Django Unchained, Or, “Killing Whitey While Protecting White Power”: A Review
by Omali Yeshitela
At last: a revolutionary African analysis of Django, a movie that “does not have the ability to criticize the institution of slavery.” Jamie Foxx’s character “does not enlist his captive brothers and sisters in the enterprise of ending slavery or their own enslavement.” And, he is disconnected, choosing only “to free his wife and to exact revenge for wrongs done to her.”
Django Unchained, Or, “Killing Whitey While Protecting White Power”: A Review
by Omali Yeshitela
This article originally appeared in Uhuru News.
“The main problem with Django is its function as a cover for slavery and capitalism.”
It has been a long time since a movie has sparked as much controversy as Django Unchained.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the movie stars Jamie Foxx as Django, a vengeance-motivated cowboy “ex”-slave.
Also appearing are Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, a notoriously sadistic plantation slave owner; Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Shultz, a German bounty hunter who purchases, befriends and accompanies Django on his odyssey; Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, the depraved “Uncle Tom” house negro; and Kerry Washington as Broomhilda, Django’s enslaved wife, whose sale and forced separation from Django is the motivation for his quixotic blood hunt.
The movie has elicited a host of contradictory, though mostly positive, reviews.
Much of the surrounding controversy revolves around the ubiquitous use of the term “nigger.”
Symbolically funeralized and buried a few years ago via highly publicized events by such notables as the NAACP and the right Reverend Al Sharpton, the word has been banned from public usage in respectable company by respectable people.
Filmmaker Spike Lee gave a negative review of the movie without having actually seen it, citing use of “nigger” as one of the reasons for his personal boycott.
“Dick Gregory criticized Lee for criticizing the movie, calling Lee a ‘little thug.’”
Lee also was quoted as saying the movie was “disrespectful” to his ancestors for its portrayal of slavery, which may be related to another frequent criticism by Africans who viewed the movie as comedic, making light of a serious and traumatic occurrence in African history.
Adding to this bit of verbal Mandingo mud wrestling, Dick Gregory criticized Lee for criticizing the movie, calling Lee a “little thug.”
Not to be left out of the fray, Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew said of Lee’s criticism, “Spike is upset because Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie is just like him: a conniving and scheming Uncle Tom.”
Other critics have complained about its historical inadequacies, such as the ability of Django, masquerading as a freed slave, to sit at a table with whites in Mississippi and enjoy other social amenities that would have been unheard of at the time—and which are problematic even today in the U.S.
The movie’s portrayal of violence is another cause of controversy, especially in the wake of the December 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, massacre of whites by one of their own, which has caused a new uproar about guns in the hands of anyone not wielding State power.
Some other reviews have been personal and subjective; noted author, Ishmael Reed, claimed that Jackson plays himself in the role of Stephen, the treacherous house slave.
Django Functions as Cover for Slavery and Capitalism
However, clearly, not everyone is united in opposition to the Tarantino film.
The common appreciation for Django seems to be that they believe the movie forces a real discussion about slavery, a topic the film industry appears loath to deal with.
So, how should we understand the significance of this movie? Is it the product of a rabid, racist Tarantino, as some have claimed? Or, is it an attempt to start a “race war,” as Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, would have us believe?
Notwithstanding the views of Lee and some of the other naysayers, Django proved a big hit in the African community. Forty percent of the attendees in the first week of its showing were African, and more than 30 percent the following week.
We are not seriously concerned about most of the historical inadequacies of the movie, as it is possible to do a fictionalized history and still do justice to the period; Mario Van Peebles' 1995 movie, Panther, is an excellent example.
And, while Tarantino’s movie has stirred much passion among Africans and others, Panther frightened the industry and the capitalist colonialist State, causing theater owners to go to extraordinary lengths, demanding identification from African patrons, and staffing police at many venues.
“Panther frightened the industry and the capitalist colonialist State.”
If absolute historical accuracy were the primary issue, we would have to start by torching most universities and banning the offerings of professors who claim to address the history of Africans and Europeans but instead provide some of the most fictionalized accounts of human events possible.
The main problem with Django is its function as a cover for slavery and capitalism.
Indeed, the movie is really a metaphor for capitalism at work on a foundation of slavery.
That Django, the protagonist, is a killing machine who leaves a gory trail of dead white bodies throughout the movie will give a vicarious thrill to Africans worldwide.
However, while it mocks and criticizes individual slavers, the movie does not have the ability to criticize the institution of slavery.
Three Hours of Caricature
In many ways Django is three hours of caricature.
Here is where the comedy functions as a disservice: the false struggle against “racism”—beloved by liberals of all complexions—is a cover for a struggle against real oppression and against the system of oppression itself.
None of the white slavers was portrayed in the all-American heroic mold of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington, two of the most revered African-owning individuals in the U.S.
All the “bad” white people in the movie are either hilariously stupid or sadistically depraved. The audience is invited to hate these brutal, Erskine Caldwell-like inbreeding-type cretins; because they are obviously cruel and depraved beyond redemption, it is okay to kill them all.
They are bestial, uncivilized deviants from what would now be considered the “American way.”
In a word, they are “racists,” individuals who revel in obvious disdain for and sometimes visceral hatred of African people.
Such hatred is no longer publicly permissible in 2013.
Since slavery is officially over and the word “nigger” proscribed from public usage and convention, demanding a degree of civility by whites towards Africans, those Africans deprived of the “racist” white enemy are generally unable to find their political bearings.
Nor was a connection drawn by the moviemakers between what these southern “miscreants” were doing in the South and the role of banks, insurance companies, stock markets and most industry in the U.S. North and all of Europe.
Back to the Future
The fact is that white supporters of slavery were not miscreants—they were the norm.
In reality the Civil War that would break out in 1860 resulted in draft riots by whites in New York, massive lynchings of Africans, and threats by New York to secede from the Union.
Anti-abolition riots occurred throughout the northern U.S., including Philadelphia and Illinois.
Tarantino’s whites are caricatures, foils used to cover for slavery as the system that gives birth to the capitalism that is equally appreciated by the white bounty hunter, Django and DiCaprio’s Candie.
In the movie, slavery provides the income for all the free people.
Certainly, slavery is the means of employment for the merchants and exploiters of captured African flesh, but it also establishes the context for enriching both the German bounty hunter and his new protégé, Django.
The bounty hunter, Shultz, purchases Django to use him to identify men to be killed for reward money.
“Tarantino’s whites are caricatures, foils used to cover for slavery as the system that gives birth to the capitalism.”
At one point Shultz explains to Django the usefulness of Django’s enslaved condition, declaring that whether Shultz despises slavery or not, Django is in no position to refuse him, all the better for making slavery work to the bounty hunter’s benefit, adding (like a good liberal), “Still, I feel guilty.”
Tarantino and most spokespersons for the movie are themselves liberals and, like all liberals, they are good at criticizing symptoms but not good at identifying the essence.
They are like the anti-war groups and personalities who condemn the imperialist wars but are unable to condemn imperialism itself.
History—even fictionalized history—forces the historian to stand on the platform of the present to look back at the past.
Inevitably, this vantage means that the product of the historian’s work necessarily says as much about the historian and his/her current reality as it does about the subject being recorded.
An Instrument Of Liberal History-telling
What is it that contextualizes the reality of Tarantino and the entire world?
What is it about today’s world that makes Django necessary as an instrument of liberal history-telling and social direction?
First of all, Django is set in the context of southern U.S. slavery, and slavery is the foundation of world capitalism.
German philosopher, Karl Marx, concluded that, “Cause slavery to disappear and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.”
Though crucial to the development of capitalism, slavery is only one of the factors that Marx characterized as having the significance to political economy as “original sin” in theology.
Called “primitive accumulation” by Marx, this explanation of the beginning of capitalism included the theft of the lands of the indigenous peoples and the subjugation of most of the world by Europe and Europeans.
Today most of the peoples of the world are in struggle to take back their resources, sovereignty and history.
Wars abound in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
China and other countries that were once vassals of Europe are now competing with the U.S. and Europe for global preeminence.
The people of South America are also engaged in stripping the U.S. of its historically hegemonic role.
The demographics of the world are also changing quickly; except in Iceland, European women are no longer having enough children to reproduce their white populations.
The “ex” Slave as Savior Of the System
It is obvious that the system is broken beyond repair. The way of life that whites have come to accept as their just due is severely threatened by the hordes at the gate.
What to do?
In the U.S., the center of the capitalist world, the latest strategy of the liberal elite to protect their system has been to elevate the “exceptional” African, the “ex”-slave, as the savior of the system.
In theory this negro has control of the deadliest and most prolific arsenal in the world and has used it to wreak havoc in the lives of those who would challenge the imperialist/capitalist status quo.
As bloody as Django Unchained is, the movie is no match for the violence being imposed on the world by Obama unchained; Obama, too, is employed to kill the caricaturized bad guys without concern for their relationship to the existing capitalist social system.
As uncomfortable as some whites were with the fictionalized, gun-wielding, horseback-riding Django, liberals in the U.S. are able to rest comfortably with the knowledge that the black terror is “on their side,” in the form of a tame negro: the new template of how civilized Africans should act.
Like the slavery of the 1858 Django setting, the white power system of today is broken, and the masses are on the rise, threatening to tear the whole system down.
“The latest strategy of the liberal elite to protect their system has been to elevate the “exceptional” African, the “ex”-slave, as the savior of the system.”
Tarantino, good liberal that he is, keeps the masses of Africans out of the process of ending the system of oppression by unleashing a special negro, the “one in ten thousand,” as Django is characterized.
Indeed, Django is the Barack Hussein Obama solution transposed to 1858 U.S. history.
One must remember that 1858 was just two years before the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. It was a time of extreme tensions in the U.S., in general, and the South, in particular.
In 1859 John Brown would lead the raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in an unsuccessful attempt to initiate a rebellion by enslaved Africans.
Brown’s action did not happen in a political vacuum.
More than 1,000 slave escapes happened annually during the 1850s, and the period was wrought with southern white anxiety, northern anti-slavery agitation and growing restlessness among the captured African population.
The fact that Django’s adventures were set in the U.S. just two years prior to the Civil War clearly indicates that Tarantino intended to mark a historical turning point in the fortunes of “America.”
In many ways Tarantino’s task as a historian looking backward is the same as that of the liberal ruling class of today.
Tarantino Preserves A System Of White Power
In Django Tarantino creates the “exceptional” negro to fight all the bad, un-American Americans in order to protect the capitalist system of white power.
The evidence for this position can be found in the movie itself.
Dr. King (coincidental?) Shultz explains his non-slavery capitalist enterprise to Django thusly: “The way the slave trade deals in human lives for cash, bounty hunting deals in corpses.”
And elsewhere in the movie, “Like slavery, it’s a flesh-for-cash business.”
Other examples of Tarantino’s fidelity to capitalism, which clearly rests on a foundation of slavery, was King’s insistence on purchasing Django from a white slaver and securing a bill of sale, even after Django’s slaver had been wounded and was going to be killed.
The same happened with Django’s wife, Broomhilda, for whom a bill of sale (promissory note?) was taken from King’s dead body after her cruel “master,” Candie, had been killed and the “Big House” was in the process of being destroyed.
No attempt was made to help Django escape from slavery.
And the elaborate, dangerous ruse to purchase Broomhilda from Candie was one hundred times more problematic than an escape attempt could ever have been.
However, escaping would have been a serious breech of capitalist etiquette, even as it applied to slavery. It would have been bad business.
Escaping would have suggested the possibility of a Malcolm X “by any means necessary” solution, which the fictional bounty hunter, Dr. King, opposed no less than did his Civil Rights namesake of the 1950s and 60s.
“Escaping would have been a serious breech of capitalist etiquette.”
In fact very few attempts to escape from slavery were made by the enslaved African masses in the movie. Escape was reserved for the “exceptional” negros, the “one in ten thousand” represented by Django and Broomhilda.
Even when escape was possible, the enslaved Africans had to be prodded by the beneficent Dr. King to go for it.
Of course Tarantino does much to expose the grotesque, violent treatment of Africans under slavery.
Django’s hunt for his wife is consistent with the historical record of many Africans who, once sold from their spouses, did every thing possible to rescue them, braving torture and death.
However, Tarantino, who had absolute control of this fictionalized history, denied his characters the ability to engage in self-motivated attempts to free themselves.
Also, with the historical examples of Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner and others, Tarantino also could have directed his characters to organize among themselves and strike out collectively for freedom and for power.
Instead, Tarantino made the liberal political choice to have Django function as an angry individual whose only interest was to free his wife and to exact revenge for wrongs done to her.
This is because liberals fear the masses of the oppressed just as much as their contending, “conservative” counterparts do.
The “Exceptional” Negro
The manufacture of good or “exceptional” negros to act as their agents protects liberals and the system from the pending, certain black wrath that—left to itself—might otherwise destroy the entire rotten system, not just the “racists.”
Django’s outlaw persona was invented by Dr. King, who bought, clothed, “Americanized” and permitted him to kill white people.
“Kill white people and they pay you for it? What’s not to like?” says Django, when asked to become bounty hunting partners with King.
Nevertheless, for almost half the movie, Django works under the liberal tutelage of the benevolent killer.
Explaining to Django why he is helping him find his wife, King states, “I’ve never given anybody their freedom before, and now that I have, I feel vaguely responsible for you.”
A better description of the rationale for the liberal relationship to Africans would be hard to find.
A killer, yes, but Django remains the beneficiary of gentle white stewardship. A safe relationship for the liberal white ruling class that in the 1960s, a hundred years after Django, would fund and attempt to direct the Civil Rights Movement, succeeding in determining its commitment of philosophical nonviolence as it tried to direct the revolution from above and behind the backs of the African activists.
King and Candie are the philosophers of the movie.
Candie explains that the submissive nature of Africans made us natural slaves. King candidly describes himself as a hired killer in the capitalist world into which he was integrating Django.
While on a killing mission King declares, “This is my world, and in my world you got to get dirty, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m getting dirty.”
Django gets dirty, too. But he does not enlist his captive brothers and sisters in the enterprise of ending slavery or their own enslavement.
Instead, his is an individual enterprise designed primarily to free his enslaved wife, who also is exceptional.
“She ain’t no field nigger,” says Django to King. “She pretty and she look good too.” And, indeed, she does look good.
Broomhilda’s role in the movie is to appear naked, to look pretty, to simper and faint and, in the end, to applaud the heroics of her husband. This caricaturization is not accurate of the enslaved African woman; it is more like that of the idealized white southern belle.
Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson’s Stephen is so over the top that his character serves to help disguise or obscure the race traitors and neocolonialists, most of whom walk among us today but without Jackson’s obvious, degenerate sneer and bootlicking persona.
“Broomhilda’s role in the movie is to appear naked, to look pretty, to simper and faint and, in the end, to applaud the heroics of her husband.”
Jackson’s character is a cover for the Obamas, Nutters, Outarras and Kabilas of the world who speak and dress “well” and cause more death and destruction for Africans in a day than an old “handkerchief head” Uncle Tom could do in a hundred years.
Tarantino is quite aware of a political mission with this work.
He says to the UK screening audience, "We all intellectually 'know' the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, but after you do the research, it's no longer intellectual any more, no longer just historical record–you feel it in your bones.
“It makes you angry, and want to do something … I'm here to tell you, that however bad things get in the movie, a lot worse shit actually happened.
"When slave narratives are done on film, they tend to be historical with a capital H, with an arms-length quality to them.
“I wanted to break that history-under-glass aspect, I wanted to throw a rock through that glass and shatter it for all times, and take you into it."
The True Insult To Our Ancestors
Tarantino’s motivation is that he is an angry white liberal attempting to evoke a particular angry response from his audience.
Our opposition to his message should express itself as opposition to liberalism and its perennial attempt to cover the real contradictions of capitalist-colonialism, sometimes in the most violent way.
To dismiss the movie because of a presumption of Tarantino’s racism or to ignore it because it is an “insult” to our ancestors is to miss the point.
The real insult to our ancestors is slavery itself and the capitalist social system that slavery birthed.
Our opposition must be directed at the system, and, in opposing the system, we reject the liberal solution presented by Tarantino, which obscures the real contradiction and functions to cover for and protect capitalist white power while offering up offensive white individuals for sacrifice.
We reject Django because it minimizes the role of the organized masses in making and changing history, reducing us to political fodder for white liberals and their special, “one in ten thousand” negros, or, “Talented Tenth.”
We reject the movie because so many Africans in colonial housing projects and oppressed communities throughout the world, who are experiencing the historical lash of slavery in the imperialist conditions forced upon us today, will share Tarantino’s anger and may accept his incorrect solution.
We reject the movie because to deal with a severe crisis of imperialism requires sober reflection, historical materialist-based African Internationalist analysis and the organized intervention of the masses of our people to destroy the entire capitalist colonialist social system.
Ironically, Jackson’s character, Stephen, speaks the most cogent words of the entire movie.
As he lies dying in the Big House at Candie Land, the final victim of Django’s wrath, he yells to Django, “Cain’t no nigger gunfighter kill all the white folks in the world! They gon’ find yo black ass!”
Indeed, the task of the colonized is to kill the colonizer and the system of colonialism. The task of the slave is to kill the slave master and the system of slavery.
Omali Yeshitela is Chairman of the African People's Socialist Party.