Yes, I finally saw this film Django Unchained, and yes, I like it. The cast was good in their roles and I was pleased with the scenery and production. But that is where the compliments stop. As a film, it succeeds in its mission: get people talking about slavery and spark controversy. Mission accomplished. But yet, through the hype of this Oscar worthy film I see a larger issue.
No, I am not going to worship director Spike Lee for his rant, because he should actually see it and then talk. But I will say that I am one who does questions not only the motives behind this film but also those criticizing it. My question is simple: what do you expect?
For one, Quentin Tarantino, has never made himself be the advocate for being racial or culturally sensitive. Have you ever seen Inglorious Bastards, Jackie Brown, or Pulp Fiction? Let's get real here. Pointing the finger at a white director that profits from the blaxploitation of black actors has been going on for years. Remember The Dave Chapelle Show? Remember why he left? Blacks making satire of themselves and their circumstances has been in the industry for decades. But why is it a problem today... because it can change.
When Tyler Perry was the highest paid man in Hollywood in 2011, I was disgusted and happy at the same damn time. Happy: because I had hopes that a person of color could really help shade the perception of black actors and their narratives. But disgusted because all that we have seen from him continues to be the same tried and true stereotypical films that outcast us as the same cookie cutter and trivial characters ever.
Even sadder is how our own black directors can't seem to even get us portrayed in the best roles. Notice how many more black actors and actresses, with the exception of Monique, can land an Oscar for playing in some of the most grimiest black roles from films that are directed by white filmmakers. The 2011 film The Help showed this and I find it even sadder that such black actors put in their best performances for these films than they do in others.
But without digressing, the real people that should bear responsibility for such insensitive films like Django are the audiences and black filmmakers themselves. How did we let something like this happen? Why did black Hollywood think it was alright to make a satire out of something as serious as slavery? And why did we not counter this with something more meaningful. Answer: because we have been too busy doing it to ourselves.
I will give Spike Lee his props. I will give John Singleton his respect. But directors such as Tyler Perry and many others who continue to profit from such slander and stereotype of the black population should be held responsible for such backlash that comes from Django. For it was within this power, that you abused it and made it profitable. And through your profit you made it acceptable. Enough is enough. Black directors, step your game up.
There are tons of aspiring black actors out there. Has anyone seen Grey's Anatomy or Scandal? They want great roles, conveying characters with substance and grace. They desire complex screenplays that allow them to explore greater heights and limits. Why Halle Berry took off her clothes for the Oscar, many would argue. Because the role was versatile, her performance was a true testament of her craft.
In this New Year, I hope that once Django garners all of its nominations and awards, black directors go to the drawing board and produce better films and expect more from the industry. Tyler Perry, stop taking the short cuts and start getting serious. Success doesn't always mean greatness; it can sometimes just mean popularity. And from that popularity we must ask the question "are they laughing at us, or with us?"
Furthermore, look at the Jewish community. I hardly ever see "Jewploitation" films that make much satire off of the Holocaust. They have made it unacceptable and have demanded a level of sensitivity and respect that blacks have ignored in film when it comes to slavery. Perhaps Roots will be our Schindler's List but for every black film we make with dignity, there has been something that has countered it. Sadly, many are coming from our own directors and producers and this is a shame.
Moving forward, let's not act like Tarantino is the devil for using the n-word over 100 times in Django when we probably have seen far worse in our own rap songs and mouths. Let's not stop trying to expect more from white directors when they cover films on slavery (although Spielberg's Amistad was solid) and their attempts of justifying racial insensitivity for "realism." (I never knew slaves were able to articulate their names having silent "Ds" in them.)
But instead let's all as community of black actors, filmmakers, producers, and audiences come to appreciate and respect our heritage while also sharing it to the rest of the world. Let's stop expecting others to do it for us when we should be doing it ourselves; because sometimes if you want something done right, you seriously have to do it yourself.