Django and Coates
Throughout its 200 years of existence, the United States has prided itself as being the land of the free and home of the brave. However, this isn’t to say the country is perfect. The narrative of slavery and racism in America is often undermined, or neglected within the education system. Luckily for Americans, any person is allowed to express their ideas and opinions. Whether it be by book, movie, or any other form of communication. The recent issues of police brutality and racial profiling have sparked the conversation of racism within America. Today’s works of focus regarding racism are Quentin Tarantino’s western Django Unchained and book Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. For Tarantino, Django is seen as a masterpiece by some, and a racist “blaxploitation” by others. Ta-Nehisi Coate’s letter is also held in high regard by many readers, while also being very controversial to others. While both are criticized, neither of them are afraid to speak their minds. Although they are 2 entirely different platforms, targeting 2 entirely different audiences; the movie and book share some striking similarities. The common themes of the black body and White Dream found within both Django and Between the World and Me is the topic of discussion.
Segment 1, The Black Body: Growing up within inner city Baltimore, Ta-Nehisi Coates felt his own body was constantly in danger. The threat of gang violence wasn’t the only hurdle Coates faced on a daily basis. Growing up he constantly had to adapt to his environment. He explains (28:40) He needed to know the correct slang to use, how to avoid racial profiling by the police, and how to evade gang violence as a whole. On page 18, he explains this revelation. (29:42) Living in the largely neglected red-lined parts of Baltimore was a fight for survival. Coates also believes a black body like his own is disposable, and not worth the same as that of a white person. He points to the deaths of unarmed black men like Michael Brown as unjust and negligent. Coates uses the theme of the black body, both the need to protect it and the apparent worthlessness of it as a central idea in the letter to his son.
Now, in Django Unchained these same ideas of the black body are also found. Upon liberation, Django is constantly on guard as a free black man, perfectly aware of how much of a monster southerners see him as. When riding through the village, our hero stands out like a sore thumb, being given dirty looks, showing clear uncomfort. (scene of horse riding). Even the bartender is blatant about his prejudice (woah woah scene). Similar to Coates, Django learns to adapt, and changes his personality in order to survive in his environment. After being raided by the KKK (KKK raid scene) and taking out his former captors (death of the slave owners), Django learns his life is a game of kill or be killed. When riding to Candyland, he’s criticized by Calvin Candie’s acquaintances. Unlike earlier in the film, Django is not afraid to talk back and assert his dominance (scene plays). Django no longer feels second to the white men. It’s a shift in their behaviors that better helps them defend the black body.
The exploitation and disregard for the black body is also present. In his first appearance on screen, Calvin Candy is sat watching two slaves fight to death. (Candy’s intro) It’s obvious that Calvin is a sadist who derives pleasure at their suffering. In one of the films most powerful scenes, Candy himself gives a monologue about eugenics, and his firm belief that blacks are scientifically inferior to a white man like himself (skull scene). Calvin Candy, clearly believes in his whiteness.
Segment 2, The White Dream: Although less apparent, Coate’s philosophy of the White Dream is found in Tarantino’s film. Coates first explains this notion of the White Dream early in the book (19:20). To Ta-nehisi, the White Dream rests on the belief in a person’s own ‘whiteness’, and on the broken backs of people like himself. The concept of a dream, or common goal everyone seeks to achieve has changed over the course of American history. Coates explains the modern idea of the White Dream, but in the Antebellum South the dream to many looked like the life of Calvin Candy. An exotic, wealthy life spent owning acres of land with slaves to work on them in the always warm Deep South. This goal had wide appeal to many Americans. This dream was literally carried on the backs of slaves. As previously discussed Candy himself clearly believed in his own whiteness, which would actually end up getting him killed (Candy’s death scene).
Segment 3, Is Tarantino racist?: The most common criticism of Django, is that it’s a work of racist blaxploitation. Critics like Joseph Suglia firmly believe it trivializes slavery for widespread enjoyment. Being white himself, some critics see Tarantino as having no authority to speak on the issues of racism. Tarantino is not a racist. Many don’t bother to look at his entire filmography and are quick to label him. Just because he is white and speaking on black issues does not make him a racist. In his film, Kill Bill Tarantino does a lot to break stereotypes. The protagonist in the movie, Beatrix Kiddo; is a deadly woman able to overcome any obstacle a male counterpart could. Her victims are also defiant. Vernita Green, the black assassin actually leaves her violent past behind her and lives a peaceful life with her husband. O’Ren Ishii, is in charge of Tokyo’s most powerful gang, and she is known as the Queen of the Japanese underworld while working on a council lead entirely by Japanese men. Unlike many women in power, O’Ren is deeply feared by her own associates. Context is also key in Tarantino’s movies. His film Jackie Brown received flack for using the n-word. But Tarantino defends himself, saying that’s just the culture of Inglewood (show interview). He uses the n-word over 100 times in Django, but for good reason. The reality is, some Americans were just as horrible to others as the movie shows. If you’re watching a movie about slavery in America, you should expect a liberal use of the n word. The n-word itself wasn’t taboo in the pre civil war south, and it only helps Tarantino tell his story. The way blacks were treated at the time by society is very apparent in the movie. Both racist individuals and the government worked greatly against black people. Actors of the film have defended Tarantino, including Samuel L. Jackson (N-Word interview). Tarantino is right in doing this because people are too quick to call others racist. There needs to be more rationalizing and less labeling if people want to get along.
Segment 4, Coate’s thoughts on the film: Luckily, Coates has written a handful of articles explaining how he feels about Django. Unlike other journalists, Ta-Nehisi does not name call Quentin Tarantino. Instead, he says the movie just isn’t for him; but for his own reasons. He doesn’t like the idea of the film being a vengeance killing movie, where the liberated black slave goes on a murdering rampage against his white captors. This is perfectly fair criticism. Coates even ends one article saying “My thoughts, as offered here, are not entirely fair to Tarantino. Forgive me. It’s not you. It’s me.”
Closing: It’s clear that racism is still a huge issue we face as Americans. Either it be through the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates or brilliant directing of Quentin Tarantino, we are capable of speaking our minds on the issue. The way we choose to understand and address this issue is just as important is helping to solve it. I hope you enjoyed this video