It’s been nearly 17 hours and I still can’t stop thinking about this movie. I have slept and awakened and been to the bathroom a couple of times during the night…and--- all the while--- I have had “Django” on my mind.
See, after seeing “Lincoln” a few weeks ago, I VOWED TO NEVER RETURN TO ANOTHER HOLLYWOOD MOVIE. “Lincoln’s sanitized view of slavery and the INFURIATING absence of Frederick Douglass was profoundly irksome. That combined with the Oprah interview where she posed NOT ONE probing question to Spielberg about historic race relations; or what this film has to say about American race relations, American regionalisms, American political life or gender roles or sexual politics TODAY, I JUST HAD ENOUGH. I’d reached my limit.
I WOULD NOT be tricked again…no, sir…you wouldn’t find be hauling tail to prop up in another dark theater for the privilege of watching white male filmmakers control the narrative, the perspectives, the jobs and resources allocated---all in the service of making the great white men of history look good and noble and benevolent YET AGAIN.
Nope, I’m done. No more. NO MORE, I promised myself.
So when the earliest talk of “Django” began to circulate late this fall, I noted to self: “I’d be damned if I was going to go see some Blaxploitation Spaghetti Western called “Django”. “Please!” I said rolling me eyes and sucking my teeth indignantly.
And yet, listening to Kerry Washington discuss the film with Oprah (alas), I became mildly interested. A talented filmmaker-girlfriend in LA posted on Facebook that she'd enjoyed the film and wondered about her remarks, made mental note of them, shrugged, sighed and kept it moving.
Then, upon hearing Tarantino on Charlie Rose discuss the film, my curiosity became more peaked. So by the time I heard Jamie Foxx discuss it and Spike Lee reject it, I was alllllllllll in---despite the fact that I am an anti-gun violence advocate and I knew there would be a lot of gun violence involved.
Now---on the other side of my first viewing of this film---I can’t stop thinking about how DEEPLY MOVING and affecting Django was for me.
I believe it was because---for me---in “Django”, the American curtain was rent…torn in two…the façade crumbled…and we are left to deal with THE ROOT, the foundations, the primary operating principles that have undergirded the crushing history of race relations in American life.
“Django” is a primal screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmmm that drives your attention back to the American slave trade and the fundamental insanity and industry of cruelty that built America…an industry that continues to frame our relationships on personal, communal, economic and political levels in this country.
In the age of Obama---where “cool”, “calm”, “Cleaver-esque”, “clean cut”, “appropriate”, “Father Knows Best” kinds of Black acceptability and Black masculinity rule the day---“Django” is the anti-Obama...(...and yet he is more like the President than I first realized after a few more days of thinking about the film. But more on that in a bother entry.)
“Django” is the quintessential American hero for some…and the quintessential American nightmare for others. “Django” is the poster child for the gun rights movement. Thus, the fear of a Black man even slightly resembling (or even dreaming about resembling) a “Django”-type figure explains the rationale behind huge chunks of Black American History: the Jim Crow era, the rejection of the Civil Rights Movement, busing, White flight, the cratering of American inner cities and the rise of the prison industrial complex.
Clearly, this film is PROFOUNDLY COMPLICATED, DISTURBING EVEN---as it operates on so many different levels: toxic race relations, intra-racial tensions and stratifications, gender roles and constraints, regionalisms, nationalisms and the space where fantasy and history do battle and elude each others’ grasp. And yet it is worth sitting with…and meditating on again and again.
In a culture where contemporary entertainment believes it resolves racial animus by casting people of color as “the help” ( high brow or low brow), “the jolly sidekick”, “the sassy truth teller or “the scowling” truth teller (which most often includes the social worker or judge), “the forensic grunt-cop in the crime drama game”, or some form of “troubled housewife” (or “troubled housewife-in-training”), “Django is a space to exhale and remember where all this contemporary SCHLOCK on the American mediascape came from.
Foxx’s “Django” character is not unproblematic as he is forced from one hellish, soul-crushing lifestyle to escape into an even more hellish, soul-crushing lifestyle...alas, the unfortunate consequences of limited employment options for the enslaved. And while not “skinning and grinning and shining and tom-ming”, Foxx’s “Django” still has a handler, a master and must still contort himself to this master’s will in order to to live, move, have his being. He is a Black man playing the role of being a fully actualized Black man until he can become a fully actualized Black man, INDEED. And that’s just a mere morsel of the body of criticism to come.
In the days and months to come, my colleagues in the academy will put this film under a microscope and examine all that the film “is”, “isn’t”, “should be” and “shouldn’t be” and bemoan the fact that a Black filmmaker didn’t (or couldn’t?) make this film. And I will give them the room and time they need to do this work.
However---as a historian of West Africa, as a writer, as a film professor, as an artist, an activist, a descendant of Mississippi on both sides, I regard “Django” as an ode to the ancestors.
“Django” is a meditation on the legacy of white supremacy..and white courage... and the terrifying fear that slavery REQUIRED on all sides... and our early gun lust... and Red State/Blue State antagonisms... and African strength... and epic African survivalists... and African American self-hatred and self-loathing that has been bequeathed to all of us---all of which informs how we live our lives today.
I look forward to seeing “Django” again (and again and again)---as it still offers so much MORE for me to consider. However, it reminds me again of my initial post on Facebook about the film being a reminder of the miracle that “a Black America” could exist at all under these conditions…or that a Black President on these shores could ever be possible.
I hope to keep thinking about “Django” in the days to come because in America---it’s not the forgetting that saves us---but THE REMEMBERING that should inform our days together.
---Nicole Anderson Cobb, PhD
Nicole Anderson-Cobb, PhD, Educator, Playwright & Founder of Samaritan Road Productions is the author of the SRP blog "Writing On The Go"