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Django unchained and deconstructed
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Professor Locs, aka Charles Easley, is an educator who explores race, class, gender, sexuality, media and popular culture with humor and insight. His column is published here each Wednesday. Opinions expressed are solely his own. Click here to read his blog.

The film “Django Unchained” has been steeped in controversy ever since its December release.

No matter what you think of the film -- and I believe I am in the minority opinion of not liking it -- you cannot dispute its box office success ($100 million to date.) “Django” has been nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, and it recently received two Golden Globes -- best screenplay for director Quentin Tarantino and best supporting actor for Christoph Waltz, who played the benevolent bounty hunter who freed Django.

It was this most recent honor that really got my attention.

I have been trying for some time now to pinpoint the specific reasons I object to the film, aside from its historical inauthenticity. It’s like I am looking at one of those computer-generated dot drawings where the picture is not quite clear.

I have talked with some of my students and even some of my contemporaries who said they liked the film. I have frequently shared with my students that, as consumers of media, our personal filters will ultimately determine how we process films. Well, these are my filters: I am an African American male of a certain age group. I am a Southerner. I have studied the history of the film industry. But more important, I know how African American culture has been consumed and, to some degree, exploited.

I have been following the media outlets and taking in the ongoing discussion of “Django’s” importance as a film and what it represents. We have polarized opinions from celebrated black professionals, including Spike Lee, who has been vocal about boycotting the film, to distinguished professors like Henry Louis Gates, who conducted an interview with Tarantino for TheRoot.com.

Surely I am not the only one who sees irony in the fact that a film about a black slave who turns bounty hunter and takes revenge on his oppressors snagged two Golden Globes...both given to non-black artists.

Django will also represent at the Oscars, the most coveted of all film awards. It was nominated for best film, but none its black actors are up for statuettes in any of the possible categories.

Tarantino has been under fire for his excessive use of the n-word in “Django,” which I find curious given that the film is set in the slave era. But what are we to expect from a man who is also manufacturing toy slave-era collectibles featuring characters from the movie? (Yes, just in time for Black History Month, you can have your very own “Django” doll with peel-and-stick back scars for before-and-after beatings.)

What I find even more surreal is that folks like Katt Williams, who quite frankly has lost all credibility, have attempted to chime in on who owns the n-word. Guys like Katt, Russell Simmons, black comedians and hip-hop artist have been selling the n-word and pre-packaged black culture for years, so they should now take partial ownership for folks like Tarantino who veraciously consume African American culture.

So when I hear that Tarantino dropped the n-word backstage after winning at the Golden Globes but was saved by Don Cheadle who dropped it himself -- “Please, no n*gger questions. Black people questions are alright,” he told reporters -- and surprise, surprise, the NAACP is further co-signing all of this behavior by nominating the film for four Image Awards, I am strangely unfazed.

The dots are finally taking shape, and although I find the image distasteful, at least the picture is clear now.

I still have issues with some aspects of “Django” but maybe it’s not the story that upsets me. Maybe it’s all the tertiary elements that contribute to the “story behind the story” that get my ire.



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September 22, 2014
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