Monday, January 7, 2013

The "D" is Silent

Where do I even begin with this film? 

The source of much controversy, "Django Unchained" to me was an enjoyable watch. Gore has never kept me away from a film. Nor have the presence of a heavily used ethnic slur and disdain from an African American "thought leader" (read: Spike Lee). 

From my vantage point, Mr. Tarantino has succeeded time and time again by telling compelling stories that run the risk of pissing people off. (see "Inglorious Bastards", and basically every other movie that he's ever made...)

However, the only truly unique element of the Django Debate lies in the films periodic proximity to one of the most senseless acts of violence in American history: the shootings in Newtown. 

When I moved to New York over the Summer, my girlfriend and I had every intention of going to see the latest Dark Knight film. But, the tragic theater shootings in Aurora served as reason enough for us to find another activity to entertain ourselves. I'm pretty sure that we went out for drinks instead. Even with reports of increased security at movie theaters, Aurora hit close to home and impacted our behavior for a moment in time. 

As the public discourse around Aurora continued to swell, I was fascinated by reports from Hollywood noting that the star-packed film, "Gangster Squad", had been delayed due to a troubling scene in which gangsters opened fire on a crowded movie theater using automatic weapons. And the delay of the film was just the beginning. Reports also noted that the film would be re-shot and re-edited to remove the scene in its entirety! (see here)

Was this the right thing to do? Hard to say. Perhaps this approach was especially effective given the direct parallel between the film and the real world tragedy. 

But what about Django? There would be no delays in the film's release. There would be no re-shoots or re-edits to scale back the violence. Nor would there be any consideration towards scaling back usage of the N-word. Slavery was a Peculiar Institution indeed. As such, I find little significance in arguments from those troubled by the depiction of one of America's darkest hours. If you don't like the N-word or can't stomach that degree of violence, you can simply choose to not watch the film. I, for one, tend to agree with Amanda Marcotte who suggests that via "Inglorious Bastards" and "Django Unchained", Mr. Tarantino has managed to shun the commonplace depiction of Jews and African Americans as "voiceless victims." In turn, he transforms these characters into loud, vengeful protagonists for whom audiences can either comfortably, or uncomfortably, cheer for. 

But once we've gone beyond that, there still remains the issue of timing. During a defense of his work, Tarantino said the following"Would I watch a kung fu movie three days after the Sandy Hook massacre? Would I watch a kung fu movie? Maybe, because they have nothing to do with each other." His statements seem to stand in slightly in contradiction to those of the film's star, Jamie Foxx, who during an interview remarked, "we cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn't have a sort of influence. It does."

Perhaps they're both right. The reactions of the two individuals most central to this film drive home the fact that Hollywood isn't well-positioned to please all sides. Film so frequently offers commentary on American society and our undeniable obsession with violence. However, the fact remains that dollars will continue to have the loudest voice in the room. We can either use film as a platform to segue into discussions around curtailing real-world violence or we can choose to drive industry behavior via buying power. Regardless of the choice that we make, I see little value in pursuing extreme efforts to censor modern-day storytellers. 

For additional reading, check our Roger Ebert's take on Sandy Hook here. And should you wish, let me know why you chose to SEE or NOT SEE "Django Unchained." (please note that the "D" is silent)

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