Thursday, December 27, 2012

Django Unchained and Kugichagulia: A N.I.C.E. Perspective!

Given that today is the second day of Kwanzaa, and the principle of focus is Kugichagulia, which is to define ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves, I think that  a review of the new film Django is befitting here.  It is actually quite a complex film to discuss so I will begin with an analysis pertinent to N.I.C.E., which is how was the hair of the main Black/African  protagonists depicted and was it on point?  Well, if we begin with the opening scene, there is no other way to describe Jamie Fox's  (Django's) hair (see photo below) than "nappy."  It was beautifully kinky, wild, unkempt and exemplary of what one may expect that a slave would be going through from a hair vantage point.  It was symbolic of the situation that the slave was going through, which was devastating, while simultaneously indicating that one cannot truly be oppressed with his hair representing symbolic strength and growth in the midst of suffering and struggle.  Kerri Washington's (Broomhilda von Shaft's) hair was also beautifully natural in the film and seemingly neat and tamed, exemplifying a sense of strength, character and uniformity in the midst of devastating chaos in her life through deep, overriding oppression.  Her beauty remained apparent, no matter what was done to her, even in her seemingly "damsel in distress" state which surfaced as womanism as she rode off, saved by her man in the end, still with her dignity and natural tresses in tact.  Natural Is Cool Enough was clearly indicated in the film. 


As for the film on an overall basis, perhaps one will  walk away with mixed feelings and emotions and some questions, which may surface are as follows:
1. Was the level of blood and gore in the film necessary?
2.  Is it okay to leave the theater feeling empowered and validated as a result of seemingly justifiable revenge and what does that say about one's perspective regarding retaliation for unspeakable cruelty experienced by the slaves?
3.  Does it make more sense to have more animosity towards the Samuel Jackson character than the white perpetrators of atrocities against the slaves and was he ultimately redeemable or should he have been dealt with in the way that Django dealt with him?
4.  How should feelings be processed towards the Mistress and her ultimate fate?
5. Given the gun debate in the United States at this time, what is the ultimate conclusion regarding guns during that time, particularly in terms of self-defense and retaliation/revenge by the slaves?

The bottom line is that so as not to give-away any essentials of the film, I won't provide answers to the above questions.  However, I will say that the film may leave one thinking about these questions  and more, upon exiting the theater and for many hours after.  Usually, that is a sign that the film was thought provoking and intense and as a result possibly worthy of praise.  I do have to point out that Spike Lee, although he admits that he has not seen the film, indicates that he will not see it and that it is disrespectful to ancestors.  As one who feels that Spike Lee's perspective as a filmmaker is worthy of consideration, I take this to heart.  Perhaps an analysis of whether this film contributes to the legacy of the ancestors of Black/African American people is warranted which is what I will embark on in terms of my own thoughts.  How does this film ultimately reflect the experience of my ancestors?  It is a tough question, which may only be answered by assessing how you feel in the moment that the credits roll at the end of the film and you walk out.  Ask yourself do you feel redemption, betrayal, animosity, pride, shame, etc. and let your own perspective be your guide. Nevertheless, in terms of the character, Django, Kugichagulia (self-determination) was definitely exemplified. 
As for the hair of the protagonists, Django and Broomhilda, in the film, natural hair was definitely showcased, which is historically accurate and definitely showed that the film embraced the fact that Natural Is Cool Enough and that is N.I.C.E.!


Eboni said...

My overall opinion of the film is that it was splendid. I enjoyed it so much that I saw it in theatres twice. The genre of the film was Western, and slavery was just its backdrop. Westerns are all about violence; adrenaline pumping scenes, with gun slinging heroes. That being said I think the blood and gore was necessary. I think feelings of empowerment and validation after seeing the film are normal. It's normal for people to want bad things to happen to bad people. I wouldn't say the animosity I felt for Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) was more than for the White perpetrators. Stephen was an atrocious character, but I believe that he was like that because of the world he lived in. I don't think he deserved to be redeemed by Django (Jamie Foxx). What sense would that make? Django, a fictional character in Quentin Tarantino's Western film, was on a mission to save his wife (Kerry Washington) and kill everyone (white or black) who stood in his way. And that's precisely what he did. Yes, there is a huge gun debate going in the U.S. right now. But in the film, set in slavery times, it was shoot or be shot. In my opinion, if a slave had access to a gun and was trying to make his/her way to freedom, that gun would be a blessing. In the real world, retaliation and revenge is morally wrong as well as very dangerous. In a western film, it's the key to success. No one wants to see the bad guys get away. Django never claimed to be on some moral mission. He wasn't trying to turn the other cheek in the face of his enemies and he wasn't trying to end slavery. When it comes to Spike Lee, I can not deny that he is a great director and producer. But I don't think Lee is in any position to judge a film that he has not seen. I think this film is a good reflection on the experience of our ancestors. The brutality and the constant use of the n word, which some criticized,was the reality for slaves. What was shown in a theatre for 2hrs and 45min of the viewer's life was nothing in comparison to the lifetime others had to endure. And unlike the main characters in the film,sadly many slaves died as slaves; never reunited with lost loved ones. Last but not least, beautiful natural hair was rightly showcased. And natural is cool enough.

Jordan Alexandra said...

1. I think that the level of blood and gore in the film was necessary. Being that it was a Tarantino film...this is expected, but also that time was bloody and gory. In regards to slaves, they were whipped, chased by dogs, beaten, shot, I'm sure they were killed in even worse and more terrible of ways. This film wasn't hiding the fact that these tragic deaths look this way...bloody and gory. Many people, especially Americans, choose to ignore the true horrors of situations like these and instead choose to focus on the memorialization of a person or a situation.
I just read an article about the shooting in Newtown, CT and the author said that maybe if a picture was shown of what was done to those poor innocent children, this type of extreme violence would be stopped. The author then compared this event to the murder of Emmett Till. Emmett was a 14 year old black boy who was visiting family in Mississippi in the 1950s when he was beaten and killed in an extremely tragic and terrible way by two white men after he supposedly flirted with a white woman. Emmett was a beautiful boy and when his body was found he was only able to be identified by a silver ring on his finger with the initials L.T. His face and head were so badly disfigured that his mother decided to have an open coffin at his funeral, she decided this because she felt that she would never even begin to describe the horror of her son's corpse. How can she describe the mangled face of her beautiful son? A photo of him in his coffin was published in black publications, The Chicago Tribune and Jet magazine which made international news and directed attention to the rights of blacks in the U.S. south.
My point in highlighting this piece of history is that maybe if we are shown the realities of violence more often, we as a society can really focus on how tragic and unnecessary violence is and maybe even come to a way to help end it. If we see Emmett Tills face after he was beaten and murdered, or we see the faces of 6 year old poor babies that were shot at point blank range, or we are shown the body of a slave who was whipped or beaten or chewed by dogs we can really grasp the horrors of these actions and focus on how to stop something like this from ever happening again. I thank Tarantino for not shying away from showing this, because to me it is the truth of the situation and it is important even as a film maker or story teller to stay true to even the most terrible of realities.

2. It is definitely okay for people to leave the theater feeling empowered and validated as a result of the justifiable revenge that was taken in this film. This film was in part a love story and I think in that aspect, the hero got his girl and got back the people who harmed him and the woman he loved. While this story would have been a dream come true for hundreds if not thousands or more slaves, it is a story that none ever got to bring to life. This is the type of story that we wish was close to truth, because it is so gratifying to see the oppressed break through their "chains" and be the hero. In my opinion, what happened to Monsieur Candie and Stephen and everyone else at Candie Land is what should have happened to every plantation/slave owner in the South, or anyone who found it okay in their right mind to keep and treat people like animals.
I think that everyone may feel a different way or have a different perspective about this depending on how they were raised or their education on the history of African American people in this country or other varying factors.

Jordan Alexandra said...

3. It does make sense to have more animosity towards Samuel L. Jackson's character because he betrayed his own people. As Django says, "There is nothing worse than a house n-r except for a black slaver" Samuel Jackson's character was pretty much the worst possible thing for an african american to be in the eyes of other african American's. He was the masters confidant and "trusted friend" but in reality he was more like a pet to the slave owner. He took his role very seriously as his masters friend and in return was able to have privileges that other slaves were not allowed to have ( I'm specifically thinking of him sitting in the library drinking whiskey or bourbon or scotch while talking to monsieur Candie) He put himself in a bad position, and he obviously never thought that any of the slaves would rise up and seek revenge. He was comfortable in his spot which I find enough reason to have animosity in itself. If every slave acted the way that he did, we would still have slaves in this country today. It takes a rebel or a thinker to change the course of history and he was too comfortable in his role as the masters pet to even consider doing anything to at least try to make a change and have a life of his own, or give his children or grandchildren a life of their own.
Being that he sold out Django and Brumhilda's relationship and almost had Django killed, I think that the way he was dealt with was the only way to deal with him. It was better for the greater good of the slave community as a whole to have a person like him gone, than to continue oppressing his own people.
Don't get me wrong, the white perpetrators deserve a million times of animosity as well, I just think that type of behavior during that time period was more expected from white people than it was from black people. So when it came from a black person it was even more hideous and disgusting and was even harder to tolerate (if that is even possible!)

4. If I remember correctly, the mistress (monsieur Candie's black mistress) was told to leave the plantation by Django. Her role at Candie Land is similar to that of Stephen's, only you don't ever see her betraying or trying to bring harm to other slaves. To me this is a significant difference in their characters. My feelings are that it was good that she was given a chance to leave the plantation, I would just hope that she also tries to help others on her way out. I don't think that she deserved to die in the way that Stephen did, but definitely her role in the house was one that I'm sure was looked at with disgust by other slaves on the plantation.

5. I don't know if guns were easier to get then or now, but either way I think that during both times they are very important for protection. Now a days people use them in ways that I'm sure no one ever though was possible. During that time guns were used to protect, to kill and to eat I would say for the most part. Being that a lot of towns people in this movie had guns, it was essential to have a gun for self defense. If you didn't have a gun to hold back at someone, you were basically dead.
It looks like pretty much every white man had a gun and in this movie, Django getting his hands on a gun was necessary to make it out alive. It is sad that nowadays this fact holds true as well...and many American's don't have permits to carry a legal firearm therefore they cannot protect themselves against the "bad guys" who get these guns to commit terrible acts with.
Many of the people killed by

Jordan Alexandra said...

guns in this movie were killed for a justifiable reason, either being a thief, criminal, murderer, etc. So the conclusion that I make about guns during this time is that they were used for valid reasons, I'm sure not in every situation, but they definitely helped the hero come out alive and on top at the end of this movie.

(it wouldn't all fit into one comment!!!!)