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By Arlene Jones
I finally got to see Django Unchained. I was never one of the ones who proclaimed that I didn't want to see it. My dilemma was always whether to see it at the movies or see the bootlegged version. Reason being: I fall asleep when watching movies 99.9 percent of the time.
The movie for me was "telling" on so many points. I am not one to ever watch a movie purely for enjoyment. Movies always send me messages.
Sometimes they are subtle while others scream out their context to me. And Django Unchained managed to do both.
One reason I was so tuned in is because I've been doing historical research for my latest book, which has as its major time frame the Reconstruction era. So seeing a portrayal of black people just prior to the Civil War made that time period even more visual for me. The other reason is that Django accurately captured many of the reasons there is so much upheaval in the black community today.
Slavery's effect and aftereffects have left permanent markers on black folks' psyche. Many of those effects are ones we have chosen to carry on so that generation after generation can watch Django Unchained and feel a sense of knowledge. Unfortunately, many of those same effects are the negative ones that do little to generate a sense of pride in the culture from whence we came and instead relegate us to continue the worst of stereotypes as if those behaviors were inbred.
Those processes are such that if the average black person were transported back 150 years into a slave setting with nothing but black people, they would easily fit into the scene.
Halfway through the movie, which is almost three hours long, I realized that it had me doing something else that is rare for a movie. I began to wonder. The movie aroused a curiosity in me that had been missing from films for a long time. I watched every movement. I watched for the "dead" eyes — a sure sign that the person acting had carried him/herself back to a time where we were chattel and not men or women.
I have to give it to Quentin Tarantino. He got it. He managed to take black people back 150 years and take the life out of their eyes. Then again, maybe I'm being too generous because one can right now find those same individuals living in today's world with eyes lacking a spark of life, whose existence is simply hand to mouth. The hopelessness, the despair, the self-hatred and loathing we spew toward one another could be 1858 America or 2013 America.
I also watched the movie through the lenses of those who had opposed the movie. I'm not sure if viewing this movie was an insult to my ancestors like Spike Lee proclaimed it would be to his. I think we have made slavery a one-storyline-fits-all scenario when in actuality, it wasn't. Even "longing for freedom" can't be conveyed as what all slaves wanted, seeing that Sally Hemming followed Thomas Jefferson to France and didn't try to obtain her liberty.
I didn't count how many times the word "nigga" was uttered. Unlike others, I am not fixated on the word.
I did find it hypocritical that Tarantino gets dogged out for its usage in his films and yet the average rap record blasted out of our young people's car stereo systems uses it even more.
Django Unchained left me with two final thoughts: A well-written movie is one everyone will want to see, and that includes black people viewing a film that addresses the issue of slavery.
Second, it would be nice to be able to put some of our wayward individuals' faces into the movie as a wakeup call to them. When the slave being beaten, tortured, raped and maimed looks just like you, it does make a difference.
And that sends a message.