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Black Love: Off The Chain

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Counting myself among the $15,011,121 dollars that saw Django Unchained on its opening Weekday, I was blown away by a renewed sense of movie-going. Even with paying the dreaded regular ticket price (no student discounts on this go 'round), I was more than satisfied by 168 minutes of 'the enword', guns, blood, pre-klanish costumery, period drama, retribution and romance. In light of the current re-hash of the un-lovability of black women, I consider this a new kind of chick flick. It's a film that in spite of, or maybe because of the veracity of its violence, imagines black womanhood™ beyond the superhuman stoic into a paradigm of the pretty.

To be sure, Django Unchained is an American love story. Set against a backdrop of an equally American institution, the revenge genre only makes sense in the context of passionate love -- it becomes fuel for the hero (or heroine), moving them irrevocably towards retribution. Plus, it's been a long time since I've seen a black American princess onscreen, never, if you omit examples in the comedic vein. But here we meet Broomhilde, a bilingual, two-time runaway slave whose prince charming is already her husband. Kerry Washington is pitch perfect casting, having established herself as a formidable talent on both the big and small screen, while offering the public a sepia starlet to study on the red carpet. A graduate of The Spence School, Ms. Washington manages to insert subtle refinement into the character, making all of those seemingly oppositional details believable parts of a whole. Initially, we see Django's ladylove through apparitions of memory: dressed in dull cottons, swathed yellow satin or clothed in the waters of an alpine lake, most of Broomhilde's actual dialogue consists of screaming and crying -- pointing directly to the unspeakable nature of slavery itself. But we are never left to wonder about her role as a cherished human being. She is a woman whose charms are worth risking life and limb to defend.

It is the preservation of white womanhood™, an enduring trope of American cinema, that serves as a knowing counterpoint to Mr. Tarantino's vision. Broomhilde's swoon-to-faint is probably the first in cinematic history to feature a black woman. I selfishly enjoyed the opportunity to not be 'capable' to be overwhelmed to unconsciousness, to project myself into a fictional space that didn't demand that I 'keep it together'. I relished the avatar of female blackness as the princess, a damsel in distress, transmogrification not required.

This is why I heart Quentin Tarantino. He is obviously a romantic.