'Django' Is an Exceptional Slave, but What Happened To All the Other Slaves in America?

4798Quentin Tarantino set out to make his newest film, "Django Unchained," to avenge Hollywood's amnesia of slavery.
"How can you ignore such a huge part of American history?" the director recently told Newsweek magazine. "Hollywood didn't want to deal with it because it was too ugly and too messy."

On this point, he is right.

Unlike the preponderance of movies on other historical atrocities - including the Holocaust, which Tarantino tackled in "Inglorious Basterds" - there have only been a handful of Hollywood films made on American slavery. And none were directed by an African-American.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of those movies were racist.

Dating back to D.W. Griffin's "The Birth of a Nation" in 1915, white slave masters were heroes and formerly enslaved African-Americans were villains.

"Gone With the Wind," the 1939 box-office smash, did no better as slave characters like Prissy, Mammy and Uncle Peter appeared as docile and happy servants.

These two films alone dominated all subsequent Hollywood representations of slavery until late 20th-century movies such as "Glory," "Amistad" and "Beloved" depicted African-Americans as resistors.

But films on slavery have never been about the past alone.

They are influenced by the way we see our racial selves in the moment and also help shape those images. More often than not, slavery is the historical backdrop against which filmmakers and audiences can gauge their own racial problems or progress.

"Django Unchained" is no different. Though set two years before the Civil War, the movie is very much Tarantino's 21st-century racial fantasy.

There is much to criticize in this film: the excessive use of the N-word, gratuitous gun violence and its male dominance. Women are objects of apathy or sympathy and are not as nearly as complex or charismatic as any of the male characters. This is very much a movie about how men, white and black, navigate America's racial maze.

And there is much to defend.

The slave-turned-bounty hunter Django, who rescues his wife from slavery, is an African-American hero never seen before on the big screen. He alone is capable of the brilliance, moral courage and swagger needed to resist slavery.


Source: CNN | Salamishah Tillet

Salamishah Tillet is an assistant professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania ­and author of "Sites of Slavery: Citizenship and Racial Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Imagination." She is co-founder of the charity, A Long Walk Home Inc., which strives to end violence against girls and women.

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