01 Jan 2013 Jamie Foxx Unchained, by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.
“Django Unchained,” a new movie from white director Quentin Tarantino, is making headlines for its violence and raw racial language. An action movie rooted in a raw portrayal of the slave era, its content is proving to be quite troublesome for many black Americans.
Actor Jamie Foxx, the star of the movie, would love for people to see it because that puts dollars in his pocket and sets him up for more lucrative future roles.
On the other hand, director Spike Lee announced he is boycotting the movie because he believes it is “disrespectful to my ancestors.”
In a Wall Street Journal editorial, noted scholar and social critic Ishmael Reed echoes Lee’s disapproval of “Django Unchained” based on its historical inaccuracy. Reed writes: “You really have to suspend disbelief for this movie… but the business people who put this abomination together don’t care what I think.”
On the other hand, Professor Boyce Watkins, in a taped conversation with the Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan, sides with Foxx and Tarantino for spotlighting black rage. Watkins says: “I… felt comfortable with what I saw. In fact, I actually believe that a black man could not have made that film and had it receive mainstream acceptance.”
Given this confusion, what’s a brother or sister to do? Should blacks pay the steep price of admission these days to see the movie?
This is not the case of “crabs in a basket.” In fact, this celluloid controversy may be a critical point in black American history.
It wasn’t so long ago that complaints abounded that there weren’t enough black characters and stories on the big screen. Since then, there have been a few black Academy Award winners (including Foxx for his performance in “Ray”).
But now there is concern about the perfect portrayal of blacks, black history and black culture in the movies and the media in general. Accepting what the major movie studios throw our way is a point of contention.
Movies are too powerful of a cultural statement to give the studios a pass when they get it completely or even partly wrong.
It is important to have our story told properly and correctly because it tells the world who we were — and, by extension, who we are today.
In an ideal world, our movie portrayals would always be factually accurate, or the studios would at least make it clear that a release was solely art with no attempt to imitate life. In such cases, we could take it or leave it.
To this point lies the problem. In this case, the solution is to support our black actors so that they can survive to act another day.
Make a decision of whether or not to see “Django Unchained” with the full knowledge that there is a divergent opinion among blacks about its substance and style. Also keep in mind that a successful run of the movie will raise Jamie Foxx’s status and cause studios to seek out his skills for future projects.
Understanding the criticism leveled at the movie, maybe Foxx will play a role in ensuring that his future projects are more palatable to black audiences.
In a world where blacks control so little in the movie industry, this is the best strategy to pursue to improve future outcomes. In a worst case scenario, boycotts lead to fewer future movie projects focusing on black themes or characters — something blacks argued against in the past.
As for me, I plan to see the movie with the idea of scrutinizing every scene so that I can recognize and become better informed about its inaccuracies. I’ll use this knowledge to judge future Jamie Foxx movie projects.
If they don’t improve, then I’ll boycott his movies so that Jamie Foxx does not survive to act another day.
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B.B. Robinson, Ph.D., is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. You can visit his website at www.blackeconomics.org. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21, other Project 21 members, or the National Center for Public Policy Research, its board or staff.