Kirsten West-Savali: Django Criticism by Lee, Smiley and Others is Uninformed

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Are Spike Lee, Tavis Smiley and others speaking of things they don’t understand when they criticize the film, “Django Unchained?”  True or not, both men have gained reputations as being jealous egomaniacs who seek to monopolize dialogue about the black experience.  Others say that they are righteous pundits who speak truth to power.  In the case of Django, Kirsten West-Savali says that both men should probably see the film before they criticize it.

West-Savali gives Lee and Smiley credit for being important voices in the black community and doesn’t attack either one right off-hand.

It’s already haunting Tavis Smiley and Spike Lee, two respected black thinkers and cultural contributors who famously refuse to partake in the current Djangofascination. These two men, staunch and fearless advocates of justice and progress in black America, are not unjustified in their assessments of Hollywood and Quentin Tarantino; however, neither man can be taken seriously if their analyses of Django Unchained are defined only by bias and presumptions.

Let’s take Lee. “It’d be disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film. That’s the only thing I’m going to say. I can’t disrespect my ancestors,” the legendary director said in a Vibe interview approximately one week prior to the film’s Christmas Day release. But, of course this is just one blip in a long-standing beef between the auteurs.

Tavis Smiley, one of the films most recent and vocal detractors, also said in an interview with The Daily Beast that he didn’t have to see the film to form a valid opinion.

“I refuse to see it. I’m not going to pay to see it,” Smiley said. “But I’ve read the screenplay, and I have 25 family members and friends who have seen it, and have had thousands of conversations about this movie, so I can tell you frame by frame what happens,” he told the online news outlet.

West-Savali also points out that Smiley himself is consistent in criticizing the lack of options that African Americans are given in the way our images are portrayed on screen.   She points to Smiley’s criticism of the lack of balance in Hollywood as a reason that African Americans should be disappointed when portrayals are one-dimensional in nature.

“The greater problem with Hollywood is that there’s no balance,” the media pundit complained. “One might have a stronger stomach for a movie like Django if there was a library of films I could go to that tells the authentic story of slavery and segregation. But since that library doesn’t exist, since there’s no balance in Hollywood when it comes to the complexities of black life in America, then it makes it harder to stomach a spoof.”

There is an abundance of layered criticism that could be levied against the bit of cinematic hoodoo that is Django. The film is so mired in racial tropes, excessive violence and uncensored racist depravities that each scene has the potential to be an emotional landmine. Still, to speak on Django with any authority, the film must be seen for oneself.

 

West-Savali states that Lee and Smiley’s assertion that the film makes a mockery out of slavery is ultimately incorrect.  She also says that Tarantino’s use of the n-word was not irresponsible.

If they had seen the film, they would understand that their criticisms must delve deeper than the idea of it being a “spoof” and a knee-jerk reaction to the – subjectively — gratuitous use of the word ni**er.

Django by no means makes a mockery of slavery – see Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle,specifically the scene “Black Acting School,” if you’re looking for a plantation parody; in fact, Tarantino seems uncomfortable, unsure of his cultural footing as he pivots from vicious dog attacks and “Mandingo” fighting, to the malignant honor of being a house servant or master’s mistress. The scenes during which slaves are violent towards each other, or an unhinged Django is violent towards white people, are as revealing in their complete abandon as the slave punishment scenes are in their abruptness.

West-Savali doesn’t let Tarantino off the hook for the film.  She says that his artistic brilliance doesn’t mean that his motives should be trusted.   She notes that Tarantino has a fascination with African American culture that borders on psychotic.  This shows itself in the manner by which African Americans are portrayed on screen.  She also states that Tarantino’s view of slavery is not the right one.  It’s just the way that director himself views slavery.

But that does not mean that his motivations should be trusted or respected. The eccentric filmmaker’s style can easily be described as “blackface in whiteface”: a man so in love with violence and hyper-masculinity that he fetishizes what he believes to be the pinnacle of both – Black Manhood. That he seeks entrée into the soul of blackness is irrefutable. What better way to do so than by co-opting the slave experience? It is much easier to tread on the hallowed ground of slavery once the boundary of acceptability has been shattered, and of course, in our culture that requires making it entertainment.

By positioning slavery as a plot mechanism in a spaghetti western, Tarantino reduces most of the blacks portrayed to peripheral chattel, while simultaneously under-girding the entire film with the strength of their story – his vision of our story. His views on the “peculiar institution” are cleverly embedded in dialogue spoken early in the film by Dr. Shultz, played by the talented Christopher Waltz, to Jamie Foxx’s brilliantly played Django.

 

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  1. Who cares what Spike Lee and Tavis Smiley think. Both sold out to the only shiny penny syndrome and jealousy and anger towards other blacks who do not hold them in high regard. We need to think for ourselves. Richard Hudlin is one of the producers. He is from East St. Louis, Ill. See the movie and judge for yourself. Django is a classic!!

  2. A person does not have to take drugs to know it bad for a person, so as Black Americans, they should not have to see the film to say it is bad for the Black race. when is the Black race going to stop believing if one say again something negative about the film they are saying some negative about the black race. Slavery can be told from any perspective but for it to be authentic, it should be told from a black perspective, since it their story and they refused to embrace it, so do not get mad if the white man again make money of your victimization.

  3. Wait till it comes out in DVD or Blu-ray. Don’t spend your kids lunch money on this brain freeze.

  4. I find all slavery movies degrading to our ancestors, did jews attack QT fir his portrayals in inglorious bastards. Like one responder said we got big problems we call each othee nigga all day, then proceed to shoot each othee up all day every day…I said it…WE NEED TO LOOK In THE MIRROR and quit acting like slaves now.

  5. This author basically verifies Tavis Smiley’s [& to a lesser extent Spike Lee’s] critiques of {San}Quentin of the QT’s ‘Django’ are valid, & she knows QT’s frat-boy wanna-be ‘My N-i-GG-a’ cool sense of humor in combo w disturbing trend of making humorous acts of extreme violence. So why does she insist that Lee & Smiley [who are both very media savvy & Lee Knows Holly-weird & QT well] have to see it before they comment on it. In fact Smiley made a point of saying he refuses to spend his hard earned money to support QT’s combo of Spaghetti-western / Blaxploitation take on slavery. Quite frankly I don’t see what’s this author’s issue w Lee ‘s & Smiley’s position on QT’s ‘Django’ is.

    I have NOT seen ‘Django’ & likely won’t spend my money to see it either, but the point Smiley makes about it is NOT as weak & hollow as- they don’t like QT’s ‘liberal’ use of the ‘N’-word & graphic violence- [‘Django’ gives QT a perfect excuse to do what he always does in his movies’ portrayals’ of Black -&- FYI: There are other Blacks who, as this author does, criticize ‘Django’ after having seen it]. My first beef w {San}Quentin on the QT is he dissed ‘Roots’ [meaning the late Alex Haley’s classic story about slavery] including effectively its entire Black cast- while hyping his ‘spoof’ tale which is NOT actually about slavery but uses it as a back-drop to tell a QT styled TALE -&- in the process he p!mps ‘Django’ slave dolls all the way to the bank!
    Another issue w the film is the 2 most talked about acts of brutality RE slavery is the so-called ‘Mandingo fighting’ & a weary fighter being torn apart by DiCaprio’s Candie’s dogs for refusing to fight. Besides the fact that this type of ‘Gladiator Buck’ fighting to the death likely never occurred [IE: NOT historically accurate- QT took that idea from blaxploitation film ‘Mandingo’ starring ex-boxer Ken Norton], when looked at in the context of the intellectual ‘sparring’ between Candie [DiCaprio] & the white German Dude [who ‘Unchain’s ‘Django’ & gives him license to kill targeted whited guys- FYI: Waltz is ‘Django’s’ Real Star] that Black’s aren’t intellectually capable of rebelling against slavery, QT apparently seeks to substantiate Candie’s thesis by showing a bunch of strong Black guy’s beating each other to death for Ole white Massa’s blood-thirsty ‘amusement’! Of course the historical fact is there were constant acts of resistance, beginning even on slave ships- depicted brilliantly by so-called ‘inauthentic’ ‘Roots’ [QT’s dubious assessment] & ‘Amistad’!
    And If {San}Quentin on the QT knew or even cared about the real history of slavery, he’d know that ‘Ole Massa’ was far more likely to sic his hunting dogs on slaves for running away- than on a slave too tired to fight for Massa’s amusement.
    PS: If QT knew the history of Capoeira as an Afro-Brazilian Marital arts form that was banned in slavery era Brazil [at the penalty of DEATH], because slaves used it so effectively to KILL slave-owners & patrollers- so the Brazilian brothers had to disguised it as a form of dance.

    • This author,Ms Savali, also says this in her article:} ‘So much focus has been on Tarantino’s treatment of the slave experience, little mention has been made of his razor-sharp depiction of their white overseers. Ignorant, illiterate and incestuous, his disdain for them is palpable. They are depicted as the worst sort of scum — as cowards with no discernible skills or merit…’ {
      When one person commented that many / most US ‘Founding-Fathers’ were in-fact slave-owners, Ms Savali’s legalese fall-back position was- she said slave overseers not owners.
      The fact is {San}Quentin on the QT’s portrayal of those who were neck-deep in the dirty BIZ of slavery- as all being a bunch of Dumb Red-necks & Hicks from ‘Ole Dixie-land’- tends to perpetuate another convenient white ‘liberal’ MYTH RE slavery, Jim-Crow & systemic racism!
      Fact: Out of the 56 so-called ‘Founding-Fathers’ who signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776- at-least 18 [= 1/3rd] were slave owners. Of the 7 most influential ones, 5 were slave owners [IE: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, John Jay & even Ole Ben Franklin himself- FYI: Jay & Franklin were northern slave-owners from NY & Penn State]. NYC did BIG BIZ RE ports for slave-ships & Wall St got Filthy-Rich from doing BIG BIZ- financing slavery in the US!
      FYI: Out of the First 18 US Pres- 12 WERE SLAVE-OWNERS. Of the 14 US Pres between Ole slave-owning George Washington [FYI: the WH & DC were NOT built during his regime- the US capitol instead was in Philly] & Abe Lincoln- 12 of them had slaves working in the White House- which was built by slaves, as was much of DC [FYI: the ‘over-seer’ of the slaves who placed the dome on the capital bldg was Jefferson Davis- before becoming Ole Dixie’s Traitorous Confederate Rebel Pres]: the 2 exceptions were Quakers John Adams Sr & Jr.
      And it turns out that probably the US’ biggest slave-trading family was a prominent New-England Family [See the documentary ‘Traces Of The {slave}Trade, A Story {of a slave-trading family} From The Deep-North’ – PS: Sojourner Truth’s ex-slave master was from New Amsterdam aka New York]. FYI: All of the original 13 US states were slave states, its just that the northern states voluntarily phased it out over time. Never-the-Less the US Gov’t’s Fugitive Slave Law made it necessary that the Under-Ground Rail-Road had to end in Canada [‘Stop Talking About the South, It Ain’t Just the South… If You’re South of the Canadian Border, You’re in the South!’ – Malcolm X].

      So Ms Savali’s above statement proves Dr Jared Ball’s point that Jamie Foxx’s ‘Django’ is ‘so-called ‘unchained’ [by the white German Dude] to only be allowed to kill a bunch of cartoonish low-life poor white trash type guys & the HNIC Uncle-Tom House-Negro [Sam Jack]. But the true top-dog villain that represents the real power of Ole Dixie-land IE: DiCaprio’s Candie- QT decided could only be killed off by the white German Dude- [Shultz- who by the way got the Oscar nomination- NOT Jamie Foxx!]- NOT by Jamie Foxx’s ‘Django’!!!

  6. QT loves exporting the cultural capital of African-Americans for his own benefit. I am opposed to any european writing any script that highlights slavery as a back drop or any other subject that explores our own unique culture. If QT had taken the time of hiring an african-american academician to research and write the back story on slavery, I probably would have been more supportive of this project. Also, notice how all of the main europeans connected with this film received nominations for best supporting actors, and best screen play. None of the african-americans were nominated that are in the film. QT wrote the better roles for the 2 european actors in the film. We will never witness a film being made using the Holocaust as a back drop for any film. We have to respect ourselves and our ancestors who struggled and died for us to have a better life. SANKOFA!

  7. FVCK this cracker, y’all are spending too much time, on this bullshyt, while these cracker supremacist teens are burning down Black entertainment centers (churches), getting ready to blow up Black students at Alabama State (where they once didn’t want Blacks to attend), and cracker supervisors are shooting their young Black men in the head, who once worked for them!!!

    I ain’t never seen a bunch of negroids, who will cut your throat, if you say something negative about O’Drama, or talk about this cracker’s fvcked up film!!!

    QUIT BEING SLAVES!!!

  8. The word “ni**er” was used correctly which really is irrelevant. And it was a “spoof” wasn’t it of slavery? Spoof meaning a hoax, a joke, or deception. Forget the word Nigger! Let’s elucidate on some of the covert racism in the movie like why was Fox wearing that loud blue suit; why did the movies have Samuel Jackson speaking part larger than Fox and Washington put together; and worst why was Jackson made darker for his character. Why did we not see the face of the white women when Fox killed her? She was “Miss Ann” and enjoying being white in the film?
    Those were the visceral and seminal things we should have picked up on. It was a “spoof” of one of the most trying times of our existence–it was our Maafa or ‘Great Suffering’ and for the mindlessness of our people at this disrespect -it is truly awful.

  9. Let me add that I wasn’t foolish enough to spend a dime on this film, I saw it ‘alternatively’. Nobody insult me and gets my money!

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