Jan 05 2013

Django Unchained: Some Critical Questions To Debrief With Black Youth…


My friend, the brilliant Dara Cooper, did something really terrific yesterday. After a conversation with some youth worker friends, she decided to crowdsource questions on Facebook for people who wanted to debrief Django Unchained particularly with black youth. I love this idea even though I think that the attention paid to the film is already completely disproportionate to its quality or value… But that’s unimportant. Many black people are packing theaters to see this movie and many in the audience are young people. I asked Dara if I could share the list on this blog for others who might find it useful. She agreed by saying: “It’s ours.” That’s pretty much typical of Dara…

I recently read that some new research confirms the fact that black children who are instilled with racial pride do better in school. I am sure that this does not come as a shock to anyone but it is always good to get some empirical evidence for what you suspect in your gut. One of the study authors, Ming-Te Wang, explains:

“Our findings challenge the notion that ‘race blindness’ is a universally ideal parenting approach, especially since previous research has shown that racially conscious parenting strategies at either extreme—either ‘race blindness’ or promoting mistrust of other races—are associated with negative outcomes for African American youth.

“When African American parents instill a proud, informed, and sober perspective of race in their sons and daughters, these children are more likely to experience increased academic success.”

Anyway, I contributed some of my own questions to Dara’s curated list. If you want to contribute your own, please leave them in the comment section and I will keep adding to the list. Below is the Facebook note from Dara:

Peace fam,

I am SO not interested in promoting this film, but for those who are interested in watching “Django Unchained,” and particularly those watching with young people, following is a compilation of questions to encourage critical thinking and processing while watching (and after). Messages included in (and surrounding) the film are complicated and plentiful. But most importantly, how can we use so much of the dialogue around this film for something constructive? Following is a list of questions (in formation) to help facilitate discussion. Please feel free to tag others, share, leave comments, process, whatever. Most important is that we always remain critical in whatever we internalize and use popular media to engage our people in critical (and hopefully constructive) ways.

Questions for “Django Unchained” discussion:

1. How am I feeling about myself as a young woman, as a Black male, as a descendant of enslaved ancestors?
2. What impression am I having about enslaved Africans overall? What about white people? Helpful? Evil? Smart?
3. Was Django “exceptional”? What does that mean to you? What does that mean about other enslaved Africans?
4. Did you get a sense that other enslaved persons fought back in the past or was it just Django?
5. How did Django’s wife, Hilda appear? strong? weak? resilient? complicated?
6. how did it feel seeing black bodies mutilated?
7. how did it feel seeing white people being shot?
8. how did you feel about Samuel Jackson’s character (Stephen)? Why do you think he hated black people the way he did- do you think there was enough context in the movie?
9. At the end of the day, this movie was written AND directed by a white filmmaker. What do you think he was trying to communicate in this film, if anything?
10. Humor and caricatures were used in some situations throughout this film relating to slavery. What was funny to you? Did you notice any laughter in the audience that you didn’t find funny? Why?
11. Remember Sam Jackson’s (Stephen’s) character dialogue was written by a white man. How would you feel hearing Stephen’s words through a white man directly?
12. how did it feel seeing a Black man shooting so many Whites and getting away with it?
13. What did you think of Django’s character overall- brave? smart? strong? skilled? intelligent? lucky?
14. Have you heard the term House Negro and Field Negro? What do these mean to you? Are the ideas based on actual historical fact?
15. Do you agree with Spike Lee that this film “disrespects” the ancestors? What does this mean to you? Can a film “disrespect” a particular culture? If so, what are some examples of films that you’ve seen that you think do this?
16. Do you think that a black filmmaker would have gotten the financial backing to make a similar film? Does the fact that QT is a white director matter to you? If no, why? If yes, why?
17. Can people of other races tell stories about black people? Can you imagine a black director writing and producing a film about white cowboys in Wyoming in the 19th century for example? If no, why? If yes, does this happen often or at all?
18. What do you think the consequences of rogue independent rebellion would be today? What would happen, for instance, if you went downtown, on into a prison, or to congress, and started shooting all the white people? how far would you get? What would happen to you if you got caught? Would other black youth be reprimanded through policy like curfews or increased police presence in their neighborhoods?
19. What do you think of the representation of Black love in this film? What do you typically see about Black love in mainstream films (or any mainstream media)?

- Please share your thoughts, fam. Thanks to Mariame, Valerie, and Obari for your brilliant questions and contribution to this list!

Update: Some new questions have been offered (thank you Nancy):

1. Who has power/agency in this film? Could Django, for example, have done any of this w/out the aid of that German?

2. Overall, who are the heroes/villians of this film? Why?

3. What happens to the other slaves of Candyland? Left behind? rebel too? Are we supposed to imagine their collective fate or not? And why/why not?

4. Who gets to use the word “Nigger?” How and when? If at all.

  • By DC, January 5, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

    Aww thanks! Hope we get more critical dialogue poppin off. Less on the movie and more on us tho.

  • By Niki, January 6, 2013 @ 2:19 am

    Great list. Wish there was more critical discussions and questions like this in the mainstream movie reviews.

  • By melissa c., January 7, 2013 @ 11:36 am

    1) How were the women of colored portrayed and how does that relate to our culture of treatment of colored women today?

    2) Was the intelligence of slaves portrayed wholly within the film or played down or up? Was it accurate?

    3) Was the film balanced by equal ammount of colored heros and villians and white heros and villians? If so, why do you think this was done?

    4) What did you think about the Mandingo fighting and buying and rewards of sex and alcohol? Is it something that is is reflective to a promoted culture today within the colored community? How do you feel about this?

  • By Caroline Westbrook, January 8, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

    Questions for “Django Unchained” discussion:

    1. How am I feeling about myself as a young woman, as a Black male, as a descendant of enslaved ancestors? My reaction to Django Unchained was loud clapping and shouts of Bravo
    2. What impression am I having about enslaved Africans overall? I have seen many films depicting slavery and about slavery. Most left me feeling angry and a sense of rage towards white people. What about white people? What about them? My first thought after see the movie was that white people during those times were evil and behaved like monsters. Helpful? Evil? Smart?
    3. Was Django “exceptional”? What does that mean to you? What does that mean about other enslaved Africans? I believe there were many Django during the era of slavery. I also thnk that behaving as Django did was not the only way to rebel and fight back.
    4. Did you get a sense that other enslaved persons fought back in the past or was it just Django? My sense was that other slaves fought back once they witnessed the Djangos of that era. The look of admiration in some of the male slaves said it all.
    5. How did Django’s wife, Hilda appear? strong? weak? resilient? complicated? Hilda came across as a resilient fighter in the best way she knew how. Making numerous attempts to escape.
    6. how did it feel seeing black bodies mutilated? I walked away feeling a lot better than during past slavery movies and scenes. Django seemed to provide justice to a very ugly part of American history.
    7. how did it feel seeing white people being shot? In the proper context, after watching your wife raped and multilated, your children sold, raped and multilated, your family members worked to death. Well let me see, it felt absolutely wonderful.
    8. how did you feel about Samuel Jackson’s character (Stephen)? Uncle Tom to the ninth power. Why do you think he hated black people the way he did- I don’t think Stephen hated black people, I think he was brainwashed which took many many decades to accomplish. Do you think there was enough context in the movie? I saw the movie as purely entertaining.
    9. At the end of the day, this movie was written AND directed by a white filmmaker. What do you think he was trying to communicate in this film, if anything? I think he was trying to provide other sides of slavery to those who wanted to see it with an open mind. Not every slave was submissive and docile.
    10. Humor and caricatures were used in some situations throughout this film relating to slavery. What was funny to you? Did you notice any laughter in the audience that you didn’t find funny? Why? No I did not notice any laughter that was not appropriate. As a matter of fact — it was truly funny when the hooded mob could not get it together. I’m still laughing.
    11. Remember Sam Jackson’s (Stephen’s) character dialogue was written by a white man. How would you feel hearing Stephen’s words through a white man directly? Not sure what this question is asking.
    12. how did it feel seeing a Black man shooting so many Whites and getting away with it? Words cannot describe how it felt. Elated. Wonderful. Jubilant.
    13. What did you think of Django’s character overall- brave? smart? strong? skilled? intelligent? Courageous, disciplined, rescuer, man in love, respectful, quick study.
    14. Have you heard the term House Negro and Field Negro? What do these mean to you? I have heard that term in almost every slave movie I had seen. Are the ideas based on actual historical fact? Yes they are!
    15. Do you agree with Spike Lee that this film “disrespects” the ancestors? What does this mean to you? Can a film “disrespect” a particular culture? If so, what are some examples of films that you’ve seen that you think do this? I totally respect Spike. But Spike is wedded to a sanitized version of slavery. Quinten T is not. After all, he is a white man telling a dramatized story about a particular slaves. In the white culture — its allowed. Black folk are not allowed to tell the real truth about slavery. Even in all the Roots movies.
    16. Do you think that a black filmmaker would have gotten the financial backing to make a similar film? No Does the fact that QT is a white director matter to you? No If no, why? If yes, why? Because QT gave black america a different lense to look at the slave experience.
    17. Can people of other races tell stories about black people? If it is honest, yes Can you imagine a black director writing and producing a film about white cowboys in Wyoming in the 19th century for example? Yes, but why would the black director do it. What’s in it for him. QT knew black america wanted to walk away feeling somewhat empowered by the slavery experience. It worked. The movie I went to – folks we shouting for joy. If no, why? If yes, does this happen often or at all? I’m sure it probably has happened – but I don’t think I would pay to go see such a movie.
    18. What do you think the consequences of rogue independent rebellion would be today? What would happen, for instance, if you went downtown, on into a prison, or to congress, and started shooting all the white people? how far would you get? What would happen to you if you got caught? Would other black youth be reprimanded through policy like curfews or increased police presence in their neighborhoods? I think this question loses the point of the film. We are speaking about the slavery experience. An experience where black human being were treated as if they were animals. The constitution wrote that blacks were 3/4 human. Women and young girls were treated as breeding animals.
    19. What do you think of the representation of Black love in this film? What do you typically see about Black love in mainstream films (or any mainstream media)? I saw the love Django had for Hilda as honest, respectful and spiritually deep. There was no comparison to white people loving their mates.

    - Please share your thoughts, fam. Thanks to Mariame, Valerie, and Obari for your brilliant questions and contribution to this list!

    Update: Some new questions have been offered (thank you Nancy):

    1. Who has power/agency in this film? Could Django, for example, have done any of this w/out the aid of that German? No

    2. Overall, who are the heroes/villians of this film? Why? Django for his courage and Dr. Schultz, while somewhat selfish, caring. Both were heroes as well as villians.

    3. What happens to the other slaves of Candyland? Left behind? rebel too? Are we supposed to imagine their collective fate or not? And why/why not? I tried to imagine what happened to them. I want to believe they got themselves together and went north, like so many other slaves did during the slave experience.

    4. Who gets to use the word “Nigger?” How and when? If at all. What do we need to use the word. We don’t use the word Cracker. So why should be continue to hold on that that word.

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