My Issue With Django Unchained: Hollywood and Their History of the “Great White Hope”

June 13, 2012  |  

by Danielle Hobbs

Once again the Great White Hope comes in to save the day in another film chronicling a piece of black history. The buzz surrounding the release of the highly anticipated trailer for Django Unchained, is causing division in the black community. Big surprise? The grandfather of ‘revenge’ stories, Quentin Tarantino, is displaying slavery in a way that it has never been told on the big screen –a single slave’s quest to avenge himself. Of course, he cannot do it without the help of a white character who promises Django his freedom after he completes his slave master’s scripted hit list. Herein lays the controversy of the Hollywood heralded “Great White Hope” caricature vs actual history. Denmark Vesey, a real-life Carribean-Afrikkan slave did not consult a white abolitionist or Negro-friendly slave master before planning the biggest revolt in American history. He single-handedly shook up the plantations of the south. Yet, his story will never be splashed across the big screen without being brutally exaggerated by producers. The Django trailer did little to show any creative thinking on the part of a slave whose life had been stolen from him, instead it displayed his ability to be the brawn behind his white master’s brain. The Step-it-and-fetch-it act was almost disgraceful; still I imagine the theatres will be filled with people who have been craving a revenge story since the Kill Bill Trilogy.

In an article at Clutch Magazine the writer captures the crux of what she calls the “White Savior Sydrome”:

Worthy causes only become noteworthy once white folks step in to champion it, never mind the black and brown people who have worked in the trenches to bring many of our world’s social ills to light. Somehow, people only sit up and take notice once a predominately white org or white celeb take up the case. Why is that?”

It seems Hollywood is allergic to telling a “black story” without a white actor playing a pivotal lead role. Adding insult to injury, The Django trailer’s ending frame reads: “Django is off the chain.” Someone literally deserves to be punched for this poor attempt to slap at “ebonic” humor. There is nothing remotely funny about the African American genocide in America called slavery.

Yet one should not be surprised at Hollywood’s attempt to soften the less than pleasurable reality of the black experience in America. Let’s explore the pattern shall we:

1. “Glory” a 1989 film about an all black battalion during the Civil War (side bar: Denzel deserved an Oscar with his gorgeous self playing the hot-tempered slave) yet Col. Robert Shaw  (Matthew  Brodderick) leads the way as the white Moses into battle.

2. Then in 1995 we were given Michelle Pfeiffer’s rousing heroine performance as “Louann Johnson” in Dangerous Minds where she single-handedly changes a classroom of gang-bangers and hoodlums into poetic politicians.

3. Dangerous Minds is followed by a knock off in 2007 with Hillary Swank’s dismal performance in Freedom Fighters.

4. In the 2009 film, The Blind Side, We are graced with Sandra Bullocks’ stereotypical; albeit touching role as the adoptive mother of an illiterate black football star.

5. Most recently in 2011, audiences battled over the true-to-life and controversial money-maker, The Help. The film chronicled the life the author’s real-life maid and her civil disobedience to a white family in a racially-inflamed community.

It is centuries after slavery; however, Hollywood still finds a way to incorporate a White Savior archetype into the retelling of African American history. It’s time we return to our roots and tell the unabridged version.

Sound off Noirettes: Do you agree with this author’s sentiment?

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