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One Comment on “Django Unchained, Reviewed by Henry Friedman”
A few days ago I had commented quickly in response to Henry Friedman’s strong views on Tarantino’s Django Unchained that my reactions were quite different from his. What follows is an attempt to explain my own experience of it.
“Tell me something, Stamp.” Paul D’s eyes were rheumy. “Tell me this one thing. How much is a nigger supposed to take?…” “All he can,” said Stamp Paid. “All he can.”
I assume Spike Lee is not offended by “nigger” slaves speaking to each other in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Why does it offend him in Tarantino’s Django Unchained? Both authors take us on a harrowing journey into the savagery of American slavery. Morrison’s gorgeous writing helps the reader “take” what the nigger had to. The niggers in Tarantino’s film have no choice, either.
Each author is a guide into the inferno of unspeakable depravity, after the example of Dante’s Virgil. In this particular circle of hell there are no inhabitants other than niggers and their slave owners and drivers. As appalling as it is it also is what it is- because of what it was- and there is no changing that, much as we wish we could, to relieve the inescapable abasement of hearing the name and saying it. The “nigger” blot is.
I think I can imagine – though never know – what might be the cause for Spike Lee’s apprehension about Tarantino. How do you entrust what is most violated in your people, its pain, humiliation and outrage? Can a white irreverent director who lets violence run amok in his films be trusted to not inflict more wounds to the brutally degraded dignity and savagely mortified flesh?
My feeling after seeing the film was that Lee did not need to fear. In this movie Tarantino not so much creates violence – he finds it in the country’s slavery history chapter. It is there to see if you can stand not to avert your eyes. He depicts what Morrison describes. The Sixty Million
immortalized by Morrison’s language are not degraded by Tarantino’s treatment. His method is subversion. The violated become inviolable. He has them enter the mythical scenery of a “spaghetti western”. Jamie Foxx’s unchained nigger Django and Samuel L. Jackson’s black slave driving nigger become hero and antihero in the fashion of the American Comics tradition.
And as for Jamie Foxx’s Django himself, did you know that the D is silent? Can you beat that?! This is the most poignant moment of the movie for me. The irrevocable reality of the N naming is transcended by choosing of his own name and of the way it is to be pronounced. He becomes literary rather than literal property.
This is why I think that Spike Lee is wrong. I think in his anguish over the unbearable history of slavery he inadvertently preserves its shackles. You can’t take them off without seeing and naming. In contrast, by what seemed to me to be a dint of moral freedom, Tarantino unchains the nigger so he no longer has to be one.
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