*NOTE: the views expressed in this editorial belong to MIMI!! (laughs)
Everyone has seen or at least heard of the movie Django, right? As a dedication to Django, my intent of this article is to deflect any sensible argument concerning race and Hollywood with the word “nigger” at almost every possible turn. So, in my loudest and best Trinidad James impression, “NIGGA, NIGGA, NIGGA!” Maybe that use of the variation of the word “nigger” can be my attention getter? “Don’t believe me? Just watch!” By saying so, I will have thereby assisted in making this article the most perused piece of writing in all of niggadome! Do you take offense to my rationale? Well, as Uncle Ruckus would say, “Outta my way, Kunta Kente!” This article is not for you! But, for everyone else with tough skin and big balls, please stay tuned and enjoy the show!
The fact that there has been so much talk and expressed concern over Django and its content by everyone from film critics to Spike Lee means that it was bound to get some attention. Unfortunately or fortunately (depending upon your perspective), the attention has found a way to center itself around, not necessarily, the quality of the script, its actors or action-filled sequences, but rather moreso around the use of the word “nigger” and the film’s Caucasian director, Quentin Tarentino. If you’re looking for me to specifically and exclusively discuss Django itself, you’re sadly mistaken. However, what this recent film release has done is beg us to delve deeper into the issue of race in Hollywood and find out more about what racial matters are recurrent and prevalent within this small but lucrative sect of the entertainment industry.
The dreaded N-word, as it is sometimes referred to, is no stranger to Hollywood, the small screen or the music world. As massive as Hip Hop has become, this word has become more and more prevalent in usage with all races, Caucasian, African American, Latino and Asian shouting lyrics containing the word with whichever beat it has been paired with. So, why so shocked when hearing it intertwined within movie plots? Did you really believe that when the NAACP set up a symbolic burial for the N-word that it would somehow become defunct? Get real! The word “nigger” is about as American as apple pie. Is it a desirable word? No. Will it get someone knocked out? Quite possibly. But, whether you like it or not, the word will continue to remain a mainstay within American society for the remainder of its existence.
Aside from the word that everyone loves to hate, another particularly irritating issue is the concept that no film can successfully profit or even tread water while a having an African American protagonist as its lead without the aid of Captain Save-a-Negro (I.e. a Caucasian supporting co-star) closely chasing his/her tail. Seeing as how we are quite a few decades past the Civil Rights Era and have at least had a chance to dip our toes into a new millennium, this concept would seem to be one without merit. Yet and still, I cannot seem to think of one example that dispels this notion aside from the Spike Lee written, produced and directed film Malcolm X. If Mr. Tibbs is going to make us believe that he’s a worthy hero, there has to be some Police Chief Gillespie running up behind him to make it plausible. Don’t believe me? Take a look at numbers for the Spike Lee film Miracle at St. Anna or even George Lucas’ Redtails, both of which were unable to recoup their budget expenses through box office sales. For example, Miracle at St. Anna was budgeted at $45 million and grossed a meager $9.3 million (I’m actually rounding up because it didn’t even make that much) and Redtails was budgeted at $58 million and grossed just under the $50 million mark. Both movies where casted well and depicted honorable African American heroes.
In spite of that, the African American audience as a collective has proven time and time again that it is only capable of showing notable box office sales to movies that depict us in the some of the most deplorable or sinister of states. Oh what? Let me guess…u don’t believe me? Well, Training Day, which portrayed Denzel Washington as a corrupt, drug addicted, prostitute patronizing and murdering cop had the assistance of a Caucasian costar and was budgeted at $45 million. Remarkably, or rather not so surprisingly, it grossed an astounding $105 million at the box office. NIGGA, NIGGA, NIGGA!!! Among the few exceptions that I could find was The Great Debaters, which was produced by Oprah Winfrey, budgeted at $15 million and grossed $30 million. This movie depicted us in a light rarely seen, intelligent, capable and well-accomplished but turned about a scanty profit, which more than likely happened because we acted as mindless sheep and only went to see it because the Great Oprah Winfrey told us to. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s called the “Oprah effect,” more colloquially known as the Midas touch. Read about it.
Do you know what cases such as these tell me? It tells me that a lot of us out here did not care to see a movie that portrayed our likeness within the scope of positivity. No! We would rather see the perpetually perpetrated imaging of ourselves as continual fuck ups that only have the potential of landing either only in jail or the grave, unless we have a sport to save us or a Caucasian person to do so. In reality, we may receive the kindness of assistance from anyone of any race. For truly, it is the unique and most amazing aspect of the human spirit that selflessly binds an individual to another to aid that person without regard to any prospective reward. That is what determines how caring and helpful one can be and it is that spirit that is completely colorblind. So, do not even consider that I am saying anything against anyone of another race.
My overall point in bringing this up is the lack of personal desire amongst African Americans wanting to see and support positive images of ourselves on the silver screen. While in complete contradiction to that, we will with the most fervent motivation race to see a light ‘em up, shoot ‘em up screenplay centered around the urban environment of [insert your preferred major city here] with a lead who has only his nine and/or his jump shot to save him and a Caucasian cop or coach to scare him straight. I cannot think of one big screen movie where I saw a Caucasian lead that needed a black person to save them. Is it sinking in, now? Initially, I wanted this piece to discuss the ongoing racial matters within Hollywood. But, the more I delved into this subject, the more that I found it vital to bring up how we provide the opportunities for ourselves to fail. Conclusively, something is wrong with us and they way that we perceive ourselves.
According to the government Census, African Americans make up 13.1% (year 2011) of the US population. In 2010, African American buying power was estimated to be $913 billion with a projected increase by 2013, to reach $1.24 trillion as reported in the “African Americans Revealed” study. These numbers are indicative of the power and influence one specific group can have in changing its circumstances but nevertheless shows little effort in contrast to make that change occur. Out of all of the folks who poured into their local movie theater to see the latest blockbuster Django, how many of you have even thought to search what is the meaning of that name? Astoundingly, the name Django is significant in its meaning. Deriving from a Gypsy origin, the name Django means “I awake.” So, in an abstract somewhat distorted sense of the word, maybe my Django is better than your Django…because I have chosen to be AWAKE.
‘My Django Is Better Than Your Django’ by Mimi Taddesse
January 22, 2013 By 1 Comment