Lost in Translation - Django Unchained

By Michelle E. Brown

First and foremost, let me say I am no movie critic.

My tastes in film are as varied as my tastes in music, books and just about everything else. My personal favorites include the 1933 film "42nd Street", "Raise the Red Lantern, Bound", "Y Tu Mama Tambien", "Blade Runner", "Alien Resurrection", "The Red Violin" and "Bodyguards & Assassins" just to name a few. Then there are the documentaries, but I think you get my point.

I don't go to the movies often and when I do go it's purely for entertainment. This holiday season has been no exception. In the past six weeks, I've see three films: "Lincoln" because I'd read the book; "Life of Pi" because of a great NPR interview; and "Django Unchained" as an in-person meet-up with Facebook friends.

More than either "Lincoln" or "Life of Pi," "Django Unchained" seems to be one of those movies everyone has a strong opinion about. So let's do the controversial stuff and just get it out of the way.

First, it's a Quentin Tarantino movie. If you've seen any of his movies you had to go in to the theater knowing there would be blood. Come on. "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction," Kill Bill" - there's going to blood, violence and some crazy twists and turns.

Next, it is set in the south during slavery. Slavery was brutal, ugly, horrific and violent by any account even if you threw in a love story.

Finally, they use the "n" word - a lot. But that's what they called black slaves. No one said take the African-American out back and beat them for trying to escape. They used n*gger. They used it a lot, but quite frankly I found the use of the "n" word in a period piece about slavery far less offensive than its casual use in today's culture.

If you still want to go there on any of these issues, there are plenty of blogs, Facebook posts and op-eds where you can continue that discussion. I'll catch you there but that's not my point here.

Amidst all the hype about the blood, the violence, the "N" word, the depiction of slavery, the love story, Kerry Washington and, yes, Spike Lee there was another story, a sub-plot some might say, that could get lost in the fray.

I'm talking about the evolution of the German born bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz.

This is a story of human evolution as pertinent then as it is today when we as a nation struggle with equality for the "other" (LGBT, immigrants, etc.) and interestingly the spark for his evolution is marriage.

This may have jumped out at me because in writing and speaking on marriage equality, particularly in reference to opposition by members of the African-American clergy, I have noted that marriage has been a cornerstone in the fight for human and civil rights.

Despite attempts during slavery to break the spirit and strength of African Americans by destroying familial bonds, we African Americans found ways to acknowledge our kinship, our families, our love -- even forming our own ceremonies and traditions to celebrate our humanity, our relationships, often with full knowledge that the next day our families could be ripped apart, sold the very next day.

Initially seeing "Django" as a means solely to his ends, we witness Dr. Schultz transformation, beginning with his ah-ha moment while relating the story of Broomhilda and Siegfried, perhaps for the first time truly understanding the fable in human terms, but not just the love story.

As Dr. Schultz acknowledges and respects "Django's" humanity he begins his own journey of reclaiming his own. To the point where one can almost see him haunted by King's words that "Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere."

"Unchained" was Schultz's apathy, his complicity in the perpetuation in the system that denied others their humanity. One might say that in the end Schultz had evolved and might have shared President Obama's thoughts "... that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about...is how we treat other people." (from President Obama's May 2012 remarks on marriage equality.)

In a letter to the editor in 1895 French novelist, critic and essayist Marcel Proust wrote, great art/artists "initiate us into a knowledge and love of the external world...they are the ones by whom our eyes are opened." Therein lays the beauty of the arts - music, art, books, cinema are not just to entertain us, but to engage, outrage and make us think.

l will leave you with these words from that Saturday morning philosopher Fat Albert this movie is "... coming out with music and fun. If you're not careful, you may learn something before it's done! Hey, Hey, Hey!"

"Django Unchained" - love it, hate it? I'll let you decide. "Hey, hey, hey!"

Michelle E. Brown is a Public Speaker, Activist and Author follow her at http://www.mychangeiam.com and http://www.twitter.com/mychangeiam

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