There have been many a critic and many a supporter of the new Quentin Tarantino film, “Django Unchained.” Whether you were a fan of the film or not, the one thing you have to admit is that for all the controversy, it did become a major box office hit. In the midst of blockbuster films flopping left and right, this movie, which debuted December 25th 2012 has brought in over 100 million dollars in ticket sales already! This is major for a movie that wasn’t a high action, sci-fi or family flick.
The next logical step for a movie that brings in that much money is for the producers of the film to figure out new ways to bring in revenue. Well, the producers of “Django” (pronounced J-ango) have found a new way to generate income, one that will be more controversial than the movie. Recently it was announced that the team behind the movie were going to bring out a collection of action figures based on characters from the film. Again, not really a problem if we’re talking about “Transformers,” G.I.Joe,” or the “Men In Black” franchise. But a line of action figures based on made-up slave persona is going a step too far in my opinion.
My biggest issue with the movie itself (granted, I have not seen it and will not see for the reasons I will mention) was that it was a made-up version of what really happened. Some of the past movies that were critical and commercial hits that touched on slavery like “Glory” and “Roots” were based on actual facts and stories of the time. Faces from the time were featured characters in those films, and the ones that didn’t were a composite of people who were relevant at the time. This film does neither from what I’ve read about it. It draws on a super-hero type character named Django who comes to rescue his wife who is still trapped in the world of slavery from her slave-master. Sounds real enough right? Wrong! In actuality, something like this story would have never happened. Many times, families were split apart for good because one decided to take flight for freedom while another stayed behind with only hopes of seeing their loved one again. Slavery tore apart Black families in a way that it still resonates in the Black community today. So any discussion about a runaway slave who comes back for his family would start with a real life figure like Harriet Tubman who made it her life’s mission to bring many Blacks at the time out of slavery through the underground railroad and into freedom. While her life wasn’t what you would call glamorous, it’s one to me that is far more compelling than the story of Django. Hers was a real story that would show people of all races the struggle and pain that slavery really brought upon Blacks in this country.
Put her story in perspective. She would assist Blacks in coming from the Deep South through safe houses to the great up north where slavery was illegal. Sounds easy enough, but think about the times. She was doing this without paved roads or street lights. She was doing this under the watchful eyes of overseers and slave hunters. They were doing this in rain, sleet, hail, snow and whatever the weather would bring. Often these slaves would have little to wear in the form of clothes or shoes. Many died on the long walk to freedom and for what? To go to place where, while they still weren’t considered equal, but at least they were free? That’s a story that needs to be told in my opinion.
The issues I have with “Django Unchained” as just that, my issues. Whether you see it or not, is no concern to me. My issues with the action figure, is serious though.
It is one thing to create a fictional super-hero like slave character who comes to save his damsel in distress as a movie. It’s another thing to sell those characters as action figures to adults and children. What I fear is that in 10 years, the story of Django, along with the action figures and anything else that will come about (i.e. A cartoon series, etc) will become real life. In a time when the education system fails us on an everyday basis, we tend to lean more towards the Internet and mass media for our teaching. I’m nervous that in 10 years, a child born in 2013 will eventually come to think of Django as what slavery was, rather than the myth that it is. I don’t want any child to believe that this story was a typical slave story, because it wasn’t. It wasn’t typical at all. What was typical was pain and hurt; separation of families and cultures. While there were Django types back then like Nat Turner and Denmark Vessey, their stories ended tragically. Not with the hero riding into the sunset like some spaghetti Western with his girl on his side and the sun to his back. We can’t allow this to enter popular culture more than it has. I don’t want to see slavery become more watered down then it already is. If you bring up the subject now to Blacks or Whites, you’ll often get the “are we still on this” face. Where Jews would be in total outrage if the thought of action figures based off the heroics of Oscar Schindler and the movie “Schindlers List” I want Blacks to be as outraged that these action figures are even a thought! The more we allow, the more they’re going to do. Before you know it, it will be t-shirts and cartoons based off the movie. Before you know, 400 hundred years of bondage will be played off as a figment of our imagination after awhile. Let’s not allow Hollywood to re-write our story that easy.
We all know that as children through adulthood, we learn through what we see and hear. To see a film proclaiming the big Black hero slave who overcame with a gun and a dream to now come with a doll to match will do nothing but confuse a new generation of Black children who already have enough confused people in their family tree.