Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fear of a Black Planet

The Academy Awards shoulda been a glorious battle between Lincoln and Django Unchained. Much as I loved Prometheus, it doesn't come close to either of these great portraits of the shaping of modern America. But this is the Academy we're talking about, a group more reactionary and entrenched in privilege than Ron Paul's entire rotten family.

Though I should point this out before going any further - Argo was pretty alright. A tight, focused little thriller that was surprisingly honest about why Iran was pissed off with America in the first place. And it had John Goodman, which elevates even car commercials

"I will show you the life of the mind!"

But up against Lincoln and Django? No. Hell no. And I can't help thinking it was the Academy's reactionary streak that gave the award to Argo rather than that film's very real merits. "Hey, here's a movie about us bamboozling those durn turrists! And it doesn't suck!"

And it was the safer of those two choices, the Academy also being way too craven to give an award to something as perverse as Murder-Spank-Dirty...

The rest of the awards show pretty clearly that it's a bunch of ancient Romney voters deciding these things. Daniel Day "Crazy Awesome" Lewis did win best actor and Christolph Waltz got another Best Supporting for his work in another Tarantino picture - which arguably should've gone to DiCaprio this time - but the Actress awards went to a martyred mother and a psycho new-agey rom-com spank fantasy. And really, these awards also allow people to just look at the actor Acting! and not worry about the real content of a film.

Lincoln for example. Folks like to turn off their brains when considering the lovable old golem, but you can't watch this iteration of him without seeing the very real and ugly political realities of that time. In case ya still haven't figured it out, slavery is bad and the Confederacy were a bunch of assholes. That's the thrust of both Lincoln and Django, but the former also delves into the rotten congressional in-fighting that the real Abraham Lincoln had to deal with while trying to accomplish his shocking and controversial scheme of ending slave labor in America. Y'know, that Land Of The Free? It wasn't the only film tackling that subject this year but it did have a white protagonist who never shot anybody, making it more acceptable to craven old dolts.

And that's what really differentiates Django Unchained and possibly makes it the better film. In my review, I was still caught up in just how balls-out awesome it was and how you should go see it. You still should - twice - but I need to add Tarantino did something with it no other film about slavery has ever done - gave a black man agency. Ever since the weepy Uncle Tom's Cabin, all artistic works about American slavery have treated the people at the center of the issue as either sumps for white-guilt bathos or martyrs too good for this wicked world - Lincoln being a particularly egregious ofender thanks to Tommy Lee Jones as the Last Good Republican. Django, the man, isn't either of these things but a real human being with all the highs and lows that come with that state of being. He's liberated by a white man, sure, but he grows into self-determination unclouded by the desire of white people to teach each other neat little moral lessons.

He's not used, is my point. And it's creepy we had to wait until 2012 for a film character like that. It helps that Jaime Foxx is the best American actor since Steve McQueen, carrying Django's development from a beaten down slave to glorious avenger with believabilty and real pathos. The flashback of him and his wife Hildi fleeing the savagery of plantation life while Elayna Boynton sings "Freedom" would be hauntingly beautiful on its own, but Foxx's performance, the very human desperation and dignity he gives to Django, that alone should've secured every Oscar ever.

But this is the Academy we're talking about. Half these wretched fuckers are probably old enough to have owned slaves themselves. And the mass hysteria that swept through conservative media following the film's release shows us that these creeps are way more normal than we'd like to think and that even a hundred and sixty years after the fact, America just can't handle the truth.

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