Django Unchained: Uncomfortable for people who want to believe they’re still chained

Django Unchained AP

Spike Lee didn’t think if was “disrespectful” when he went off half-cocked and encouraged 250,000 of his followers to take the law into their own hands and go after George Zimmerman after the Trayvon Martin shooting. When it turned out that the address provided belonged to an innocent elderly couple who had nothing to do with Mr. Zimmerman, he didn’t see it as “disrespectful” that his apology happened in less than 140 characters — on Twitter. And so, it seems odd that without even seeing Django Unchained he has deemed it an affront to his ancestors.

Spike Lee doesn’t have much to say about Quentin Tarantino’s new film about a slave-turned-gunslinger. When it comes to “Django Unchained” he simply won’t watch it.

“It’d be disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film. That’s the only thing I’m going to say. I can’t disrespect my ancestors,” Lee told VibeTV in a recent interview.

But Spike Lee is not alone. Since Django Unchained has come out a number of stories have addressed whether or not the movie’s mere existence is appropriate. Some at least managed to do the sane thing and sit through the movie before critiquing it:

Barbara Chennault, another costume designer who attended the Beverly Hills screening, could do without it. Like White, she admits to being conflicted about Tarantino. “I don’t think that slavery is something you can make light of,” she said. “Overall the movie was jarring and unsettling, but the humor totally distracted from the depth.”

Tim Cogshell, an African American movie critic for KPCC-FM’s “Filmweek,” says the issue is not Tarantino riffing on slavery but the fact that blacks are still living out its painful legacy. …

The surreal liftoff that happens at some point in ‘Basterds’ doesn’t happen here, because of the weight of what’s still real,” he said. “For example, there’s a certain racial backlash to Obama that’s still going on.” …

True, the movie abounds with disturbing details of slavery — face masks, Mandingo fights, killer dogs, “hot boxes” into which runaways were thrown as punishment. But details alone do not argue anything. The most disturbing detail is the emotional violence and degradation directed at blacks that effectively keeps them at the bottom of the social order, a place they still occupy today.

The United States is a magnet for millions upon millions of immigrants of all races and religions. They flock here in numbers so large that politicians are forced to have contentious debates in Congress about how to deal with the issue. These immigrants come here — to a nation that has just overwhelmingly elected a black president to a second term — and by and large, they succeed. The children of first generation immigrants are better off than their parents. The grandchildren of first generation immigrants more often than not follow suit. And yet, we still have Los Angeles Times reporters and “African American movie critics” (How about just ‘movie critic’?) lamenting “the weight” of slavery. Apparently, that weight is so large that it keeps generations of blacks “at the bottom of the social order.” But is that true? Studies have been done that compare the social mobility of immigrants from, say, Jamaica or Africa to that of American blacks with generations of roots here in North America … and the results are eye opening. The response to Django Unchained might give us a clue as to what’s going on.

Some form of racism or tribalism exists in all countries and in all cultures. It always has. It will never be extinguished. In some sense, the urge to put on mind-forged manacles (e.g., an “us vs. them” mentality) is engrained in our DNA. Watch idiots get into a bar fight over a favorite sports team — I repeat, a sports team — to see the least pernicious example of this mindset at play. Given this reality, the real question becomes: “Does a level of racism exist in this country or this community that could prevent a determined individual from pursuing and attaining the life they’re after?” In the United States, the answer is “no.” While occasional run-ins with racists or bigots are inevitable, their power is marginalized and does not prevent honest hard-working individuals from realizing their full potential. Sadly, the Spike Lees of the world do not believe this to be the case.

An America where the issue of slavery joins the ranks of all the others that were once sacred cows — but now up for grabs for any writer, director, artist or comedian to play with as they see fit — is an America where the politics of guilt are powerless. When Jamie Foxx can show up on Saturday Night Live, joke about killing “all the white people,” and then receive a round of applause and laughter from a mostly-white audience — Q.E.D.: Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Spike Lee have lost the ability to play the race card.

Spike Lee refuses to see Django Unchained because its very existence (its critically acclaimed and commercially successful existence) is a powerful blow to his entire worldview. Millions of white people are now coughing up cash to see a movie where the white guys are the “bad” guys and the white guys become the dead guys due to the protagonist black guy. Jamie Foxx’s Django will be hanging from the college dorm room walls of gullible white college kids, who will then dutifully nod their heads when their leftist professors tell them they’re subconsciously racist. They will then listen to JayZ while wearing an RG3 football jersey after class. It is this reality that Mr. Lee and “African American movie critics” like Tim Cogshell seek to deny, and they telegraph it through their commentary on Tarantino’s work.

My suggestion to you would be do see Django Unchained, find a way to love it, and then tweet Spike Lee its praises as you exit the theater. The sooner we can start mocking men like Mr. Lee, the sooner we can get to a world where more people are judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin.

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