Thursday, January 31, 2013

Better Be Good! Black History Mumf 2013 is Here!

by Odienator

I vowed that last year’s Black History Mumf would be my last, but it was so protracted that I had to come back this year to make amends. Every time I got momentum in 2012, somebody would die. Don Cornelius, Whitney Houston, Elmo. Well, Elmo didn’t die, he just got a personality transplant. Nevertheless, I wrote about him, thereby cursing the poor red Muppet. I also wrote about Don King, but so far as I know, he and his Buckwheat-inspired ‘do is still around.

This year, I hope to be both more lucky and more prolific. This is my second year as proprietor of Big Media Vandalism, so I’ve got to do this site right. This is my sixth Opening Shot, which is the piece that sets the stage for what is to follow. I’ve said some crazy shit in these pieces, some of it crazier than anything I’ve said in the pieces that have followed. Let’s see if I can exercise some restraint in 2013…

President Obama keeps costing me money.

And no, I don’t mean in taxes or “ObamaCare.” I’m talking about with the bookie. Because I keep betting against Barry O, and twice he has almost gotten my kneecaps broken. I fondly recall Wesley Snipes’ famous line in Passenger 57—“always bet on Black,” but you see where that got him. My cynicism, both about Snipes’ ghetto luck and American attitudes toward race, clouded my judgment about anything Nino Brown advised. “Always bet on Black” worked for Passenger 57, but I didn’t think it would work for President 44.

The first time I violated Wesley’s advice, I ran a retraction in 2009’s Opening Shot. You could forgive me for calling that election wrong. We were in unchartered territory, but the gambler in me should have realized that lightning can strike anywhere, even in the direction of a Black History far more important than my microcosmic world here at Big Media Vandalism. Further clouding my judgment was the American public’s desire to elect someone “just like them.” Most Americans weren’t prisoners of war, senators from Delaware or Harvard Law graduates. More Americans were closer, in mindset, temperament and action, to You Betcha Lady. A stint doing I.T. technical support will prove this to you.

At the casino, good gamblers bet with their heads, not their hearts. When it comes to matters not controlled by logic nor the Mob, the inverse is the wiser decision. I read too much logic into the situation, downplaying just how fast my heart beat when Senator Obama unleashed his Barry White sexy rhetoric on me. It seemed to work on a lot of people, folks who swooned so much that the Other Side started calling him the Messiah. (“See, told y’all Jesus was Black!” yells the ghost of the old Black Nana who haunts this website.) People swoon now, I thought, but they won’t have that sexy speechmaking on full blast at the polling place. In the privacy of that curtain, America will vote for the hot, winking lady and the crotchety old man.

So, I bet money against Obama in 2008, and I lost.

"Make that shit out to CASH, Odie"

Cut to 4 years later. President Obama had, depending on whom you asked, either made history or run the country into the ground by putting everybody (except me, apparently) on food stamps and WiC checks. Even if you were somewhere in the middle of this belief spectrum, you  weren’t going to fall for the game Obama ran in 2008. That Billy Dee shit was not gonna work on you this time. His first term was like that guy you met, who looked oh-so-chocolatey good, said all the right things, bought you all the right flowers and trinkets, wooed you right out of your panties, then presented you with some strictly menza-menza dick. 

 “He cute and all,” said the American public, “but I wonder what else is out there.”

Everything was going as the Other Side had hoped, but they couldn’t get their shit together. The gambler in me saw this, but I figured by this time, our Literally First Black President wasn’t going to win no matter what he did. I’m known for saying “I’ll try anything once, within reason.” My cynical head looked at the election as just that, a Larry Graham-worthy One In a Million Chance of a Lifetime. My sentimental heart beat otherwise, beaming with pride for an America that had finally come together in sweet racial harmony.

Of course, that shit lasted about 30 seconds:

"Post-racial America is bullshit dreamed up by a marketing department that should be executed with extreme prejudice. Who decided I didn’t want to be Black anymore? Give me their address so I can go kick the shit out of them. It’s not like I can forget anyway. Even if I didn’t have a mirror, Fox News pundits and the right-wing fringe groups won’t let me forget." -Yours Truly, The Opening Shot, 2010

Anyway, my heart returned to sentimentality, and figured that a second term for Obama would prove the first was not a fluke. My cynical head also believed that, and immediately bet against Mr. Michelle. Because if we could elect a Black president twice, anybody could be President. The floodgates would open! We could next have as President a woman, a Jew, a Hispanic, a homosexual or, heavens to Mergatroyd, an atheist! (OK, scratch that last one.) I thought “This must scare the everlasting gobstopper shit out of the Establishment! They’ll never let THAT happen.”

"The Jew is using the Black as muscle against you, and you are left there helpless? Well, what are you gonna do about it, Whitey?" -Illinois Nazis, The Blues Brothers

I called the bookie to bet MORE money against Obama.

For a hot minute, things got interesting. The prospect of two Black men in the race for President instilled all manner of crazy thoughts in my head. I imagined Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper staring at a blank, colorless US map on election night:

“Did any of you motherfuckers vote?” asks Wolf incredulously. 

John King would be banging his head into a wall while Candy Crowley danced the Charleston. Anderson Cooper would just stare into the camera with come-hither eyes. 

"You know you want this."

Flipping the dial, I’d discover that MSNBC had become a test pattern, and Fox News merged with BET. “For the first time since the forming of the country, the United States has elected no one as President,” says the BBC in their snooty accent. “Nyaah, you traitorous bitches!”

Alas, Obama’s presidency wasn’t the only thing with menza-menza dick problems, so my doomsday scenario went South.  Instead we got Al Green and Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls against Scrooge McDuck and Ayn Rand McNally. That last guy was to the GOP what Clinton was to the Dems, and the Dems themselves didn’t seem to be passionate about coming out to vote. So I emptied out my rapidly diminishing 401(k) and bet it all on Scrooge McDuck. I was betting with my head, not my heart.

On election night, Obama beat my ass and took my lunch money.

"Bitch, haven't we been here before?"

You know who lost a lot more money for gambling with their heads and not their hearts? The Grand Old Party. I at least have the courage to blame my dumb ghetto ass for my mistakes. Come to think of it, so did the GOP! They blamed my, and many many other, dumb ghetto asses for their loss. Forget about the shit they said about women, self-deporting Latinos (I imagined George Lopez on the border with a catapult going “NEXT!”), and gay men who needed Jesus in their hearts. Forget about trying to suppress shiftless niggas who might commit "voter fraud." Nobody was listening to any of that stuff! After Karl Rove pulled a “Mortimer Duke at the end of Trading Places” on Fox News (“turn those machines back on!!” screamed Don Ameche), pundits came on to tell us that Obama won because suddenly America was filled with brown people “who wanted something.”

If I were White, I’d be offended by that statement. Because if you’re on this Earth and you don’t want anything, you’re an idiot. Even more idiotic is the concept that, overnight, America was struck by rampant Watermelon Man disease and turned uber-needy and brown. If I were White, I’d be pissed about that shit too. “Why didn’t I turn brown if everybody else did?” I’d demand.

Oh wait...never mind!

The GOP bet with its head, not its heart. And just as he did with redbone yours truly, Obama beat their ass and took their lunch money. I can’t lose any more money on Obama—he can’t run again—but the GOP can certainly lose more money unless they start thinking differently.

There will always be more women, more brown people, more minorities, more gays and more immigrants of every stripe. They're always going to be turning 18. And they all have a right to be treated nicely by any party that wants to win an election. Because Bulworth was right: We are fucking each other and we’re all gonna become the same color in the US. That color’s going to be brown, folks. You can’t escape it. We’re taking over.

I think THIS is what Obama was talking about when he mentioned The Audacity of Hope

 "Hmmm...could be!"

So here we are. President Obama starts his second term, and since it is eventually a lame duck one, I am hoping he’ll finally drop the Lando Calrissian and bring out the Dolemite. It’s a safe bet he won’t do it, so you can call your bookie and drop some dough if you desire. A surer bet, however, would be to follow Wesley’s advice and bet on black, specifically THIS Black. Black History Mumf is once again in full effect (for the SIXTH time!), and this time I’m not going to promise a piece every day. The writing gods of fate don’t like that; when I’ve done it, I’ve been stricken with pneumonia and busted knees and family problems and work aggravations. So instead, I’ll just tweet the shit out of each piece so you know when I’m on duty. As always, I warn that this is not a scholarly conversation. I cuss. I will probably offend you and not give a fuck. And though I am no Quentin Tarantino, I’ve been known to say nigger once or twice here, but always in the context it deserves.

Once again, I’ll take you through the Black cinematic places that have shaped me and continue to do so. The Mumf is for everybody, though if you (like me) kept fidgeting with a comb every time you saw that Hushpuppy girl in Beasts of the Southern Wild, you might get a little more out of this series than others. No matter. The Mumf is for everybody, and if you're new to the show, I have 100+ instances of what you're in for during your stay. As I’ve said 5 prior times:

Creep with me through my neighborhood.

 "You know, that Odie boy need his ass beat."

Friday, January 25, 2013


by Steven Boone

Every February since 2008, Odie "Odienator" Henderson has written a full-length pop culture essay for each day of Black History Month.

I forget where I first heard the legend of the lady who died from laughing at Richard Pryor’s movie WHICH WAY IS UP?, but that tall tale accounts for why I greet each new installment of Odie's BLACK HISTORY MUMF with some apprehension:  They  almost killed me, five years in a row.

Those readers already familiar with BLACK HISTORY MUMF’s creator know about his lethal comic potential.  I was first warned about the man via a Ross Reudiger blog post entitled Da Lawd Gets da Beatdown, which simply recalled something Odie had written (in the comments section at our old hangout, The House Next Door) about the film The Passion of the Christ:
Thanks for bringing up Da Lawd Gets Da Beat Down, I mean The Passion of the Christ. Forgive me for this brief story about the day I went to see it. I was standing in line outside the theater doors. People started coming out of the theater, or rather, they were stumbling out as if they'd been hit by a bus. Little kids were coming out with wet, red faces and the kind of bloodshot eyes reserved for the singer in the song Lush Life.

The first "normal" looking person to exit the theater was this heavy-set, older Black woman. She reminded me of the women who frequented the church I used to go to when I was growing up. I knew her type well, as some members of my family are just like her. She had a cherubic face, and she smiled at me, which put me at ease. She seemed so poised in a church lady kind of way. As she passed me, she touched my arm. I said "yes, ma'am?" And she looked me in the eye and said, as seriously as a heart attack, "Child, I mean they WHUPPED...HIS... ASS!"

That was almost seven years ago. I was eating something when I read that last line, and, for all I know, bits of it are still lodged in my windpipe.

Since then, Odie has become my bruva frum anuva muva, the Stripe to my Gizmo, the Meth to my Red (or, for you young fools, the French Montana to my Chinx Drugz). My Gmail archives contain at least 300 pages of original Odie comedy in the form of radio skits, musical numbers, short screenplays, outrageous true stories (the greatest of these being the THE BIG TITTY DENTAL ASSISTANT and THE DICK-CRAZY DEAF CHICK), fake news reports, fake letters to God from The Color Purple's Celie, death threats from the likes of Ike Turner, Diana Ross and Big Percy, speeches by Odiebama (Obama’s testosterone-infused alter-ego, a recurring character onBig Media Vandalism),  X-rated rap lyrics and action-packed travel writing.
You don't wanna know what he asked Princess Aurora.
But those of us privileged to receive these Odie emails have no cause to gloat.  Anybody who visits BIG MEDIA VANDALISM can read close to 130 BLACK HISTORY MUMF pieces, plus at least as many other articles Odie has penned here since joining the blog in 2007.

In 2011, he became this blog’s E.I.C./H.N.I.C., giving  his growing cult of followers a place to nearly-die-laughing on a regular basis,  alongside his personal blog, TALES OF ODIENARY MADNESS.

BLACK HISTORY MUMF VI will be the deadliest yet. Odie may have gone on to become a bigtime cinema lecturer and film writer for venues like, but he has yet to pull one punch. I don’t want to spoil anything, but what Odie’s got cooking this time around already gave me sore ribs. What all the laughter tends to conceal, though, is the abundance of insight, historical scholarship, political passion and plain brilliant writing you’ll have digested by February 28. That sneaky muffuh.

^ Not Odie. For new jacks, here's a clue.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Unchained Melody: Two Troublemakin' Bruvas Take on Tarantino's Django Unchained

By Steven Boone and Odie Henderson

(This is a conversation between Big Media Vandalism's resident troublemakers, Steven Boone and Odie "Odienator" Henderson. It is the third in a series of "Black Man Talks." The others may be found here and here.)

(WARNING!! Do not read this if you haven't seen the film! I will personally come of out of this screen and slap the shit out of you if you bitch about spoilers. Proceed at your own risk. -Ed.)

Round 1: Odie


Time for another "Black Man Talk," and have I got a subject for you: Slavery! And not just conventional slavery, but slavery as seen through the eyes of the man who loves the word "nigger" more than Dr. Dre and David Duke, Quentin Tarantino.

When I saw you last, you'd been privy to Django Unchained, Tarantino's latest flight-of-fancy-slash-fuck y'all ode to his cinematic obsessions. You were practically jumping out of your skin to discuss it with me, but I hadn't seen it yet. How I wished at that moment a duck from in front of the Beacon Theater would drop out of the ceiling, holding a bootleg copy of Django Unchained in its beak. I could have seen exactly what you had, and this discussion would have begun earlier.

Alas, such magical powers exist only in my tattered, skewed subconscious. I had to wait until general release to partake in the heroic negritude emanating from Tarantino's equally tattered and skewed subconscious. As I had done with Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds, I saw Django Unchained in the former grindhouse capital that is Times Square. My audience wasn't as rowdy as I'd hoped, but they were clearly into it. One guy yelled out "FUCK YOU STEPHEN!!" after a particularly egregious sin was committed by Sam Jackson's character, the film's truly reprehensible house nigger.

"FUCK YOU, STEVEN!!" is probably the first thing that popped into readers' minds when they read your brilliant take on Spike Lee vs. QT over at Press Play. 'Tis a good a place to start as any in this discussion. Spike Lee has become media shorthand for "Angry Negro," and the media couldn't wait to latch onto his comments and run with them. CNN wrote that "despite Spike Lee's disapproval, Django Unchained has received rave reviews." Articles were written, pro and con, about Lee's comments and his subsequent tweet:

"American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them."

Why was all this time devoted to Shelton? If he had the power CNN assigned to him, his superb documentary Bad 25 wouldn't have been butchered and crammed up ABC's ass on Thanksgiving evening. I'm a little sick of the media turning to (and on) Spike whenever something seems racially fishy. There are far angrier Black men out there, but nobody would have asked, say, Chuck D, for his opinion, because scared White readers wouldn't know who the fuck Chuck D is. So, Lee complains and suddenly HE IS SPEAKING FOR NEGRO AMERICA even though Lee explicitly stated his opinions are his own. But I think it's comments like Lee's that prevent our history from being depicted onscreen in any fashion. Last thing anybody wants to do is be considered disrespectful or a racist.

Slavery for us is like the Crucifixion for Christians, that is, a topic that is held in such regard that it can't be examined in any thematically controversial way. We need to see things like Django Unchained and other interpretations and responses. We deserve and demand to see them. We don't, however, because Black folks are too scared to confront these images and White folks are either too scared (for different reasons) or fear it won't make any money. Black filmmakers will feel visual guilt; White filmmakers will be accused of liberal guilt.
For years, I hoped Lee, or any Black director for that matter, would turn his or her attention to giving us a slavery based movie from a literally Black point of view. Our backstories are rich and endlessly dramatic. Yet how many Black directors have even been CLOSE to making an epic movie about slavery? We've seen our perspective in books (Toni Morrison's Beloved), and on stage (August Wilson's The Piano Lesson, for example), and on TV (Roots), but we've not really seen this perspective on film. Lee could get it done. I would have loved to have seen Spike Lee's Beloved, or his take on Nat Turner. Especially his take on Nat Turner! But no, I just get complaints.

Granted, with slavery epics buoyed by both Oprah and Spielberg failing to make paper, the financing wasn't there in Hollywood. But why not a low-budget indie? You don't need $100 million worth of CGI, because aliens don't run plantations. Get a kick-ass script, find a field down South, get some ashy muthafuckas with raggedy clothes on, some sinister looking White people, and voila! There are stories to be told out there, and with a lived-in funkiness to them, not the stifling beatification that can only serve to mar creativity.

After Inglorious Basterds, I said "I bet nobody would try that shit with slavery." And here we are, with Django Unchained, which I consider a ballsy move on Tarantino's part. He knew the kind of backlash he could face, and like all crazy ass people, he didn't let it hinder the need to satiate his compulsions. It's not just an homage to spaghetti Westerns, it also tips its hat to the many prior Black movies that dared put a bruva on a horse and give him a gun, from Poitier's Buck and the Preacher to Margheriti's Take a Hard Ride to the numerous lousy vanity vehicles Fred Williamson crafted for himself in Blaxploitation days. This wasn't our first time to the rodeo; in fact, we invented some of that rodeo shit.

So, we have a vehicle that puts a Black man in a position of vengeance, gives him guns and has him shoot up plantations owners and other racists left and right, with maximum carnage splattered all over the screen. Underneath that lay some truly disturbing material that shook me to my core if only for how easily I could draw parallels to what's happening today. But from a purely basic instinct, like the Blaxploitation flicks of our youth, Django Unchained provided me with a sense of fantasy empowerment; after listening to months and months of shit about Obama and poor people, Jamie Foxx shooting racists made my dick hard.

So why the hell are folks losing their damn minds about this movie? Let's discuss the many ways it stuck with us, for better and worse.

Round 2: Boone

You ask why folks are lavishing so much attention on Mr. Lee? I think because we all know Django Unchained is the kind of film we'd love to see him make, something bold, angry, vulgar, tender, musical and sublime about American Slavery. You're dead-on about a Nat Turner Spike Lee Joint. Now that Tarantino has used his clout to initiate a historical subgenre that should have gotten going at least as early as Buck and the Preacher, Spike should tackle his own antebellum epic. Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman--so many of those proud ancestors that Mr. Lee invoked are waiting patiently for beautiful films that honor them. The best way to honor them is not with tasteful, funereal reverence but some real attempt to measure the dimensions of the stretch of history they occupied. The units of measure are various; whether the storyteller's measuring tape skews moral, spiritual, political, anthropological, patriotic or mythic, the richness of the fabric always depends upon his regard for people as people. I might have shown a little more love to Spike in my piece, given the beautiful moments of compassion and insight scattered throughout his filmography, but I maintain that QT, for all his love of trash and gore, expresses a more consistently generous and soulful sensibility


(I'm sorry, I just can't stop reliving that moment. The way Leo DiCap was half-turned to the two brothers destroying each other, like he was shouting down at a heated Parcheesi match.)

Odie sez:
"Get a kick-ass script, find a field down South, get some ashy muthafuckas with raggedy clothes on, some sinister looking White people, and voila! There are stories to be told out there, and with a lived-in funkiness to them, not the stifling beatification that can only serve to mar creativity."

Now, you see there? [said in a Bill Duke-in-Menace II Society voice] You see what you done did there? You just articulated Big Media Vandalism's reason for being, Any young filmmaker growing up in the kind of hoods we grew up in should browse this site and find in your essays reasons to push forward with their dreams, money and connections be damned. Is Django Unchained destined to be the greatest American slavery epic for all time? Hell no, not even close. QT has said it himself, that he is just throwing the first rock through the window. I promise you, some kids in Atlanta, Detroit, Gary, Watts or, shit, Honolulu will astonish us all with their artful filmic interpretation of American history, made with Best Buy equipment.

And Spike has made self-effacing comments similar to QT's in the past, saying that he's more of a pioneer in so-called black cinema rather than a Mozart or Coltrane-level virtuoso. But that shouldn't stop him from continuing to challenge and provoke with his best weapon--and it ain't Twitter.

Anyhow, what are some of your favorite moments in Django, nigga? You told me you love it. That's a bold statement from a man with such high standards. At what point in this movie did you realize you were in love?

Round 3: Odie

Last night, I dreamed a dream--no, not like Anne Hathaway! I would NEVER let a camera get that close to my face--my dream was of some young bruva emerging from the ether, a tripod-clad video camera slung across his shoulder like John Henry's hammer. "My brother," he said to me, "the drought is over." He sat me down, flipped the viewer of his camera my direction, and pressed play. I don't remember exactly what he showed me, but I do remember the feeling I had when it was over: I was jumping up and down, applauding wildly. This was the cinematic statement on my ancestors for which I'd been hoping. I woke up with a smile on my face.

It's nice to dream.

Well, maybe not.

Django Unchained isn't my dream scenario's epic statement, but it is the loud noise atop the snow-covered mountain, the sound that will hopefully cause the avalanche. You asked for my falling-in-love moment, and I've many to choose from, but I'll go with QT's placement of Jim Croce's I Got A Name. It's both blatantly obvious and surprisingly touching. Django is surprised King Schultz would allow him to pick out his clothing ("and you chose THAT?" asks the slave girl giving Django the tour of Big Daddy's Bennett Manor estate), and put him atop a horse of his own. Croce's lyrics resonate in ways I hadn't given thought to despite my familiarity with the song. As subtly as Tarantino can muster, he presents the gift of humanity to a former piece of property. I daresay I was profoundly moved.

That's the polite Negro in me speaking; the hoodrat would go with the moment Django opens fire on the Brittle brothers. "SHOOT THOSE FUCKERS!" I heard my inner voice yell. You can take this boy out of Blaxploitaion, but you can't take the Blaxploitation out of this boy.

Boone sez:

"And Spike has made self-effacing comments similar to QT's in the past, saying that he's more of a pioneer in so-called black cinema rather than a Mozart or Coltrane-level virtuoso. But that shouldn't stop him from continuing to challenge and provoke with his best weapon--and it ain't Twitter."

Lee's most profound moment for me is an image in one of his forgotten earlier films. I loved Reggie Bythewood's Get on the Bus, which explored several different types of Black men en route to the Million Man March. Two of the characters, a father and son, are shackled together, if I recall correctly, because the son is under some form of house arrest. Lee's last shot is of those shackles, broken and cast aside. Tarantino does not have  an image that loaded and coded in Django Unchained, and I don't think it's his intention to do so. Both men are provocateurs, but Lee's artistic provocations often stem from unpopular, uncomfortable viewpoints. Mainstream viewers are challenged, even in Lee's worst offenses like She Hate Me, by a (figurative and literal) minority opinion.

Django Unchained attempts to mine those unpopular opinions a bit, because as your Texas-published textbook and GOP politicians will tell you, slavery wasn't that bad. And as a certain blonde Republican correspondent's book will tell you, racism is over, so there's no need to



Unlike the Nazism QT's heroes combat in Inglorious Basterds, slavery makes America the villain. The American way of life at the time is the bad guy here, and this creates a discomfort that I've seen reflected in several reviews: "Where's the morality in Django?" I acknowledge that Inglorious Basterds adds a morally ambiguous layer to its heroes, whereas Django Unchained is more a product of QT's love of Blaxploitation and the Sweet Sweetback notion of a "baadasssss nigger comin' back to collect some dues." Why is that wrong?

Yet, Tarantino knows that, as a White man, he processes his rage against the institution of slavery differently than Blacks. I can make this statement based on the mini-arc he crafts for Dr. King Schultz. When Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie authorizes his lackeys to turn the dogs loose on his runaway slave, Waltz's Schultz is clearly shaken. Foxx's Django remains unsurprised, and even somewhat complicit. The latter I'll talk about next time, when I pitch the art of slave role-playing as a side hustle. The former is made explicit in dialogue: "Your man looks a little green," Candie says to Django. "He ain't never seen a man torn to pieces before," Django responds. Later, it is Schultz who has the flashback to that horrible sequence, and the fact that it's so new to him contributes to his fate. Django is also angry, but like most Black folks, that anger is both stoked and tempered by a sad familiariity, a "been there, seen that" stoicism stitched into our DNA by the experiences of both our ancestors and our contemporaries. (Think about how you feel when you hear about police shootings et al.) Touches like this are what haunts me about Django Unchained.

What also haunts me is how much DiCaprio's major speech sounds like the shit we heard on Fox News during this election cycle, and especially after Obama won the election. "Oh, he won because brown folks wanted something." I'll come back to that, too.

I want to close out with something else that made me love this movie: The way people reacted to seeing something as commonplace nowadays as a Black man on a horse. Everybody, both White and Black, react as if Django rode into town butt naked and under a White woman. "Who's this nigga up dere on dat nag?!!" Sam Jackson's Stephen asks in one of his first lines of dialogue. These reactions, and the scenes with the Klan, have led reviewers to compare Django Unchained to Blazing Saddles. That's a fucking lazy observation, because in Blazing Saddles, Black Bart rides into town with an empowering sheriff's star, and THAT'S what the "God-fearing citizens of Rock Ridge" are reacting to, not to him being on a horse. Django has no observable, nor symbolic powers.

Sam Jackson and Christoph Waltz were born to speak QT's dialogue--both are excellent here--and I want to get your take on both of their roles. Also, you said to me "this film won't leave me alone." Expand on that, my brother.

Next time, I want to talk a bit about Tarantino's directorial influence, Sergio Corbucci, and his film The Great Silence.

Round 4: Boone

This movie won't leave me alone because I, too, fell in love with it. The first swoon was during the scene where King and Django have a teachable moment over beers in a saloon while waiting for a Sheriff to come arrest them. That sequence is the essence of what a lot of Tarantino detractors deny exists: his restraint. The hilarity of that series of negotiations and killings is all about rhythm, pace and QT's delight in his stylized characters. It's also the first scene to establish Schultz's M.O. of exploiting his own whiteness to the fullest. He uses his race and refinement like a CIA asset whose swarthy complexion and command of Arabic lets him move freely through the Muslim and Arab world. The fact that Schultz's ruse ultimately serves to turn a slave into an avenging outlaw is fucking thrilling to my black eyes.

This is like that beer summit Obama engineered between Henry Gates and that cop...

The second swoon was the entire sequence at Big Daddy's plantation, Bennett Manor aka Miscegeny Heaven. This is just one of the funniest, most exciting pieces of film I have ever seen. If I had to be a cotton-pickin slave, I'd prefer Don Johnson's farm over DiCaprio's Candieland, since it most resembles the world we live in, where folks can live pretty harmoniously so long as there's ample distraction from routine cruelty and injustice. From Hal Ashby to Aaron MacGruder, I can't think of too many exchanges of comic dialogue between races as mercilessly true as the one between Big Daddy and Bettina about how to treat Django. Oh, the many times in my life I have been treated "like Jerry."

The Jim Croce montage that affected you was maybe the fourth or fifth swoon for me, but it struck me only on a second viewing. It's always nice and sweet to see effortless brotherhood between black and white set to music. I think this one has more sincerity and replay value than any of Paul McCartney's 80's negro collabos, despite being just as ridiculously on-the-nose.

Odie sez:

"Yet, Tarantino knows that, as a White man, he processes his rage against the institution of slavery differently than Blacks. I can make this statement based on the mini-arc he crafts for Dr. King Schultz."

Agreed. The schism of perception between Django and ultra-cultivated European Schultz reminds me of hood rat Diana Sands' line to blueblood Beau Bridges in The Landlord about "growing up casual." Yet we see, just by the way QT lingers on Foxx's face when the atrocities are happening, that Django is only playing the ice cold role expected of him. His conscience and morality bleed just like Schultz's. It's too bad that he didn't get at least one traumatized flashback related to somebody who wasn't him or his wife. What a lot of terribly ignorant, hostile people out there need to see are more images of black men experiencing what in American film history has largely been a white phenomenon: compassion. (That's why can't nobody say nothing bad bout The Color Purple to me. Danny Glover's Mister is a glowering black villain for much of it, sure. But the hints at his torment along the way, and the shot of him watching Celie and Nettie's reunion at the end showed more of a fully human arc than 99% of Magical/Villainous/Utilitarian Negro roles offered by white filmmakers.)

Django on a horse: That ain't nothing but a Black Man in a Cadillac, a searing eyesore for a certain segment of this society, even today.

Tell me some stuff about Corbucci and that snowy flick he made that Django UC seems to be so smitten with. Influences? So many, from everywhere. At one point Django looked like Sammy Davis Jr. in his episode of The Rifleman.

QT is one of us. By "us" I mean, of course, an obsessive film critic.

Round 5: Odie

I too love the "like Jerry" dialogue. It plays as such a great "in the know" moment, like the one in Jackie Brown where Sam Jackson is surprised to find Robert Forster likes The Delfonics. I was surprised at the laser accuracy of Big Daddy's comparison. Wow, I thought, QT knows about this? As I said in my Song of the South piece, these rich ass landowners had both race AND class problems. The only reason that poor, redneck cracka Jerry isn't picking cotton for Big Daddy is that Jerry's not Black. He exists in some kind of classist limbo--too good to be a Nigra but not good enough for much else. The same holds true today; I truly believe that if working class Whites realized that "redneck" is the same as "ghetto," that is, to the rich politicians who use race to scare them into voting, they're just as broke and niggerish as we are, there would be a true class revolution in this country. A Tale of Two Cities would have nothing on the moment poor Blacks and Whites tuned out the noise and found this common bond. Bill O'Reilly can get all Calvin Candie with his "brown people want something" speech subbing for Candie's "Nigras are built for servitude" monologue, but his viewers are only going to believe that shit for so long.

Regarding Corbucci:

The title Django Unchained pays tribute to the numerous "sequels" to Sergio Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti western, movies with titles like "Django Kill!" But I saw more influence from Corbucci's masterful 1968 classic, The Great Silence. Corbucci's movies are amoral affairs, bleak as hell and equally as violent. Django Unchained's blood-spattered cotton has an older brother in the blood-stained snowy landscape of Silence's Utah setting. Silence also has a plot dealing with Black vengeance, here embodied by Vonetta McGee's hire of the mute outlaw Jean-Louis Trintignant. Trintignant's job is to kill the man who shot McGee's husband. Klaus Kinski is the target of McGee's revenge, and you know NOTHING good comes from irritating Klaus Kinski. The hired gunslinger cares not what color McGee or her husband is, despite the fact it's 1899. Kinski didn't either; he gunned him down for the money.

Silence is notorious for its downer ending, which is truly stunning and shocking. Tarantino decides to go a different route, one that our mutual friend Kevin B. Lee and I discussed in a recent chat. Lee thought QT let viewers off the hook by drawing his lines of good and evil too broadly. I countered that two scenes could be used to dispute this:

1. The aforementioned dog-attack scene, where Foxx's Django, in playing his role, basically signs the runaway slave's death certificate. There's both a Corbucci-esque amoral coldness to that scene, and it adds some complexity to Django's character. We know he's playing a role to save his ass, much like Jackson's house nigger, Stephen. In that moment, Stephen and Django have something in common--survival at any costs. Stephen is far more reprehensible, as he's in a position of power of sorts by having Massa's ear, but his actions, like Django's, serve selfish purposes. For Django, it's to save Broomhilda; for Stephen it's the old Simon and Garfunkel line: I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. After witnessing the dog scene, I thought of Sam Fuller's White Dog, where Paul Winfield hides a murder for the selfish reason he believes he can change White Dog's racist conditioning.

2. I thought it clever that the last showdown in Django Unchained is between Stephen and Django. Stephen is suspicious of Django from the get-go, and to save his ass, he rats Django out. Django's revenge segues into the film's explosive "happy ending," but Jackson's last lines of dialogue lend our catharsis a troubling uncertainty. Our heroes ride off into the sunset, but what awaits them at the dawn? "They'll hunt you down!" Stephen yells, and I'm sure they will. So I don't think we're let off the hook. This is just a momentary moment of joy for the reunited couple. It lacks the explicitness of The Great Silence's downbeat ending, but under the surface it doesn't promise a happily ever after in any regard.

Since I'm dragging our mutual friends into this conversation, I'll mention Bilge Ebiri's tweet from December 30th:

"Would King Schultz in DJANGO UNCHAINED count as a Magical Whitey?"

Boone Sez:

"The fact that Schultz's ruse ultimately serves to turn a slave into an avenging outlaw is fucking thrilling to my black eyes."

So I guess the answer is yes! I love King Schultz because of his use of language as a tool of empowerment. English is his second language, yet he speaks it better than anybody he encounters. More than once, a White person asks him what the fuck he's talking about. Schultz uses his SAT words in as vengeful a way as he uses his guns. In both instances, the targets don't know what hit them. Broomhilda's German fluency is Tarantino's not so subtle way of linking her to his brilliant stand-in (I think QT sees himself as Schultz). He's saying "see! We can speak the same language, therefore we're not so different." The German bond is also yet another way for Django Unchained to use language as a weapon to bludgeon the ignorant. Nobody else at Candieland knows what those two are chattering about, but I like the fact that only Stephen is concerned. Unlike his Massa, he knows that Black folks can be conniving and crafty. The thought never crosses these racist asshole's minds, from Candie on down to Purlie Victorious' Cap'n Cotchipee.

To close out, thank you for bringing up colored compassion in Hollywood cinema, and more specifically, The Color Purple. I too roll my eyes and say "fuck you" to anybody who comes at me with the standard issue criticism of that movie. It's our true epic, such a rich emotional cinematic experience that I can forgive any and all of its sins. Spielberg allows Glover to play those conflicted notes, just as Tarantino trusts Foxx enough to signal his feelings to the audience. Unlike most Spaghetti Western heroes, there is something going on behind Django's steely mask, which is more than can be said for any Negro in a Black and White buddy movie. Except Running Scared, of course.

You get the last word, my brother!

Round 6: Boone

I read the ending of Django Unchained the same way I read the last shot of Taxi Driver (another film referenced here, not just for the gun-up-the-sleeve contraption), as a possible delusion of the doomed protagonist. Everything that happens after Django's final killing spree has the quality of a revenge dream. I almost expected him to wake up still hanging upside down in the barn, the way Mr. Tuttle found himself still bound in a torture chamber after his escape fantasy in the movie Brazil. The plantation explosion happens so Looney Tunes-style close to Django, and Broomhilda's reaction is that of a winning game show contestant, not a 19th Century slave who has spent her life being raped and tortured. It's a demented kind of happiness that reminded me of Andre 3000's green casket sitting in the middle of his teenybopper-giddy "Hey Ya!" video (to carry a Wesley Morris observation that much further). Whatever Tarantino's feeling about this ending, it chilled my blood worse than anything in Ken Burns's The Central Park Five.

Sticking to the supposition that what happens after Django's killing spree is pure hallucination and/or Tony Kushner-style theater, I'll say that Stephen's speech to upside-down Django is a theatrically lit "Message to the Black Man in America." Instead of Elijah Muhammad delivering it, the ultimate Uncle Tom tells us, by implication, what young black men like Django are to expect from their new homeland for the next 154 years. Damn. Notice how he looks straight into the camera during this monologue, eyes wider and sadder than you'd expect of this venal sellout. My friend  Soledad Socorro went further, telling me that Stephen's describing a lifetime of chopping "big rocks into little rocks" is a nod to the modern day prison industry (and maybe even the crack game!); that his phrase "everyday, all day" sounds suspiciously like the self-diminishing boast of 'hood knuckleheads everywhere. 

I gotta go watch The Great Silence with your Corbucci thoughts in mind. Juicy, juicy.

Your analysis of Django's and Stephen's motives feels right on. They are only maneuvering to save themselves, which is enough to carry the drama and establish the horrors of slavery in the context of their struggles, but it leaves us something much more beautiful and restorative to look forward to in the future of American cinema: true epics about the real men and women who did much more than just save their own asses. From abolitionists to civil rights activists, the to-do list is longer than the road to Candieland. We'll need a filmmaker with as much lust for (onscreen) life and light as Tarantino to make it pop the way it needs to pop.

But I'm afraid we'll also need a filmmaker who has actually lived in unremovable black skin to make it sing the way it needs to sing.

It would be just as much of a thrill to have a white filmmaker prove me wrong on that last point as it would be to have a black filmmaker meet the "lust for life" challenge in ways that so many technically proficient Ho'wood nigroes have proven too cynical and calculating to pull off. I hope that makes a lick of sense. I mean, so much of the product that Bankable Black Directors (BBD's (TM)) have put out since the so-called African-American New Wave makes me wonder if the Django line, "Keep fightin', niggers!" is lifted from a development exec's memo:
"Y'all want this script for Soul Plane 5: Belly's Revenge or not?"

One great thing about exchanges like ours is that we get to demonstrate how two brothers can agree or disagree without it becoming either boring (I hope)  or a Mandingo fight (you'd win). We may or may not be as tough as Django, but that's no controversial call, either way. The notion that brothers like us can hang with the wily, unpredictable intelligence of a Schultz is still outrageous, judging by the movies we get. Schultz may be Magical in Django Unchained, but in the history of Ho'wood, he's just your average white Superfly.
"I know you knows dem jimmies that wrote this piece!"