For those who are still talking about it (and many are), this is the one question framing all of the post-dialogue about Quentin Tarantino's film. And in this case, the "where" in "Where did you watch Django Unchained?" is not just an issue of geography but demography, too.
In Rembert Browne's response to the film on Grantland, he predicts 2013 will be the year that the long-anticipated national conversation on race finally comes to pass, and not just the Kumbaya conversations we've been pretending to have every year around Martin Luther King's birthday for the past half century, but one that centers on "how we talk about and react to race in mixed settings."
And let's not kid ourselves, those mixed company convos can be a bitch to navigate sometimes. (You know, kinda like the Fresh Loaf comments' section on occasion.)
In the latest Django diatribe, the PostBourgie.com crew (G.D., Jamelle and Joel) parses it all out in a podcast they call "Django Unpacked" with Slate's Aisha Harris and Northeastern University Professor Sarah Jackson. Despite it being a discussion between five black writers and intellectuals, they crush the monolithic myth with a conversation that turns out to be much more nuanced than black-and-white. Until, that is, they realize that their differing interpretations of the film are almost evenly split down a contextual color line.
It starts around the 17:24 mark (posted below), when Prof. Jackson says that based on her totally "unscientific poll" of black friends who saw the film, those who really liked it "saw it in theaters where it was a majority black" audience, while those who felt more apprehensive and didn't like it "saw it in theaters where it was a majority white" audience.
It's being called "the Django Moment," as Gawker's Cord Jefferson labels it, and which Browne refers to and defines as "the controversial act of seeing the film in mixed company in a theater."
So here's my Django moment:
I'm at the ritziest mall in Atlanta, Phipps Plaza in Buckhead, where the recently renovated theater skipped the run-of-the-mill stadium seating upgrade for big billowy leather recliners that lay you out flat like a gurney. Seated to my immediate left is an interracial couple (he's black/she's white), whose individual responses I found myself gauging throughout the film. The rest of the crowd was about 75 percent white. When the torture scene came during which Django is hung upside down by his ankles, I heard a man behind me let out a whistle just as the camera panned Django's naked body and dangling private parts. It was chilling, the kind of whistle of approval a downtown construction worker might let out for a woman walking by in heels and a skirt. Or, in this case, the kind of whistle a lynch mob member might let out while craning his neck to watch a stiff corpse swing from a tree branch. I turned halfway around in my horizontal recliner to eyeball the man behind me before I decided against giving him the pleasure of seeing my anger. For the rest of the film I sat there cognizant of the fact that everyone was not processing these images in the same way despite us being in the same place. The interracial couple to my left further proved that point near the very end. When Django blows away the white Southern belle of Candyland, cartoon-style, with his shotgun, the black man next to me let out a quick burst of laughter while the white woman he'd come with remained totally silent. That had to be an awkward ride home.
I was pretty quiet on the ride back, too, because as engrossing and thought-provoking as the film had been I couldn't help but wonder about how the rest of the world was processing it - how many were capable of giving it an intelligent read and how many were just whistling Dixie.
Even Tarantino talked during his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross about how different audiences reacted to the film's violence in preview screenings, which influenced his final edit. Assuming he screened the film on the West Coast, somewhere in Hollywood I suppose, I wonder how his edits might have changed had he screened it for audiences in the Midwest, the Northeast, or the South, for mostly black or majority white crowds, or in red states vs. blue states?
And does the Django Moment even apply across the color line? Do most white viewers feel more comfortable watching in front of all white crowds than they would with majority black crowds? And now that we're having this discourse, how do we keep it going, keep it progressive, and expand it past pop culture/media to other areas of concern like politics, economics, education, (fill in the blank)? Because the legacy of slavery is a great place to start, but another 150 years have passed since then that we could stand to catch up on.
In the meantime, I've decided to go catch Tarantino's flick one more time before it leaves theaters. I wonder if it's still screening out in Lithonia?
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