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01-01-13 Tarantino's "Django: Unchained"

01-01-13 Tarantino's "Django: Unchained"

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Published by William J Greenberg



But after seeing the film, their faces were empty, their eyes were blank. Sure, they had laughed at the scatological humor, had flinched at the gruesome ugly scenes, had been insulted by the self-deprecating humor, and had been lifted up by the antics of the “bad nigger”. And don’t forget the ending–with the hero and his slave bride riding off into the sunset and the glowing flames that consumes the CandyLand Plantation! And all this, with this synched to beat of rebelliouship-hop music. Burn, Hollywood, Burn!



But after seeing the film, their faces were empty, their eyes were blank. Sure, they had laughed at the scatological humor, had flinched at the gruesome ugly scenes, had been insulted by the self-deprecating humor, and had been lifted up by the antics of the “bad nigger”. And don’t forget the ending–with the hero and his slave bride riding off into the sunset and the glowing flames that consumes the CandyLand Plantation! And all this, with this synched to beat of rebelliouship-hop music. Burn, Hollywood, Burn!

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Published by: William J Greenberg on Jan 12, 2013
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This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only.JANUARY 01, 2013Tarantino's "Django: Unchained"Hollywood’s Nigger Joke by CECIL BROWNI had little dog, his name was DashI’d ruther be a nigger than be white trash –African American sayingIn order for a joke to work, Mary Douglas, the eminent Britishanthropologist, wrote that one had to have a social context for it tooperate in. “We must ask what are the social conditions for a joke to be both perceived and permitted,” she asked in her wonderful little essay,“Jokes.”“My hypothesis,” she writes“is that a joke is seen and allowed when itoffers a symbolic pattern of a social pattern occurring at the sametime.”With Django: Unchained, the symbolic pattern–I’d call it historicalcontext–is Hollywood itself. “If there is no joke in the socialstructure,” Mrs Douglas observed, “no other joke can appear.” InHollywood, there are lots of jokes in the system!The social pattern that allows Quentin Tarantino’s “Nigger joke” to work is set in the South, two years before the Civil War, but my point isthat this is only a pretext for Hollywood itself.Some critics, like Betsy Sharkey in the Times, think this film is amasterpiece. Sharkey calls it, “the most articulate, intriguing, provoking, appalling, hilarious, exhilarating, scathing and downrightentertaining film yet.”African American critic Wesley Morris hated it. He called it“unrelenting tastelessness — [...] exclamatory kitsch — on a subject asloaded, gruesome, and dishonorable as American slavery.”Ishmael Reed, the novelist, pointed out how the Weinstein Company promoted an advertising campaign to get a black audience by promotingJamie Foxx as the star. In fact, Foxx is only one of the stars, alongwith Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio. As Reed points out, Foxxspends most of his time looking at Mr.Waltz and then looking at Mr.DiCaprio, with a puzzled look on his face, as if to say, What’s desewhite folks, talkin ‘bout?My aim in his essay is to examine the way in which the symbolic systemis a reflection of the social system. “What are the social conditionsfor a joke to be both perceived and permitted,” Mrs Douglass wrote inthat little essay, “Jokes.”What are the social conditions that would permit Django to be the big
 
howling, empty nigger joke that it is?One of these social conditions, certainly, involves the relationship between black actors and Hollywood as a symbol of the plantation system.In his review of the film, for example, Mr. Reed said that Sam Jackson,in the role of the conniving, omnipresent, evil slave, is “playinghimself.”If Jackson had not dominated the Hollywood system in such a sly way,then his role as Stephen, the master-worshipping house slave to CalvinCandie (Leonardo DiCaprio) would not have its loaded, edgy, uncannyrealism. The plantation is called CandieLand (Candyland) and is meant torefer to Hollywood itself as a producer of entertainment (Candy). Getit?If Jamie Foxx is not known in Hollywood as a resourceful hustler, whowill play almost any role, then his part as the “bad nigger” Djangowould not be so compelling (and lubricous). If he was not the “Newnigger on the block,” then the confrontation between him and SamJackson’s character, Stephen, the off-the-hook house slave, the scenewould not be powerful (and dumb) at the same time.The
dramatis persona
forms a homology with the enacted characters on thescreen. The key that unlocks Tarantino’s sensationalistic mosaic is thatit reveals the inner game of how the Hollywood studio and the plantationslave institution exploited black people.Unwittingly and unconsciously Tarantino has provided us with a scenariothat makes the plantation system the symbolic equivalent of Hollywood.It is a film a clef.In other words, Hollywood forms a homology with the slave plantationssystem– in both cases making money is being underlined as the goal, andit does not matter how many people are hurt or offended.Tarantino approaches Hollywood–that is, the Weinstein Brothers production company as if it were a plantation, and as if he were anaspiring poor white trash overseer trying to get into the closed system by manipulating the slave code.Instead of presenting the Weinstein Company with a script, Tarantinoscreened a film– 
 Django
(1966.), a Spaghetti Western.How hard was that? In an age where even Hollywood execs don’t read,Tarantino made it easy for them. As it turns out,
 Django
(1966) wasitself a take-off of the Spaghetti Western,
 Fistful of Dollars
, a film(and a genre) invented by the Italian director Sergio Leone.Tarantino’s task (as he probably explained to the Weinstein Company) wasto map characters, incidents, and plot points from the original
 Django
 (1966) onto the target, his proposed plantation script,
 Django:Unchained 
 (2012).Let us now compare the original
 Django
(1966) directed by SergioCoerbucci with Tarantino’s
 Django: Unchaine
(2012). In mapping, some
 
things are easily transferrable and somethings are not. What Tarantinotook from the original films were the characters, plot, and grossdetails of violent acts. What he added–and what was not in theoriginal–was African American nigger humor, the joke. Tarantinoransacked Black folklore for the Trickster, the slave John, and the Bad Nigger, and the Jezebel. For music, he takes some of the originalItalian, but for the most part, he overlays the film with James Brown’s“The Big Pay Back” and hip-hop music.If we compare the plots with each other, as summarized in the IMDb, wecan see what Tarantino transferred over from the original source thetarget: “A coffin-dragging gunslinger enters a town caught between twofeuding factions, the KKK and a gang of Mexican Bandits. Then entersDjango, and he is caught between a struggle against both parties.”The plot of 
 Django:Unchained 
is: “With the help of his mentor, aslave-turned bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutalMississippi plantation owner.” And: “Former dentist, Dr. King Schultz, buys the freedom of a slave, Django,and trains him with the intent tomake him his deputy bounty hunter. Instead, he is led to the site of Django’s wife who is in the hands of Calvin Candie a ruthless plantationowner.”In the opening scene of the original movie, a beautiful woman (Loredana Nusciak) is rescued from rape by Django (Franco Nero). This femalecharacter is mapped over by changing the name and character toBroomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington).Imitating the original scene of desperation, Tarantino opens his filmwith a slave coffle. First, a long shot of the slaves chained together.Then, close-up shots of the shackled ankles. Then, overlay of themoanful voices, Aint Nobody Gonna Hold My Body Down. Next,close-ups of raw stripes of blood lashes on black backs.It makes for a painful, depressing sight, and it is photographed in arealistic mode. The audience is taken in, because the scene depicts theholocaust for many blacks who sat in the audiences across the country.Wesee the strips from the whips across the backs of the slaves.Then, there is an incident: a light in the dark. Who goes there? Theowner of the slaves calls out.“Just a fellow traveler,” returns a Dr. King Schultz (Christop Waltz), a bounty hunter. Dr. Schultz examines the slave, picks out Django (JamieFoxx), and when the slave owner tries to prevent him from talking toDjango, pulls out a gun and shoots him dead. Shooting the white slaver  point blank, Dr. Schultz laughs and turns the gun over to Django, who ismiraculously transformed from a lowly slave to—Presto!–into a “Bad Nigger” with a gun and a mean attitude. Now we are rolling!As a spokesman for the director, Dr. Schultz is a white Negro. Hisaction and trickster character lift the action out of serious mood ; andsuddenly, we hear the pounding music of James Brown’s “The Big Payback!”We are roaring with laughter at the punchline in an ethnic joke. Some of Django’s lines include, as he shoots a poor white man, “I like the way

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