Django Unchained: The Politics of Language

Introduction

The first full-length post on Django Unchained, my choice as Best Picture of 2012 was my first guest post and first translated post. However, owing to the accolades I gave it, and the wait, it was time to post my own thoughts on the film. This is the second of four posts. The first can be found here.

The Politics of Language

This brings us to the racial component of the film. Here’s where the mistaken impression about genre can come in for many people. There is comedy in this film, but it’s not a comedy. This is no more a comedy than For a Fistful of Dollars is. Yes, it’s funny the way Django turns around his former owners line and says to him “I like the way you die, boy.” It’s also funny when Clint Eastwood in For a Fistful of Dollars changes his intial coffin order to four. It doesn’t make either film a comedy.

However, the facade of a western is where the similarity between the film ends. The moments of overt comedy are there for you to laugh at in Django Unchained. The Klan eyehole scene may have been the funniest scene in any film I saw last year simply because it was such an ingenious cutting down of a hateful organization that seeks to taunt, terrify and kill. Yes, even some of the laughs can be tinged with uneasiness, but that’s the goal.

The death of slave owners is designed to be laughed at, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some deadened reactions to that. Upon introducing another, even more risqué skit than he had done previously (this one about a white family with a coincidentally racist name) Dave Chappelle said something to the effect of “Apparently, people didn’t think killing a slave owner was funny. I could watch that all day.” Which brings us to another source of controversy in this film the usage of the N-word.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Is it difficult to listen to it that many times, and spouted so hatefully? Of course. Especially when either Django or Stephen uses it. That’s the point and intent for a modern audience. Then there’s also the fact that that’s not far off the frequency you would’ve heard back then.

Yes, some words invariably cause issues as I noted in The Gay Dilemma, but when a script is well-crafted you can go a step beyond what is a generally accepted politically-correct norm and make a point as in The Sitter. I’m not one for censorship, and am in favor of artistic license, and the word belongs in this film as much as it does in Huckleberry Finn. In others it may be gratuitous and unnecessary, but that’s why I tend to take things like this on a case-by-case basis.

Furthermore, one shouldn’t allow the presence of a word, even one as disparaging and denigrating as that one, obscure the totality of the film. While he does get assistance, Django gets necessary training to be able to be the hero of the story, which he is. Will Smith’s assessment about Django’s secondary nature is only accurate if you’re into counting words of dialogue. King’s departure from the narrative gives Django plenty of time when the tale is his alone. He’s the one who has flashbacks and whose goals drive the story. Most importantly, in terms of race, Django’s nobility and heroism is not shown solely through his fortitude, his ability to withstand punishment like Kunta Kinte; his strength is his ability to fight back. And as much training as he gets, his intelligence is something he’s born with not given.

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The Importance of Being Joel Courtney

Joel Courtney (Photo: Mark Brennan)

The way Variety tells it Joel Courtney headed to Los Angeles seeking to take some acting lessons and maybe land some commercial work if he was lucky. However, he not only landed a lead in a major motion picture but has also parlayed it into three more jobs within a month of his screen debut’s release.

Things worked out much better for him than he could’ve expected as he got into the Super 8 after an extended, elaborate and at times secretive casting process. One in which Spielberg and Abrams gambled on a few newcomers (and won big time) likely in spite of studio pressure to err on the side of experience.

The casting process started with an open call.
and what can be learned on both sides of the camera in this portion of the story is that open calls can lead to something good.

Courtney’s case is one of a natural talent being discovered and it benefited not only the film but, as recent stories have shown, Courtney as well.

While some were getting tired of the glut of Taylor Lautner news a while back, as he seemed to be signing deals at a record pace, I saw it as expected and good for him. It’s always been my contention that an actor has to strike while the iron is hot especially if he/she is being offered work they want to do. Fear of over-exposure ought not be a deterrent as it is a high class problem to have. Talent will win out over perception in most cases especially when an actor fits a part perfectly.

Courtney had already shot a two-episode stint on R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, a series on The Hub Network, when it was announced that he was attached not only to a new Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn film but also to an indie horror/sci-fi tale called The Healer. The films’ principal photography will occur in consecutive months (August & September) and shoot in Bulgaria and North Carolina respectively.

From being a cinematic debutant to suddenly in demand has taken about a month. Of course, as with most overnight successes, it hasn’t truly been that fast. There was a long audition process, principal photography and the worldwide press junkets and after all that one might expect Joel and the kids of Super 8 to be wary of taking on new commitments, however, many of them seem to think as I do and are seeking to keep working while there’s demand. Gabriel Basso is still a regular on The Big C and Zach Mills has signed on to be a regular on The Hub Network’s new series Clue.

In closing, I just want to address the fact that Joel is a child actor, which is for the most part virtually irrelevant. The bottom line is he’s a working actor who’s taking advantage of opportunities earned and should serve as a template for future actors who knock it out of the park upon getting their big break and that’s the importance of being Joel Courtney: not being content with or being disoriented by newfound stature but immediately seizing other great opportunities as they come along.