Monday, February 18, 2013

"Django" vs. "Lincoln"

Race and slavery: A look at 'Lincoln' and 'Django Unchained', por Manuel Garcia (Al-Jazeera):

American slaves and ex-slaves are portrayed by Spielberg as a bunch of nicely dressed Black soldiers, who are nothing but secondary characters in the background of a much bigger stage and plot, where Lincoln, William Seward, Thaddeus Stevens and other white men define their futures without much input from them. The absence of Douglass, a consummate abolitionist whose opinions were always heard and on occasion supported by Lincoln is a historical calamity that excludes probably the most significant African-American protagonist altogether from a history he helped to write.

In Tarantino's world, on the other hand, slavery and race are exhibited through the lens of violence, blood and death. Django is a slave with attitude and panache. While in Lincoln white men fight for and against slavery mostly in civilised manners and in sanitised quarters, here they are killed left, right and centre, and in true Tarantinesque style, their blood splatters everywhere. More importantly, much more importantly, this is the main difference between these two films. The protagonist of Tarantino's film is a black man, a slave.

Django Unchained has been criticised because of its violent content, especially considering the recent shootings that have taken place in the US. However, that should not take away credit from Tarantino who, in my opinion, chose an honest path when he decided to portray American slavery as it really was - a nasty, violent business.

Those who find Mandingo fighting or a slave being killed by dogs revolting should know that violent instances like these were by no means extreme or extraordinary events. Across the Americas and on a daily basis, African slaves and their descendants were subject to punishments like these, and to some that were probably even worse.

In the Danish West Indies, for example, runaway slaves suffered a wide variety of punishments that went from being tortured with red-hot iron pincers to the loss of limbs and ears. For those who attempted to poison their masters, the penalty was to be broken down on a wheel.

In Brazil, the US and other parts of the New World, owners castigated disobedient slaves by dragging the
claws of a cat across their backs. In Cuba, there were cases where slaves were thrown in the middle of swarms of excited deadly wasps. This list of horrors could go on forever.  (...)

The choice between an idealised world where whites magnanimously free their slaves, and a violent one full of torture, blood and deaths where a slave takes revenge on the white men is yours.

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