- I have been steadily consuming all movies of QT since I was first introduced to Pulp Fiction by my aunt who is a QT junkie some 12 years ago. I think I largely enjoyed watching obscene amounts of violence, clever wit and swearing being actively endorsed by an adult… and the stories were for the most part intriguing.
- I have recently read three pretty good fiction books about the lives of enslaved African people in the diaspora- the Caribbean, the USA and Canada.
- I identify as a Caribbean womon of African descent whose African ancestors were enslaved people.
- I had my reservations about seeing this movie primarily because the combination of #3 and my waning interest in violence. I have become terribly concerned with what I consider entertainment these days. More specifically, how frightening it is that I have become numb to large amount of violence both for “entertainment” and in real life; and I don’t care what people say, there is a correlation. Entertainment affects how you interpret the world, it’s the reason media is so powerful.
So when QT takes his time to graphically depict two enslaved African men having to fight to death in a fancy colonial style home while two white enslavers sit down and drink liquor… I have to wonder what makes us in the cinema who are watching the reproduction of this so different to the white men at the time who were watching it at that time in the room for entertainment as well? Is it entertaining because we are shaking our heads at the obscenity of it all? While still watching it?
Now I’m not saying that it is the same, but there is something unsettling for me about the unnecessary graphic detail. Was it to demonstrate the gravity of the situation? Directors, good directors of which QT is one can convey gravity without me having to watch two black men fight literally to see another day at the whim of rich white men. Professional sport parallels anyone?
vs. Inglorious Basterds
When I saw Inglorious Basterds I was in Trinidad and the audience cheered excitedly as the Nazis were outsmarted, outstrategised and killed. I was a little confused because I was unaware of what the audience’s investment in this history was. It was of course a combination of things
- the graphic and often near comic violence
- the wit
- the effective demonization of Nazis in history
- the typically audience commentary that comes with that cinema.
… but I had to wonder, if I saw a similar movie about slavery would the audience be cheering the same way.
Django Unchained is not a similar movie. Inglorious Basterds was a revisionist history, it was creative and imagined something systemic that would have made a difference to the world. Django Unchained is the story of one man looking out for one man and his wife who happens to have been enslaved at various points throughout the movie. This story of the solitary hero in no way seeks to address the systemic-ness of enslavement. Please note that I do not think this was the character’s job, I’m highlighting the difference in story.
taking up the enslavement of African people
The enslavement of African people in this part of the world was largely physical, but the mental control imposed on this forcibly displaced people has in my opinion has been captured far better in literature. There are hints but when you don’t depict what life is like on a plantation for people in any real way… you’re doing an injustice. Yes, we saw some punishments where QT didn’t hesitate to show naked black bodies but for me it’s the day in day out… the drudgery, the uncertainty, the constant threat of violence, the fear…
In Octavia Butler’s Kindred her protagonist is transported between being enslaved in the 1700s/1800s in the USA to 1970s (then present day). She only gets back to present day just before she about to die. In one scene she’s an enslaved person, and she is being whipped for something and soon after it commences, the pain, the agony… she wakes up in present day in so much pain, the scars of our history.
Later on in the novel she’s back to being an enslaved person, she is being whipped again and she soon expects to be transported again to present day… she doesn’t. She’s still an enslaved person. You know what happened? She thought she would die the first time, the second time, she knew she wouldn’t, that this was just her life… now that’s some heavy shit. Depict that
taking up womyn
Speaking of black womyn who were enslaved… I’m happy Kerry Washington got top billing in a movie where she only had 3 lines.
But really, let’s talk about misogyny and sexism. QT has a great record with these two. But even this was over the top. The silencing of black womyn was beyond beyond.
- Women weren’t being traded that much were they?
- Most times we saw black womyn they were comfort womyn. And yes, I get there are all sorts of things attached to that, forced sex work is rape but where were the women working on the field, like most of them were?
- Why all these women had long, straight/ loosely curled hair?
What stuck with me most though was the fact that Kerry Washington was the sole motivation for the main character and yet we know nothing about her, except of course what makes her special:
She’s a wife- it’s not right for her to be a comfort woman
She speaks German- therefore identifiable
She’s pretty- light skinned, speaks well (little evidence of this, seeing that she had so few lines) “nice” hair
= woman worth saving
battle vs. war
Spoiler alert, how dare QT make one of the more personally violent vengence scenes occur between Django and Samuel L. Jackson’s (SLJ) character. Yes, I get the that the HHNIC is depicted as the most despised black person. But I maintain, only two types of people survived slavery- the lucky and the scampish. And SLJ was a super scamp, venomous even, but you see that’s what’s make this story so much about a hero as though he’s fighting an individual battle vs. an institution.
Because this was a movie about a battle we see Django “get back” at SLJ in a very real way. And because QT didn’t bother to make this a revisionist history we’re supposed to get some satisfaction with Django’s battle wins
- knowing well and good that it’s only a matter of time before his luck runs out and
- forget about all the other enslaved people who I guess will not be quite forever trapped because it is 1858 but definitely of no concern to our hero.
- I was left sadder… more despondent
A white man of this time writes the most personally violent and antagonistic scene between two black characters. Far too unsettling… White privilege and white supremacy are real when a white man can write this “entertaining” piece of film and be celebrated for his wit, satire and genius this “new” world.
If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
-Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland 1970s