Tag Archives: The Escapist

Django and the N-Word

Let me begin by explaining that this is not a review of the simultaneously acclaimed and decried 2012 Tarantino blood-fest. You want to hear one of those, I’d recommend clicking over to Spill or The Escapist’s “Escape to the Movies.” No, what I want to talk about are some specific elements and segments of the film which have become points of contention, controversy, and debate in the past weeks.

Let’s start with the most obvious:

I. Saying “Nigger” Every Other Word

I won’t claim to know your stance on the word “Nigger”- heck, I’m not even sure of my own stance. Perhaps you view the term as so degrading and reprehensible as to merit burning it from spoken language. Perhaps you believe that appropriating and using the word strips it of its power to even be used as an insult. Maybe you see it as being purely contextual- a term of address with audience and a terrible insult with another.

It’s all Elmo ever thinks about

There are probably strong points to be made on all sides, but perhaps the stance you cannot take is that the use of the word “nigger” was inappropriate for the movie.

Now before you take up the battle-cry of “Tarantino is just trying to shock us!” or “Tarantino uses the word excessively in his other movies!” I have to say this.

You’re right.

It’s Tarantino; that’s not an excuse, that’s a fact. You wanna take up his use of the word in other films, then that’s part of the whole debate mentioned above. Simple truth of the matter is that this use of the word “nigger” would still be controversial if the film had been made by anyone else. So let’s talk about it.

Let’s assume that this movie, with selfish or noble intent, is trying to demonstrate a glimpse of the world in question; the use of that word is almost bound to come up. I might throw out the example of Mark Twain’s classic novel Huckleberry Finn, and while by sheer volume Django probably has Huck beat for use of the word, by percentage I’d posit the two are pretty evenly matched. The escaped slave Jim is repeatedly and almost exclusively referred to as “Nigger Jim,” as are the other black characters in the book. Now Twain was anti-slavery and used that word to demonstrate the dehumanization of African Americans (which is why taking the word out of versions of the book is so dumb), as well as reflect the general use of the word. Now I’m admittedly no historian, but if the writings of Twain and other authors are any indication of the times, I wouldn’t say the film is quite so far off as some critics might suggest.

And speaking of historical accuracy…

II. The KKK, or Lack Thereof

There is a scene in the film during which a group of men wearing white sacks over their heads attempt to stage an attack on Django and Schultz. New Yorker contributor Jelani Cobb writes “Tarantino depicts the K.K.K. a decade prior to its actual formation in order to thoroughly ridicule its members’ (literally) veiled racism.” While that scene was (in my own opinion) side-splittingly hilarious, Jelani, and many others, are dead wrong in assuming that this scene depicted historical inaccuracy.

Take this section from Huckleberry Finn:

Why don’t your juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark — and it’s just what they WOULD do.

“So they always acquit; and then a MAN goes in the night, with a hundred masked cowards at his back and lynches the rascal. Your mistake is, that you didn’t bring a man with you; that’s one mistake, and the other is that you didn’t come in the dark and fetch your masks.

Again, this is a Tarantino movie set in a Tarantino universe. That’s not a defense, simply, as I’ve already stated, a fact. If you’re looking for a historical account of the pre-war South, a spaghetti-western revenge flick probably ain’t the best place to look for it. There are going to be certain inaccuracies, and there are going to be things the filmmaker has to get right- but all of that is beside the point (which we’ll get to in a minute). All of that’s to say if you’re gonna try to criticize (or praise) the movie’s deviation from historical truth, make sure you’re (1) doing it for the right reason and (2) that you’re critique is actually right.

III. Samuel L. Jackson as Uncle Tom

In Django, Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of the villain’s head-slave Stephen, who isn’t so much a character as a caricature of the most groveling, snivelling Uncle Tom you will ever see or even imagine. This guy makes Uncle Ruckus look like Eldridge Cleaver.

You are guaranteed one genuine Gordon hug if you know who Eldridge Cleaver is.

I’ve heard people call this portrayal offensive, bordering on “black-face” in its depiction of stereotypical “black” mannerisms. It’s exactly for that reason that I didn’t have a problem with the character.

I really have no reason for putting this gif in here…

See, the entire point is to make fun of the guy- and not just him, but the quisling slaves that did indeed exist. I don’t think that this portrayal robbed the film of the gravity of slavery anymore than Bugs Bunny foiling a cartoonized Hitler robbed WWII of it’s gravity.

Now let’s get right to it-

IV. The Horror, The Horror

LA Times journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan said this of Django’s depiction of slavery: “It is an institution whose horrors need no exaggerating, yet Django does exactly that…”

This is a flat-out falsehood.

If Django Unchained exaggerated the horrors of the slavery, if the film depicted one one-hundredth of the horrors of slavery, I will never write again. Despite the allegations of this critic, the truth of the matter is that we could depict the institution of slavery for a century and be no closer to depicting an ounce the inhumanity of it all than when we first started. Does the film exaggerate slavery? Absolutely not. Does it make light of it? Certainly this was a concern of mine going into the movie, but having seen it, I really don’t think it can be faulted there either. The film does, I believe, make a distinct effort to show slavery as brutish and ugly as possible. Or, at the very least, the slavery scenes; this is, after all, a revenge movie first and foremost.

V. The Point

That’s the thing I feel most people are missing here. This ins’t a movie about slavery, this is a movie with slavery in it. It’s a revenge film in which one sorely persecuted character dispenses well-deserved justice upon his persecutors and we all nod our heads in approval and feel a sense of pride and joy well up as we look into this fantasy where the bad guy does get what’s coming to him. Slavery is the backdrop, not the subject, of the movie, but it’s just such a major issue that most of us are getting hung up on it. The equivalent might be bashing a western on the basis that the actual “wild west” was pretty peaceful- factually true, but still missing the goal of the story.

No, this is not a historically accurate film. No, it doesn’t capture the horror of slavery. No, it doesn’t even try to wrestle with it. No, it’s not a discussion of our checkered heritage. No, it’s not the film to drag that dark, bloody history out into the light of day.

But damn it, it’s a start.

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Fame Day: Extra Credits

Video games and video game culture gets a lot of bad press- not all of it
undeserved. However, in the midst of all the pandering, casual sexism, and juvenile sensibilities, there is a radiant beacon of hope.

Penny Arcade’s (and for a while, The Escapist’s) very own Extra Credits web show!

Even if gaming isn’t your thing, you have got to respect these guys and their weekly 11-minute clips for their neutrality and maturity alone. With the sensationalist media trying to cast even the smallest flaw of video games as the worst threat to humanity since polio, and the gaming community defending even the most idiotic element of their pastime as if it were the Dead Sea scrolls, that Extra Credits manages to remain the calm voice of reason that it is ought to be applauded.

But of course, there’s more on that. These guys are the good angel on the shoulder of the gaming industry, calling for video games to be not only a source of entertainment, but also of education and even a new form of art. Whether or not you agree with that is up to you, but you’ve got to admit- it’s a bold and noble stance in a subculture that too often obsessed with doing this:

Extra Credits, here’s to you- keep doing the great work you’re doing!

P.S.: Evan, being the meany-face that he is, is forcing me to make this post longer. Set below is one of Extra Credit’s finer videos, and an easy introduction into their more jargon-heavy clips on narrative, mechanics, and other elements of video games.

Violence (Not) In Media

In the wake of the Aurora Shooting, the Sikh Temple Massacre, and a recent spate of gun violence across the country, the debate of the violence in media has once again reared its head. On one side, those who cite the saturation of film, music, and video games with violence and the glorification of violence as responsible for creating these monsters, or at the very least, pushing them over the edge. On the other side, the ranks of apologists, who declare that it’s ridiculous to blame movies and music for mass-murder.  I’m not here to analyze the claims of either point, or to make an argument for one side or the other- that’s already been done better by The Escapist’s Robert Chipman (check it out here).

No, I’m here to address the subject of violence and its possible contributing factors outside of film and music.

When I touched on a complaints I had with movies like Brideshead Revisited and I Love You Man a few weeks ago, I briefly mentioned goth-rock-star Marilyn Manson, whose music was accused by many of being responsible for having influenced the Columbine shooters in committing the massacre. Interviewed by Michael Moore in his documentary Bowling for Columbine, Manson had this to say regarding violent influences:

And therein really lies the crux of the issue- when tragedies like this happen, the scope of our outrage is usually so small that we fail to take into account all the other possible factors. We can cite GTA or rock or rap or cartoons as being responsible and maybe- just maybe- there’s something to that. But what about everything else? If violence in media causes violence, surely violence itself should be cited here!

You remember this?

That’s Marine Corps veteran Scott Olsen, moments after he was shot in the head with a gas canister from close range. Part of the brutal crackdown by police on the Occupy Oakland protests last year- back when Mayor Jean Quan decided the best way to deal with a peaceful protest was by turning her town into a war zone.

But why talk about Oakland and countless other cities being turned into war zones when we can just talk about actual war?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is the single longest war in American history. Year after year after year, it goes on, and with no end in sight. That’s got to be the single largest and publicized campaign advocating violence, yet where is the outrage against it?

And what about hunting? That’s all about guns and the glorification of killing things…

What about Civil War Reenactors?

What about the national anthem? That thing is full of references to bombs. What about the 4th of July? A day when we celebrate our victory in a war by setting off explosives!

What about the very way we talk about violence? Should the Mob Museum here in Las Vegas be shut down? Should we do away with anything related to pirates? Should we stop teaching about the war of 1812 in schools?

And so on…

You get the idea. Ours is a culture and history built on violence. It’s in everything–  not just our media. While I’ve got my own views on what does and doesn’t cause or promote violence, my purpose here isn’t to take a side. I’m simply trying to demonstrate that if you do want to try to get into the causes of violence, you don’t get to be selective about who you put on trial.You want to find out if there was something in our world beyond the killer’s diseased mind responsible for death and destruction, you have to look at everything- anything less is just a witch hunt, pure and simple.

Let’s face it, half the time, tragedies like these are the platform from which we get to lynch things we didn’t like to begin with…

…I wonder if that kind of vicious and petty mentality might contribute to violence at all…