Let’s get this out of the way right here. In this post, I will be using nigger, not the N word. I will do this not because I use the word but because I feel that any academic discussion about language should be able to verbalize the language being discussed. Code words cheapen the discourse by constantly reminding people to censor themselves. If no one is allowed to talk about it in a civilized, educational, debate how are we going to eliminate the problem.
It disturbs me that the use of the word nigger for a pre-Civil War narrative is a cause for such anger. I don’t understand why history has to be, excuse the term, white washed. If people studied and discussed the true history of the United States open and honestly actual progress could be made on the racial divide. Because the movie I am focusing on in this post is about black slavery I will only be writing about that. However, I recognize that honest discussion is needed for the Native American Genocide, the Japanese Internment, and many other times in our history.
There has been some accusations that the word nigger was not used until after the turn of the century. This is not correct. With little effort you can find first hand accounts of slavery and they use the term as a fact of life. There are regional differences in the frequency and circumstances the word was used, but it is valid to use it for this time period. Too often the word nigger is something to scream about. To shut down any intelligent conversation and wield as a weapon. That is not OK at anytime, but is especially unwarranted regarding use in Django Unchained.
Django Unchained is violent, gory, funny, disturbing, historically flexible, and… a movie. It’s a really fun ride. There are people who have said that we should not allow slavery to be treated with anything but complete and utter reverence. Bullshit. It’s a movie! There have been all manner of movies about the holocaust and I guarantee that because of that more people have discussed, mourned, connected with, and remembered the holocaust. The guilt that many white people in the United States have over slavery combined with the historical shame and anger that black people in the US have regarding racism prevent us from doing better.
A couple of months ago on twitter a Jewish man was complaining that his five-year old had been told about the holocaust in school. He was soliciting opinions on whether he was wrong to think that was too young to know about such a horrible thing to happen to your people. Many people agreed that it was not all right and he should have been allowed to broach the subject himself when the child was older. Something about this conversation bothered me. Throughout the day, I followed the responses and was unable to form an opinion of my own in reply. Finally, I realized why. No black person in the US ever got to choose how they heard about our history of slavery or oppression by the Jim Crow laws. No black parent ever gets to choose when or where a child will learn that his or her people were considered inferior, herded, bought, sold, beat, and killed. Having few creative escapes in which to process this only internalizes it and hurts us as a society. We should embrace the art that encourages us to accept slavery as part of our past.
I actually don’t have a lot to say about the movie. It was good entertainment with some great scenes and brilliant performances. The bad guys were vilified instead of glorified. Jamie Foxx was the best I’ve ever seen him. I didn’t recognize Samuel L. Jackson until he spoke which had to be after over a minute of screen time. And to watch Christopher Waltz in character is a master class in acting as reacting. Now having seen Django Unchained the biggest problem I have with it is actually with everyone who saw it before me. Y’all so busy talking about “the N word” that you couldn’t let me know the D in Django was silent? I’ve been walking around saying Da-Jang-O like an idiot. Still trying to correct myself.
Some links to Slave Narratives: