Author Ishmeal Reed’s Review of Django

Ishmael Reed  photo credit Mark Costani

Ishmael Reed photo credit Mark Costani

I had a pretty good idea of where “Django Unchained” was going from the first credit. It went to the Weinstein Company. The Weinstein Company once fought a legal battle (settled out of court) over the right to distribute “Precious,” which is, in my opinion, the worst film ever made about black life. The company’s name in the credits for “Django” also meant that the movie was aimed at a mainstream audience.

Though German, the bounty hunter character played by German-Austrian actor Christoph Waltz seemed to speak with a British accent, which is all the rage in the media, though I need subtitles to understand what Piers Morgan is saying half the time. The German dentist dazzles the screen with his eloquent talk and vocabulary and puts together constructions like “shan’t.” I would loved to have been present at the marketing meetings about this movie. The cynicism must have been as thick as cigar smoke. Jamie Foxx has been promoted as the star of “Django Unchained,” and has assumed the role as movie defender–the same role played by Viola Davis in the promotion of the equally offensive “The Help.” Foxx serves as a buffer between the producers and the wrath of blacks like those who attended a recent showing where the film’s writer and director Quentin Tarantino reportedly faced hostile questions from a black audience.

The real stars of “Django Unchained,” however, are Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio is master of a plantation where Django’s wife Broomhilda (seriously), is being held, and has apparently been passed around among the “Mandingos” who are trained to participate in slave fights for the entertainment of DiCaprio and his friends. The movie’s “star,” Foxx, is there for the audience that used to sit in the balcony at southern movie houses. He performs in a movie within a movie. A sort of “Harlem On The Prairie.” This was an ingenuous bit of marketing. “Django” was the talk among blacks during two Christmas parties that I attended, lured to the screen because Foxx was featured in the promotion. One woman said that she couldn’t wait to see the movie, which reminded me of a comment from a book called “When Time Ran Out: Coming of Age in the Third Reich” written by author and artist Frederic Zeller, who said that when he went to the movies in Germany, his being youthful and lacking consciousness led him to applaud the Aryans (he escaped the country in the 1930s and his parents died in a Nazi death camp).

The middle of  “Django” showcases Waltz and DiCaprio. They engage in a lengthy dialogue which includes references to Beethoven and phrenology, during which Foxx’s Django alternates between scowling and looking completely dumbfounded by the civilized talk. The DiCaprio character believes that there are wrinkles in the brain that cause blacks to be docile. Tarantino’s fictional blacks apparently lack that part of the brain that makes one compassionate. While some blacks are being brutalized other blacks go about their business. In one scene, a black woman is being whipped while nearby a black woman is enjoying herself on a swing.

Foxx’s role in the movie is confined to frowning and murdering lower class whites who, in this film, seem to be responsible for all of the brutality during slavery, while the planters stand by helpless and embarrassed by one of their number, the lone psychopathic, who, like the Nazi played by Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List,” revels in cruel misdeeds. In one scene after two blacks have engaged in a brutal fight leaving one dead, one of the fiendish slave master’s friends shows that he was really turned off by the exhibition and has to have a drink.

Continue reading…. http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/12/28/black-audiences-white-stars-and-django-unchained/

Advertisements