10 Things I Think I Think About Django Unchained, Slavery, Nigger/Nigga, Race, And The Reaction To Django Unchained

***Although the following post is about Django Unchained, I made sure to make it as spoiler-free as I could. If you do choose to leave comments that could be interpreted as spoilers, please leave spoiler tags before you do so***

1. “War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”

This take on the popular “war is hell” cliche is from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a semi-autobiographical and metafictional account of the Vietnam War, and one of my three or four favorite books. Basically, something as random, arbitrary, and complicated as being in the middle of a war is too, well, complicated to be reduced down to one adjective.

After reading dozens of historical texts and memoirs, sifting through several documentaries, and watching movies such as Roots and Django Unchanined and Amistad, I think the same type of quote could be made about slavery in the United States. Perhaps different adjectives would be used, but it’s not possible to distill a description of that time down to a single word.

I mean, anyone with a brain and/or a Black grandparent should know that Django is not an exact representation of the antebellum period. But, one historically accurate thing it does show is that the relationships between slaves and slaveowners were complicated as well.

For instance, there’s a 20 minute stretch in the movie where you witness each of the following:

A slave who, with the way she was dressed and with the way she was treated, was clearly (slaveowner) Calvin Candie’s girlfriend.

A slave who, because he attempted to escape, is sentenced to a very brutal death.

A house slave who is clearly the second most powerful person on the entire plantation.

While each were slaves, each character had a completely different relationship with their owner, and each probably had a different personal relationship with the concept of slavery. Shit was just…complicated. While the “girlfriend” and the house slave both had vastly more freedoms than the average slave, neither was actually free. (The situation with the girlfriend was especially bizarre. I mean, yea, she’s his girlfriend—and, from the looks of things, he treated her like a, well, girlfriend—but could she actually say “no?” Isn’t this—sex without consent—rape?)

With that being said, it’s irresponsible to neglect to mention that while certain movies and texts may show that certain slaves may have had a more, for lack of a better term, “benevolent” relationship with their masters, the majority of slaves were not treated with any sort of human kindness or compassion. Maybe it wasn’t “hell,” but for many, it was even worse.

2. I think Django Unchained is quintessential Tarantino. His movies are frequently homages—to spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation flicks, etc,—and mishmashes of different genres, but Django is almost an homage to himself.

Basically, if you like Tarantino movies, you will probably like Django. If you don’t, you probably won’t.

3. I think Django is my fourth-favorite Tarantino movie. (Kill Bill 1 and 2, and Inglorious Basterds would be the others) I didn’t love it—I thought it was a bit too long—but I did like it very much.

4. I think one of the many possible reasons why people who aren’t Tarantino fans aren’t Tarantino fans has to do with the fact that typical Tarantino movies frequently shift tonally in a way that can seem a bit too inappropriate. For instance, if you’re going to see, I don’t know, Precious or something, you go into the movie knowing how to expect to feel. You may laugh at the absurdity of a certain situation, but a scene designed to make you guffaw in a movie like that would just seem out of place.

Tarantino movies don’t follow that same script. And, despite the fact that I am a huge fan of his work, I can see how someone would be put off by a movie that depicts the brutality of slavery in one scene and has a slapstick scene involving the Ku Klux Klan (more on this in a sec) in the same 15 minute span.

5. I didn’t think the Klan scene was that funny. I think you can make a good joke about anything, so me not thinking it was funny had nothing to do with the attempt. It made me chuckle a little, but, I don’t know, it was more The Hangover funny—humor where you’re supposed to laugh at something because it’s supposed to be funny, not because it actually is—than actually funny.

6. I think many (if not most) of the people upset by the ubiquity of nigga and nigger in Django are upset because they feel like they’re supposed to be upset by it, not because the word actually offended them. It reminds me of the conversation surrounding Gywneth Paltrow’s “niggas in Paris” tweet last year. Despite the thousands of articles, blogs, tweets, and status message threads about it—and yes, I was guilty of making a contribution as well—I doubt many of us were actually that mad about it.

It’s almost as if we’re playing “pretend” mad so White people won’t get too comfortable. It’s kind of like how a dad gets pretend mad at a child for peeing in the front yard. He doesn’t want the kid to do again, so he’s appropriately upset and makes sure the kid sees that he is. But, he’s not losing any sleep over it, and probably thinks it’s more funny than anything else.

7. I think I’ve reached a point where hearing “n-word” bothers me more than “nigger” does. (I think Sam Jackson agrees with me)

8. I think one of the most jarring things about Django was seeing slavery in “color.” As I mentioned earlier, whether through Roots or some other movies and/documentaries, most of us have seen that time period on screen in some fashion. But, while Roots (and Amistad) definitely was graphic, there’s a difference between the relatively grainy film used in something made in the 70s (and the documentary-esque feel of Amistad) and the type of picture you get with the high definition cameras used today. Django is, in many ways, the most colorful depiction of slavery any of us have ever seen.

9. I think the movie was a bit tamer than I expected it to be. Rapes and castrations are implied instead of shown, and for all I heard and read about the violence and the brutality, the violence actually seen on screen was so over the top that it bordered on camp.

Now, I’m sure some of those who have seen the movie may disagree about the campyness of the violence, specifically in regards to a scene involving dogs and another scene involving two Mandingos fighting to the death. But, both of those scenes were edited in a way that even though you definitely knew what was happening, you couldn’t really see it. (I wonder if Tarantino intended to do that or if he was instructed to by Miramax.)

Still, there were a few scenes that were particularly hard to watch, and each involved Kerry Washington’s character. Without giving away too much, she’s put through a gauntlet of dignity-erasing horrors that make you want to cringe, cry, and, well, kill.

10. I think a conversation I had a couple weeks ago shows why, despite its flaws and despite the fact that it’s not a completely accurate account of the antebellum period, a movie like Django is necessary. (Well, at least more necessary than unnecessary)

Once a week for the past four or five years, I play basketball at a local high school. It’s a regular group of 20 to 30 guys who vary in age and skill level, and many weeks I’m the only Black guy.

This particular pick up game has been going on for decades, and one of the traditions is that the guys who come gather in the coaches’ office afterwards to kick back and drink beers. (The person who’s supposed to buy the beers revolves every week. And, if you’ve gone too long without bringing a case, you will get clowned and eventually uninvited)

Anyway, Django happened to be one of the topics of conversation during one of these kick back sessions. It stayed superficial for a couple minutes—most of the discussion was just about who had seen the movie and whether they liked it—before seguing into a conversation about Tarantino movies in general.

Admittedly, I was happy that we’d left that subject. As much as I enjoy talking about the type of topics a Django conversation might touch on, I don’t want to have those conversations everywhere and with everyone. And, honestly, part of the reason why I wasn’t looking forward to a deeper Django discussion is that I generally like and enjoy being around those guys, and I didn’t want someone to express an opinion or viewpoint that would make me start to think differently about them. Perhaps that’s “wrong” in some way, but I just didn’t and still don’t see the need in introducing that dynamic there. When it comes to reliably fun pick-up basketball, ignorance is bliss.

A few minutes later, though, Django was brought up again. A guy sitting right next to me on the couch had a few questions about the movie—things he wasn’t particularly sure about—and, well, when else are you going to have the opportunity to ask a very smart Black guy about some of these things?

Now, for a moment I considered doing the “I can’t answer for all Black people” thing with perhaps a little “I’m offended that you’d even ask me that” mixed in. But, his questions (more on that in a sec) let me know he was both genuinely curious and genuinely ignorant, and with that realization came another one:

There are people—millions of people (millions of Americans!)—who literally know nothing about slavery other than it was kind of bad and it ended some time ago. And, while Django isn’t Roots, a movie created by a person as culturally relevant as Tarantino will at least spark conversations that some people would have never had.

One of the questions had to do with Sam Jackson’s character. Basically, he assumed that Jackson’s character wasn’t a slave. I corrected him. And, since he had no concept of the difference between house slaves and field slaves, I gave him a quick explanation.

Now, is it every Black person’s duty to go around educating White people about slavery and race? No. I have many hats but “African-American History Tour Guide” isn’t one of them. At the same time, as frustrating as it is that an educated man would know so little about American history that he’d even conjure that question, asking the question is better than the subject never even crossing his mind.

And, you can never go wrong when educating and/or reminding people that while some of the shit in Django didn’t happen, some—the hot boxes, the branding, the whippings, the rapes, the murders, the sell and purchase of humans, the intentional splittings of families, etc—did.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

I Motherf*cking Hate PETA by Panama Jackson

To PETA, dogs and slaves? Same sh*t.

There are few organizations that I detest more than PETA. For the short bus crowd visiting with us today, PETA stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Now, I’m an animal lover through and through. I like cats and dogs. One of my dogs is actually on my credit card. Yes, you read that properly. My dog is on my credit card.

My mother has geese, the most annoying denizens of the bird world. No Amber Rose. Well, yes Amber Rose, but in this context, no Amber Rose. Real birds. Taylor Gang.

Moving on. Despite my love for animals I recognize one very real truth: animals are not people and do not trump the rights of people. That isn’t to say that I think people should be able to treat animals any type of way. Animals are much like children, especially domesticated ones: defenseless and ultimately looking to humans for food and protection. To that end, I make it a point to always treat animals with the highest of respect. Dipset, b*tch…nahmean? But PETA? Them bastards take stuff too far.

Especially when it comes to the ways in which they choose to get their point across. PETA has this stupid f*cking uncanny ability to equate the plight of animals with the plight of slaves. Yes. PETA thinks that animals and slaves are basically the same sh*t. I remember seven years ago (I wrote an article about it back then…egads I’ve been writing for a long time) when PETA created a display where they hung up pictures of cows and animals who were about to be made into bacon and steak next to pictures of lynched Black people as a way of equating the treatment of animals to a system of Jim Crow and intense racism.

Needless to say, Black folks were upset. Everybody except Cam’ron who I’m fairly sure is and/or was PETA’s public enemy number one after his line about his closet looking like a pet cemetery on the song “Down & Out”. Great song by the way. Oh and why wouldn’t Cam’ron care? Because his computers were to busy ‘putin’ for him to notice.

Hmm…not to be all extra tangentially Black here but is that the first time that a word was abbreviated in such a way that it warranted an apostrophe at the beginning AND end of it? Without it being a kids name? From the hood? Seriously, would you be surprised if you met a kid named ‘Putin’…and those weren’t quotes? After meeting a chick named N”D’Biane at my cousin’s graduation a few years back, I realized anything is possible. Zone 4 stand up.

I’ve lost my point.

Ah yes, the latest in the line of PETA f*ckery and nincompoopery was the motherf*cking LAWSUIT that they filed on behalf of FIVE orca whales who they felt were being held as slaves by Sea World.

Please. Read that again. I’ll wait.

*humming “Down and Out” by Cam’ron*

Luckily the lawsuit was tossed out by a judge who obviously has common sense but was forced to ACTUALLY decide on this case. But the fact that PETA was going to try to run a motherf*cking Thirteenth Amendment okeydoke on the American people on behalf of five whales who didn’t ASK for the lawsuit is beyond me. But there goes PETA again, lumping animal rights into the civil rights debate. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery OF MOTHERF*CKING PEOPLE and these fools are trying to use it to basically free Willy??????

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller stopped the case from proceeding two days after he became the first judge in U.S. history to listen to arguments in court over the possibility of granting constitutional rights for members of an animal species.

“As `slavery’ and `involuntary servitude’ are uniquely human activities, as those terms have been historically and contemporaneously applied, there is simply no basis to construe the Thirteenth Amendment as applying to non-humans,” Miller wrote in his ruling.

 

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed the lawsuit in October and named five whales as plaintiffs. PETA says the wild-captured orcas are enslaved by SeaWorld because they are held in concrete tanks against their will and forced to perform in shows at its parks in San Diego and Orlando, Fla.

Again, I motherf*cking hate PETA. Who needs the KKK when you have PETA trivializing the entire struggle of African-Americans in this country by equating the rights of ferrets with the rights of people who were killed because of the color of their skin. Which is why I got SO much pleasure out of the skewering the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did. Wyatt Cenac, I salute you.
Peep the video below. It’s beautiful. And it’s Friday. F*ck PETA.
What do you think about PETA’s campaigns? Do you also hate love like they do? If so, Michael Vick deez.
-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. F*CKPETA aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3
Also, don’t forget about the VSB/Urban Cusp discussion on Black Identity & Culture in Mass Media panel coming up on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 from 6-8PM at the Washington Post Buildling. It’s going to be a dope conversation, I promise. Plus you can hang with Panama Jackson and throw things at people. It’s free and food will be provided. Not like half chickens or nothing, but finger foods and whatnot. See you there. Peep the flyer below.

Get Like We: The Biggest And Most Popular Trends in the Black Community in the last 20 years.

gregoden

Over the course of history, Black people have been quite the trendsetters.  We’re both followers and leaders at the exact same time.  For instance, there was the whole slavery problem where so many folks tried to be like their homies who they saw get on the Amistad party boats, only to never return from whence they came.

But then came the amazing trend that had to have been started by the parents of one Harriet Tubman (née Altamina Ross) who decided that they would be uber-creative with her name, which is a trend that lives on in hoods across America as every one of us knows at least one person with three capital letters in their first name.  Some of us even  know people with more than one apostrophe.

Some of us even know a person named N”DBiane’.  (Okay, I don’t personally know her, but I saw her name in the graduation program for Douglass High School (Atlanta,  GA) class off 2007 – Panama)

Fact is, Black America has seen its fair share of amazingly omnipresent trends.  Today, The Champ and I will discuss some of the biggest nationwide trends in Black America.  Get like us.

Panama’s Trendwatch

1)  Sprewells/Spinners – Though more people know them as spinners than Sprewells, the guy who choked out PJ Carlesimo is the reason for accidents galore over at least a 2 year span.  I can’t be the only person who hit the brakes prematurely as I was driving thru a green light because the idiot with the spinners looked like he was still moving into my path.  This trend was so big, K-Mart was even selling knock-off plastic spinners which made their way onto Mexican (no Gem) cars from San Diego to Maine.  Except it seems that most Mexicans were on the economy package and only bought 3.  Odd.

2)  L.A. Gang Culture – Boyz In Tha Hood and Menace II Society sparked a gang surge like none other in the early 90s.  I myself joined two gangs.  From Dickies to ’64s to the amazing sound of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg in suburbs across America, Black America’s fascination with all things LA sparked possibly one of the riveting HBO documentaries ever:  Banging in Little Rock.  Every major southern and midwestern city saw gang violence escalate like never before.  And jheri curls.  Which much like spinners, caused more accidents than it was worth.

3)  Throwbacks/Retro Culture/Skinny Jeans - At one point, people were wearing jersey’s of people and teams that never actually existed.  I should know, I am the proud owner of at least 20 jersey’s, at least 10 of which are for teams Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen have never heard of.  But nothing was/is worse than the skinny jean, overly colorful 80s retro vibe permeating Black America right now.  Gumbies, thick rope chains, jeans that outline your wheezer – all were bad ideas in teh 80s so they’re even worse now that we have a reference point of the 80s to remind us how bad we all looked.  Thankfully Jay killed throwbacks, though that unfortunately led to…

4)  Grown-and-sexxy – Jay says button ups, so Kanye throws on a sport jacket over his button up, with some tennis shoes and the next thing you know, metrosexuals everywhere where rocking the Kanye special.  Only problem is, striped button ups are pretty hideous by nature so the jacket didnt help at all.  But since nobody really knew what grown-and-sexxy meant, and since most of us don’t have daddies, we figured Kanye and Jay-Z were as good a role model as any.

5) Sagging – We’re black.  We like jail.  Amen.

trends the champ’s noticed and sh*t

1) the iverson effect

while jay-z, michael jordan, tupac, obama, and mr. marcus have each influenced in our community in some way, there’s no one who has altered as many lives as allen iverson, a man responsible for spear-heading two separate trends

a) the ceaser/even steven ***if you remember, fifteen years ago the fade was still the default go-to haircut for the majority of young black men. now, the fade is reserved for preachers, men from los angelos, mike tomlin, virgins, rapists, and retards. this mass eschewing of the fade begin when a.i. started rocking the ceaser his sophomore year at georgetown***

b) the ubiquitous tats ***while there has always been a certain segment of the population with multiple tattoos, people without multiple predicate felonies (basically, people like me) didn’t really start rocking them until after iverson’s second year in philly. now, you’re likely to see both bloods and black nuns rocking “thug life” tats on their necks and wrists

2. the frohawk

while kanye, kanye’s shag, and a few other ambiguously heterosexual contemporary male artists usually get the credit for this, the recent mohawk trend can be traced back to eva pigford on america’s next top model, proving once and for all that straight young black males have a strange tendency to pick and follow the gayest fashion trends possible.

3. the late 80′s-early 90′s black pride boom

i dont know if it was public enemy’s popularity, the airing of “a different world”, or a chemical reaction created by the last remains of jheri curl juice. whatever the cause, black america experienced an extremely sudden and extremely strange boom in black pride for a three year span, with 1990 serving as it’s apex.  sudden because it seemed to come and go with the same quickness, and strange because it wasn’t uncommon to see a person walking through the hood with some kinte cloth nikes and two giant african medallions over an all white polo jumpsuit. with that being said, my hbcu alliance hampton university short set and matching X hat was kind of hot.

4. knockoff fashion

anyone doubting the thundergoat’s popularity just needs to remember how much of an influence the “timberland boots” she rocked in her and jay-z’s horrible me and my girlfriend video influenced us. for a four year span, you couldn’t leave the crib without tripping over a bootlegged lime green manolo boot heel. when you combine that with the burberry knock off trend (which snowballed into louis, gucci, fendi, and every other high end label that pittsburgh strippers are likely to name their kids after) she also started in that same f*cking video, you have concrete proof that beyonce’s the brain to our human borg.

i’m sure we’re leaving a few out. people of vsb.com, are there any other transcendent trends that we missed?

—panama jackson and the champ