11:20 am - 12/28/2012

Could a black director have made “Django”?

Tarantino's daring film would have been received differently by the media -- or never made -- if he wasn't white


For two reasons, Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” was all but guaranteed to ignite a conversation about race in America.

First and foremost, the film dares to break a major taboo. Specifically, as the New York Times critic A.O. Scott put it, “Django” dares to show “regenerative violence visited by black against white instead of the reverse” — a narrative which ”has been almost literally unthinkable” in American life, much less in big-budget pop culture productions.

Second, the film does that in the immediate aftermath of a racially charged election that saw a black man reelected to the White House with the most diverse (read: non-white) coalition in presidential history.

Because of the content and timing, then, Tarantino’s masterpiece can be seen as a metaphorical exclamation point at the end of an historic year — one that many Americans no doubt interpret as the political equivalent of Django’s triumph. Considering this, it’s hardly surprising that an American Right obsessed with promoting what I’ve called the White Victimization Narrative has utterly freaked out on the film. For different (and far more valid) reasons, it’s also not surprising that esteemed voices like director Spike Lee and University of Pennsylvania professor Salamishah Tillet have critiqued the film’s themes, raising important questions about its subtext.

This back and forth will likely continue, and whether you love or hate the film, that’s a good thing. In a nation that often ignores racism and asks too few questions, Tarantino has performed something of a civic service by using his considerable entertainment platform to effectively expose right-wing bigotry (as seen in conservatives ugly reaction) and also help force serious racial questions into the national debate (as seen in some African Americans’ substantive critique).

And yet, in all the foment, one issue that’s been little discussed is how the film reflects the way White Privilege works. That’s a particularly important topic right now, in light of the intense conservative backlash that now occurs after any mere mention of the concept.

Film critic Eric Deggans alluded to White Privilege in his terrific Salon piece on “Django Unchained” earlier this week. Noting that ”studios know white audiences will show up for (Tarantino’s) movies,” he concluded that Tarantino is “a white man who gets to do what black artists should also get to do” — but too often do not get the opportunity to do. Why not? Because of the way films by different directors are inevitably portrayed in the media and interpreted by White America.

The best way to illustrate this form of White Privilege is to imagine ”Django Unchained” being released as a production from an African American writer and director. Under those circumstances, in the media and among white audiences, the film most likely would be perceived not merely as a mass-audience entertainment product with some underlying social commentary by a single director, but as a niche political film allegedly from a whole community with an axe to grind. That is, it would probably be met in the media and among potential viewers not in the way it has been met, but instead as a divisive “black movie” — by, and allegedly only for, black people.

Studio executives know all of this. In Deggans terms, they “know white audiences will show up” for a white director’s film about race issues, but they fear white audiences will not show up for an African American director’s film about the same issues. Thus, when it comes to films dealing with racism, it’s probably harder for African American writers and directors than for their white counterparts to convince studios to finance their projects. That difference is the definition of White Privilege.

Noting all of this is not to assert that African American writers and directors have never found commercial success in films about bigotry, nor therefore to absolve film studios for any institutional racism. But it is to point out that White Privilege is not just about individual bigots and single industries. On the contrary, it operates on a mass level whereby America — whether consciously or unconsciously, whether overtly or subtly, whether in movie tastes or other consumer proclivities – often privileges whites over people of color.

In the case of “Django Unchained,” as evidenced by stunning ticket sales, it privileges a film from a white director that it might not similarly reward had the very same film come from a black director (assuming such a film from a black director would have even been green-lighted by a major studio). Put another way, it allows a white director to tell a filmic story that a black director may not have been permitted to tell on such a large mass-audience stage (or, at least, to market as a “mass audience” production).

Pointing this out, mind you, isn’t to criticize Tarantino. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Tarantino, in my view, deserves credit not just for making a terrific film, but also for choosing to use his position to try to remind America of its hideous slave history and to therefore contribute to the cause of fighting racism (and I say that while also agreeing with some of the criticism of how his film addresses that cause). After all, at this point in his career, the guy is a fabulously wealthy entertainment industry mogul. That means he can select whatever kinds of projects he wants and that, hence, his choices are statements of commercial desires, creative interest and social values.

In the case of “Django Unchained” — in Tarantino choosing, as Deggans says, to make a movie about “a black man mow(ing) down one white asshole after another, taking out men too venal, stupid or entitled to admit how much of their world was built on the blood and pain of black slaves” — he proactively decided to use his White Privilege to televisually attack the ugliest roots of that privilege. That’s no small thing — especially in a country where so many others in his very same position typically decide to do the opposite by promoting, perpetuating and defending White Privilege (see the political right’s reaction above, as an example).

In that sense, Tarantino’s willingness to expend his Hollywood capital to make such a film implicitly implores white people to try to use their relative position of privilege to fight that privilege where they can. That’s a welcome — if unstated — message. While history (for instance, the civil rights movement or the 2012 election) certainly proves people of color don’t need “white saviors” to come to their “rescue” (another bigoted and paternalistic Hollywood trope), that truism doesn’t negate white people’s moral obligation to fight white privilege where they see it — even if that privilege is benefiting them personally.

Doing that, though, means being able to recognize White Privilege in the first place. In how “Django Unchained” reminds us of systemic double standards, it is certainly there to behold — if we are willing to look.


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childish 28th-Dec-2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
Jesus Christ, no more DU posts.
mandramoddle 28th-Dec-2012 05:32 pm (UTC)
No shit.
davetvs 28th-Dec-2012 05:36 pm (UTC)
heart_iswild 28th-Dec-2012 06:47 pm (UTC)
there are like fucking 50 on every page, don't even start with "scroll"
numbedtoe 28th-Dec-2012 06:03 pm (UTC)
bluecupxxx 28th-Dec-2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
haha I know right? I go to be during DU posts and wake up to another. It never ends!
fluorescentx 28th-Dec-2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
ia it's just the same wank getting rehashed in every post. I haven't had a chance to recover from the last one yet.
francesbcobain 28th-Dec-2012 06:26 pm (UTC)

sevenbeat 28th-Dec-2012 06:49 pm (UTC)

people are just making these posts now to take the piss out of it.
preciosatt 28th-Dec-2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
I don't get people who act like someone is forcing them to read every post. Just scroll on by.
mjspice 29th-Dec-2012 03:19 pm (UTC)
ponpiri 28th-Dec-2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
Jesus H. Christ.
calinewarkwc69 28th-Dec-2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
What does the 'H' stand for? I don't think I know Jesus' middle name... Catholic school failed me.
eccentricvibe 28th-Dec-2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
ponpiri 28th-Dec-2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
"Holy" for me. I think he prefers Jesus of Nazareth though... my bad.
sastra_fuss 28th-Dec-2012 04:36 pm (UTC)
haverchuck_bill 28th-Dec-2012 04:37 pm (UTC)
I always went with Hector. But I guess Holy makes more sense.
turdferguson 28th-Dec-2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
jrh19782002 28th-Dec-2012 07:10 pm (UTC)
julietislimited 28th-Dec-2012 04:23 pm (UTC)
op's icon is flawless

Edited at 2012-12-28 04:24 pm (UTC)
age_of_green 28th-Dec-2012 04:27 pm (UTC)
Only thing about these posts that is tbh.
kierwynn 28th-Dec-2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
Adding to the icon love <3
hollis1975 28th-Dec-2012 04:24 pm (UTC)
i feel like i have been scrolling thru most of ONTD because every post seems like its about DU
dnttllhrry 28th-Dec-2012 04:52 pm (UTC)
....spoiler alert?
warsawed 28th-Dec-2012 04:52 pm (UTC)
spoiler alert u jerkwaffle
druggybridge 28th-Dec-2012 04:54 pm (UTC)
lol I'm sorry! I don't know how to put stuff under cut, so I'll just delete it.
jrh19782002 28th-Dec-2012 07:11 pm (UTC)
whats a jerkwaffle
helders 28th-Dec-2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
if a black director made the movie, most of the yt people shitting themselves to go see it wouldn't b/c it'd be "another black movie." and bloated face dicaprio wouldn't have signed on.
old_fart_1 28th-Dec-2012 04:29 pm (UTC)
it depends on the director of course. Could Tyler Perry make it? Absolutely not. Spike Lee could have made it. The fact that we could probably only think of 3 directors that could have made it is bad though.
ms_mmelissa 28th-Dec-2012 04:32 pm (UTC)

LOL @ bloated dicaprio.
warsawed 28th-Dec-2012 04:53 pm (UTC)
I mean... Tarantino is respected so it makes sense Leo would want to work with him. He's pretty picky about his movies lol (and he tends to work with the same 3 directors).
maitressefleche 28th-Dec-2012 05:03 pm (UTC)
LOL that's true but tarantino isn't just another white director most people see it cuz he directed it
helders 28th-Dec-2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
w/e makes you feel better
mammary_glands 28th-Dec-2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
lmao so true
foreignhorsie 28th-Dec-2012 05:43 pm (UTC)
fred2265 28th-Dec-2012 07:57 pm (UTC)
I agree, but the blame lies with the studio bosses and white audiemces, not with Tarantino..
punkinelf 29th-Dec-2012 01:16 am (UTC)
Only Tarantino could have made it because he wrote, he directed it IT'S HIS MOVIE!
Spike Lee would have written a different movie, different cast, different POV because he is also original.
This is just race baiting.
Artists are individuals, originals.
If they did the same thing over and over and over again, they'd be a Hollywood movie
lightwillguide 29th-Dec-2012 03:24 am (UTC)
If it was the exact same movie I'd still be shitting myself, but you know Fox News and anyone who's ever uttered the phrase "reverse racism" would be crying havoc and weeping for "the encouraging of violence against white people"
calinewarkwc69 28th-Dec-2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
I just got out of the last post about this movie because I couldn't get past page 1 without rolling my eyes so hard that I now have a headache.
fakevoices 28th-Dec-2012 04:26 pm (UTC)

also for those who have seen it, is it the sorta of movie you would go see with your parents, they are pretty conservative? any assistance would be helpful
old_fart_1 28th-Dec-2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
well if you are squeamish about seeing nudity or anything like that with your parents there is some of that but otherwise unless your parents are actually racist instead of conservative, it's okay to see it with them.
fakevoices 28th-Dec-2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
well we are black, but thanks, won't be seeing it with them.
druggybridge 28th-Dec-2012 04:28 pm (UTC)
lol Nope. I brought up seeing it when my conservative step dad was in the room, and he was like "So did the black guy kill all the white people?"
pistol_eyes 28th-Dec-2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
no, the movie is brutal and gory. If you wouldn't watch kill bill with your parents then don't watch this with them.
invisible_cunt 28th-Dec-2012 05:41 pm (UTC)
gorl i just can't watch movies with my parents anymore
we saw the guilt trip on christmas eve and it was so uncomfortable during the penis jokes, especially bc i was sitting beside my mom
highflyer8 28th-Dec-2012 08:11 pm (UTC)
My 59 year old Methodist minister mother said it will go down as "one of her favorite films of all time." But she's a Democrat. So I dunno.
chickyonly 29th-Dec-2012 12:22 am (UTC)
I went and saw it with my parents, and they both really liked the movie. I don't see why it would be awkward, unless you would be disappointed if maybe they didn't like it.

It sounds silly to say since I'm 31 but I would have maayyyyyybe been uncomfortable seeing it with them if there was lots of sex. But there was none. I don't get awkward watching violence/gore with them around.
old_fart_1 28th-Dec-2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
I don't understand articles like this. It's as if it's written for someone who literally has never heard the term white privilege before. Like what is this? Institutionalized Racism in the Film Industry for Dummies? I literally got nothing out of reading this article.
age_of_green 28th-Dec-2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
To people outside of the college/tumblr blogging circuit, privilege is often a foreign concept to them, and often falls under the not "real" courses/concepts along with sociology, psychology and gender studies.

Edited at 2012-12-28 04:31 pm (UTC)
ediesedgwick 28th-Dec-2012 04:40 pm (UTC)
yeah like I know at least in my soc 101 class we never learned about it. The closest was talking about exoticism of ppl of color in contemp visual culture class but that's it.

Some ppl on this site seem to live in some vacuum where everyone sits around reading about stuff like this online, but most people don't do that.
lickety_split 28th-Dec-2012 06:59 pm (UTC)
Yeah when you say "white privilege" to most people they start crying about how they've never owned a yacht or been inside of a country club before.
ediesedgwick 28th-Dec-2012 04:37 pm (UTC)
lol um most ppl are not taught about white privilege soo
warsawed 28th-Dec-2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
Its important to explain bc there are a lot of dumbfucks around also this is Hollywood we're talking about
kwikimart 28th-Dec-2012 05:12 pm (UTC)

They need to teach their people from like birth or something because this shit is so boring and frustrating to read all the time
aleksie 28th-Dec-2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
You'd be surprised what people do and don't know. I have met a lot of people who believe we're post-racial and sexism doesn't exist in many male dominated fields.
beatlesluv 28th-Dec-2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
You would be surprised how many people are unaware of the fact that white privilege permeates throughout all society - even the seemingly ~ integrated ~ film industry.
pineandapple 28th-Dec-2012 07:21 pm (UTC)
Most people don't know about white privilege, especially young people.
highflyer8 28th-Dec-2012 08:11 pm (UTC)
I learned of white privilege for the first time on ONTD tbh.

And I have a Master's Degree. You can totally miss an education on that pretty easily. It's the kind of thing you only get from certain majors or certain electives.

Edited at 2012-12-28 08:12 pm (UTC)
npenney 28th-Dec-2012 04:27 pm (UTC)
Yes a black director could have made it. And yes, people would still be bitching about it.
rolt_me 28th-Dec-2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
I think Spike Lee could have made something as shitty and fucked up as Django. He made Bamboozled after all. At least with qt, it'd be entertaining in a mindless, vapid way.
colonel_green 28th-Dec-2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
Among the major American auteurs in modern cinema, I think Tarantino is probably #1 in terms of featuring non-white-male leads; after Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, all of them have had either female (Kill Bill 1 & 2, Death Proof, arguably Inglourious Basterds, though you could argue that film doesn't have a lead), black (Django Unchained), or both (Jackie Brown).
ms_mmelissa 28th-Dec-2012 05:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's sadly true. Spike Lee does a lot with black male characters, Sofia Coppola primarily focuses on white women and Terrence Malick had Q'Orianka Kilcher as the star of The New World and usually has female co-leads, but the majority of American auteurs I can think of (the Coens, P.T. Anderson, Wes Anderson) are solidly white male centric. Le sigh.

I'm noticing a slight shift towards more diversity as we get more women, particularly woc, directing things though.
tadashee 28th-Dec-2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
Who has actually seen it?
colonel_green 28th-Dec-2012 04:33 pm (UTC)
I saw it two nights ago.
ponpiri 28th-Dec-2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
druggybridge 28th-Dec-2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
tadashee 28th-Dec-2012 04:45 pm (UTC)
I meant to ask what you thought of it as well. Recommended?
old_fart_1 28th-Dec-2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
saw it last night
helders 28th-Dec-2012 04:45 pm (UTC)
i want to see it but i'm waiting for the dvd. i'm not comfortable with the n-word being used 109 times while surrounded by white people.
asdfjklkjhfds 28th-Dec-2012 05:28 pm (UTC)
i saw it last night and was prepared for it to be a mess but idk i enjoyed it
misscrystal 28th-Dec-2012 06:05 pm (UTC)
I saw it Christmas Day and I loved every second of it.
satellite__eyes 28th-Dec-2012 07:00 pm (UTC)
Right here. Loved it, sick of the constant wank surrounding it.
sergeantquakers 28th-Dec-2012 07:04 pm (UTC)
I saw it yesterday and I loved it, although certain scenes were absolutely brutal if you're squeamish. I love most of Tarantino's movies, though.
highflyer8 28th-Dec-2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
I saw it on Xmas.
lexiesloan 28th-Dec-2012 04:34 pm (UTC)
I have been distant from ONTD lately and I have no idea what this movie or controversy is about. And yes, I'm too lazy to do research outside this site.
old_fart_1 28th-Dec-2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
ok bye
colonel_green 28th-Dec-2012 04:36 pm (UTC)
It's a movie about an escaped slave who goes to rescue his wife, with the aid of a German bounty hunter, and, in typical Tarantino style, many people die.

Conservative media critics think it's racist against white people. Some in the black community find elements of it problematic for other reasons.
lexiesloan 28th-Dec-2012 04:39 pm (UTC)
I knew it had something to do with the n-word. I was just looking through the tags. Thank you!
daydream11 28th-Dec-2012 05:22 pm (UTC)
MTE, Tarantino himself is the one with the white savior complex here working with a lot of white guilt. Someone needs to remind him that he's a white dude from Tennessee. I loved DU, but what's stopping Tarantino from funding a black director from making movies like this one?
turkish_popstar 28th-Dec-2012 06:02 pm (UTC)
that's a bingo
grammaire 28th-Dec-2012 07:35 pm (UTC)
Fair point.
timeo 28th-Dec-2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
Doesn't he already do things like that through stuff like "Quentin Tarantino presents" etc? Though granted the stuff that he's produced has been helmed by Chinese directors rather than African-American, but I think that's something to note.
bellwetherr 29th-Dec-2012 05:08 am (UTC)
tx5mym5 29th-Dec-2012 01:03 pm (UTC)
But what's he to do when he supports a black direct who make man with The Iron Fists? Cultural appropriation or remix cultures in that?

Also, what the fuck is up with Russell Crowe's career?
beatlesluv 28th-Dec-2012 06:23 pm (UTC)
I don't feel very comfortable either. I might find a stream and see how much of it I'm OK with watching, but I wouldn't put my money down for it.
lickety_split 28th-Dec-2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
What did Sam Jackson say?
hormoaning 28th-Dec-2012 10:43 pm (UTC)
i thought samuel usually excused him/let him get away with it.. bc he keeps doing movies w/ him

what'd he say
memorian 29th-Dec-2012 01:42 am (UTC)
Samuel Jackson didn't say, that Spike Lee said it.
"I'm not against the word," Lee said. "And some people speak that way. But Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made--an honorary black man? ... I want Quentin to know that all African Americans do not think that word is trendy or slick."

Source: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/04.09.98/cover/nigger-9814.html
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