Op-Ed: Was There a P.C. Way for Tarantino to Portray Slavery in 'Django Unchained?'
In many African American communities Tarantino's film got to their souls, too, and Django received mixed reviews from a tepid nod to expressions of outrage. And those outraged by the film feel Django Unchained needs to be locked up, bound, buried--if not burned--because the film uses the inhumanity of slavery as a backdrop and it dishonors those who have suffered under its reign.
Then there’s the liberal use of the n-word in the film, which many will find deplorable. When asked about it, Tarantino told Cynthia McFadden on ABC's "Nightline," "I don't think anybody is actually going out there saying that we used the word more excessively than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi. And if that's not the case, then they can shut up."
But one critic in particular who won’t shut up about Django is renowned African American filmmaker Spike Lee, whose gripes resonate for many and were recorded in the New York Times.
I can’t speak on it “cause I’m not gonna see it,” Lee said. “The only thing I can say is it’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film.” Days later on Twitter he tweeted, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”
American slavery continues to be a difficult topic to discuss. And it's avoided at all cost, particularly if not spun to appeal to white audiences.
For example, the Queen of Daytime talk, Oprah Winfrey tried to tackle the topic with her production of the 1998 film Beloved based on Toni Morrison's novel by the same name. It was a box office failure. The failure is speculated to be that the film didn't appeal to white audiences, casting them in a negative light. Some critics contest that the movie was too serious, not entertaining enough, and was mind-numbing to both black and white audiences of all ages. The weekend Beloved opened it was beat out by the horror flick Bride of Chucky.
The 1977 hit television series Roots, based on Alex Haley's novel, was an international success, nominated for 36 Emmys and winning nine. It was intentionally written to win over white viewers.
"Familiar television actors like American (sic) actor Lorne Greene were chosen for the white, secondary roles, to reassure audiences. The white actors were featured disproportionately in network previews. For the first episode, the writers created a conscience-stricken slave captain (Edward Asner), a figure who did not appear in Haley's novel but was intended to make white audiences feel better about their historical role in the slave trade," the Museum of Broadcast Communications reported.
Tarantino's creative rendering of slavery, albeit understandably troublesome, sheds a disturbing light on our culture's ability to willingly sit alone in a dark theater for two plus hours watching an entertaining film about American slavery than to voluntarily sit in a lit room face-to-face with each other and talk about it.
American slavery is an American story. And we all have ownership of it.