didn’t happen and then was over; the legacy of slavery still lingers, a lot, in ways both tangible and psychological.

As Tarantino observed in Playboy:

[There] was a social-dividing issue between the extras that mirrored the ones between their slave characters in the movie. The ponies [slave call girls] were pretty, and they looked down on the extras playing cotton-picker slaves. They thought they were better than them. And the people playing the house servants looked down on the people playing the cotton pickers. And the cotton pickers thought the people playing the house servants and the ponies were stuck-up bitches. Then there was a fourth breakdown, between the darker skinned and the lighter skinned. Obviously not for everybody, and it wasn’t a gigantic problem, but it was something you noticed. They started mirroring the social situations of their characters, being on this plantation for a few weeks.

They didn’t start “mirroring the social situations” of their characters because they were on a fake plantation for a few weeks — they did that because that social situation still exists. Today. Just ask Soledad O’Brien. Or any black person.

At worst, I guess, the film could make slavery into a big joke, at a time when we haven’t even seriously acknowledged its historical and ongoing reality. At best, though, it’ll be funny and shocking and continue to threaten ignorant white bloggers. (The fact that Conservatives are pissed that fictional slave masters are being [gleefully] killed and would say that publicly…what? Seriously? It’s like this map. It’s like these weddings. It’s some Confederate nostalgia bullshit.)

Maybe it will even be cathartic in some way. Maybe it will inspire a “dialogue” about slavery, our collective amnesia, and the many ways in which slavery still informs American life. But it probably won’t; I won’t get my hopes up.

[Note: This repost appeared in its original form here.]

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About The Author

A. Nicole Kelly

A. Nicole Kelly is a writer and former Senorita Miss Bikini of Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. She has lived in Brooklyn, Berlin, Barcelona, and LA.

  • Lyn Fuchs

    Hi Nicole,

    Some thoughts on your well written article:

    Ignoring the bounds of good taste to push people’s shock buttons is pretty much Tarantino’s shtick. After giving us the rape of women in comas and the slicing and dicing of moms in front of their preschoolers, poking fun at the degradation of black women is pretty much where we should have expected him to go. We probably shouldn’t watch any of his films, but we do, because Hollywood has desensitized us to the point where they are almost mainstream. Sorry that you are the latest target of his crassness but don’t feel special or specially offended. He needs professional help.

    On the bright side, joking about things doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t take them seriously. Much of life is either a comedy or a tragedy and sometimes laughter is the best medicine. Your bio indicates you’ve been to Oaxaca Mexico, where I live. So, you may know that Mexican culture often includes jokes that stomp on sore spots till we don’t notice the hurt, rather than tip toe around them like politically correct cultures do. Hardly any Americans know that Valle Nacional Oaxaca hosted slavery even worse than that of the southern U.S. as late as 1910, because Mexicans laugh off horrors that would traumatize most Americans to even hear about. (You can read my interview with the last survivor of that slave plantation in my new book Fresh Wind & Strange Fire.)

    When I lived in the U.S., I often preferred being one of few white members in a black church over the white church snoozefest and most of my sugars have been brown, but I would like to see more American blacks aware that the reason people argue about racism in movies in the U.S. is that the most horrific forms of racism tend to predominate in the parts of the world where there is no dialogue at all. America is one of the less-racist countries in a highly-racist world. Saying America has a racism problem is P.C. but not actually true. (Many of my Mexican friends even say they prefer being insulted by Texans than condescendingly patted on the head by Canadians.)

    Humanity has an epidemic of finding self esteem by putting someone else down. Not far from where I live the Maya built a palace for their upper caste folks called the “House of White Skin” long before the Europeans showed up to hatefully chime in. When I lived in India, an upper caste woman explained over tea that the South Indian Tamils were highly religious because “they are dark-skinned and ugly and thus have little to hope for in this world.” The most frightening part was she said it with a tone of compassion rather than hate. Humanity is flawed. Those of us who don’t like toothless racist Klansmen shouldn’t join the currently popular clan of those who lift themselves up by saying “I’m a global traveler and much higher class than those ugly Americans.” All people are created equal is still the best policy, but few actually pursue it.

  • Katka Lapelosová

    I just saw Django and thoroughly enjoyed it, but knowing this information after seeing the film makes it even more of an interesting social commentary. I know there is a lot of social-divide in African countries regarding skin color/station but to have seen that on a set of an American film…there’s a lot to be said! Which I think you have done a good job of whittling down. Passing this on to my friends, thanks!

  • Henri le Riche

    Slavery is bad in any shape, (colour) or form. What just worries me about these stories is, that it is making racism a “color”. Having lived in countries where I was the majority, I see racism, on the minorities. Being from, and living in a country where I am the minority, I have seen the racism from the majority. In some cases I am in a stronger position to balance racism and see it for what it is. A human negative trait. It’s not a white trait, nor a black trait. If it was just white thing, and black people were exempt to racism, then that would mean, black people are “special”. In other words, better than other humans. Superior.

    Slavery started in Africa, with Africans selling each other, and bargaining with other tribes. Westerners capitalized on the idea.Even in modern day Africa, slavery is rampant. The more “pc” word is human trafficking.

    Django might be specific to the US, and it’s “conscience”. That said, Tarantino is known for making ” provoking movies”. Let’s face it. Boring movies don’t sell. We are in a changing, diverse world. Information, in conjunction with life’s experiences, changes our views. We as a younger generation, are stuck on the views, and prejudices, of the older generation. It is time we see new problems, new issues, and find new solutions.

    We have to be careful not to shout “racism”, but in the same time falling into a trap by being blind to “new” racism, just because society is not ready to deal with new problems.

    If we are truly balanced, non-racialist individuals, we should balance things at 12pm. We can go a little to the left. 11am, or a little to the right. 1pm. We have both conservative values, with open minded liberalism. Sadly, some people’s balance sit at 10am. They are biased towards a certain view. This could be due to ignorance, lack of life experience, or even prejudice. Who knows, maybe all three. The world needs to get back to 12pm, otherwise somewhere, we’ll have to re-invent some wheels, the hard way. History showed us that many many times.

    Read this book: Hoffman – They_Were_Slaves_-_The_Untold_History_of_the_Enslavement_of_Whites_in_Early_America_(1993).

    Watch this on Youtube: War of the Flea.

  • Lucy Munday

    Nicole Kelly, what happened when you watched the film? Did you enjoy it? Did you find it offensive? How did you react after viewing the film?

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