I knew there was more to it than just being a movie when, for several days between Christmas and New Years, I watched Drudge implicitly trashing “Django Unchained” on his hard-right website.
Drudge is pretty famous for portraying Black politicians, and particularly President Obama, in ways that emphasize their race in negative contexts, but this was something else. He wasn’t going after actor Jamie Foxx or filmmaker Tarantino – this was more subtle, suggesting the movie was a failure, thus discouraging people from seeing it. What could it be, I wondered for a few days, other than it being a movie with a Black hero, that would cause “Django Unchained” to draw the ire of the hard-right?
I saw the movie on Christmas day with my wife Louise and our kids in Portland, Oregon. The audience was all white. They cheered the Black guy and his wife. But was that enough to draw the enmity of the hard-right in America? Plenty of movies have African-American heroes, do really well with white audiences, and don’t get trashed by right-wing “news” websites. It had to be more…
And then it hit me. The importance of this movie wasn’t just about the horrors of slavery, or the story of a knight off to rescue his damsel in distress, or even brilliant acting and film-making.
It was a giant “fuck you” to the South.
And not just the South of 1858. It was a “fuck you” to the South of today – and all the Republican politicians from other parts of the nation, increasingly including the Midwestern states – who have adopted the divisive and race-baiting politics of the South.
From Michigan Governor Rick Snyder handing over entire largely African American communities and schools to crony “emergency managers” to loot on behalf of corporate and wealthy interests; to the Republican governors pushing Voter Suppression ID laws; to the raw, racist rhetoric by national Republican legislators that they were going to “break” President Obama, who shouted, “You lie!” during a State of the Nation speech, who proudly bragged and repeated that their first and most important job was to make sure our first African American president is a “one-term” president.
They don’t use the N-word as publicly or as frequently as their political ancestors did in 1858 (and in the movie); instead, they use phrases like “State’s Rights” (Ronald Reagan’s first speech as candidate for president, in 1980, in Philadelphia, Mississippi).
Or, when talking privately among themselves, they say things like Romney did: “There are ... people who will vote for the president no matter what ... who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. ... These are people who pay no income tax. ... and so my job is not to worry about those people.”
They follow the strategy Richard Nixon pioneered for the Republican Party, dubbing it his “Southern Strategy.”
There are two primary White characters in the movie. One, played brilliantly and brutally by Leonardo DiCaprio*, has a thick southern drawl and the worldview of those who, today, are working to suppress the Black vote. The other speaks with an accent somewhere between John Kerry and Martin Bashir, and is horribly offended by that Southern ethos. Guess which one is the movie’s center of evil?
As mentioned, there are plenty of Black primary characters in mainstream movies that draw large white audiences. And Jamie Foxx is as brilliant an actor and strong a character as you’ll ever see in any movie, regardless of genre or race.
But when you see “Django Unchained,” you’ll understand why Foxx is not just playing another Black action hero. This movie is something altogether different. It’s about a culture in the South that existed for centuries before 1858 – and is still very much alive today.
Quentin Tarantino and Jamie Foxx have delivered a clear message to the Tenthers, Birthers, Secessionists, and Supressors of today’s Republican Party, and their few high-profile African American enablers.
Whether that was Tarantino’s goal is something you’d have to ask him. But to this white movie viewer, that subtext of the movie is inescapable.
And, apparently, to Matt Drudge as well.
* Full disclosure: I have appeared in one DiCaprio movie, “The 11th Hour,” inspired by my book “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight”. In addition, he and Robert DiNiro will be starring in a major 2013 Warner Brothers motion picture based on the book “Legacy of Secrecy” that Lamar Waldron and I wrote. But I have no financial interest in or relationship to the movie “Django Unchained” other than being a viewer who thinks it’s an amazing movie that every American should see.