It’s only fitting that director Amma Assante’s Belle, a movie that culminates in a court, makes its own case crisply, and clearly. There’s a sense of some romanticizing, mind, but even that is based on hard evidence: the real Dido Elizabeth Belle did have a happy life.
So, admirably, Assante and writer Misan Sagay don’t try to inject pathos where it’s not necessary. Nor do they overplay their somewhat stacked cast, instead keeping Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the center, which she ably holds up. Because her story — at least, this story — positions her at the intersection of her own nascent questioning of her place in the world and her mentor’s role in shaping its future. Read the Post Courageous Liaisons: The Racialicious Review of Belle
Editor’s Note: Welcome to our newest feature, The Throwback, where we’ll spotlight some of our favorite pieces from the site’s history. First up, this August 9, 2007 piece on the collisions between perceptions of race in the U.S. and South America.
by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse
When most people think of American imperialism, they think of planting the stars and stripes deep into the soil of foreign lands. They think of economic dominance, the forced removal of government leaders, the exploitation of labor and resources.
Warning: This review contains spoilers, and discussion of abuse, violence, and rape.
Normally, knowing that a story has a “happy ending” helps to ease the burden of getting through something horrific. 12 Years a Slave is not that movie. It can’t be that movie with the way Steve McQueen dispenses of the conventional methods to show the passing of time. This could be 12 months, 12 weeks, or 12 years and we wouldn’t have known; I even lost track of how long I’d been in the theatre. There’s no clear changing of the seasons; no transition from spring to summer or fall, just once the point made that a crop of cotton has been lost.
Time is marked by the passing of violence rather than the passing of seasons, and it blurs and stretches and bunches together in places as it must have for Solomon Northup (a triumphant Chiwetel Ejiofor) himself. By not providing the viewer with any demarcation of time McQueen effectively puts us in his lead character’s position. How long Solomon’s been enslaved doesn’t matter and there’s no concrete end. Just one dehumanising experience to live through after another.
“The Black and White Dialogue on race and culture in the United States has consistently ignored the existence of more than 150 million people of African ancestry in the other Americas. The total absence of Afro-Latinas/os from the Caribbean Mexico, Central America and South America in the consciousness of the national discourse in the United States, including in institutions that educate and inform the civil society of the nation, contributes to the absolute disregard of the presence and realities of African Diasporic communities within the U.S. national territory and aboard. This lack of recognition and omission of the history, contributions and lives of more than 150 million people of African ancestry, many of whom reside here in the United States renders their contributions and lives irrelevant.”
–Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora, “Afro-Boricua: Nuyorican de Pura Cepa,” page 75
“Of the estimated 11 million enslaved Africans brought to the New World from the late 1400s to the 1860s, most were taken to Latin America and the Caribbean, with only some 645,000 landing in the United States. “So when you’re talking about blackness, you’re really talking about Latin America.”
—Miriam Jimenez Roman
“¿Y Tu Abuela, Donde Está?: Multi-dimensional Afro-Latina/o Identities in the 21st Century” is an exhibition examining Afro-Latino identity and culture in a contemporary context. The title is appropriated from a popular phrase within the Spanish-speaking Latin American community that examines the racial and cultural heritage of people of African descent. Sometimes used as a biting remark towards Latinos who elect to identify racially and culturally as something other than “Black” or of African descent, the phrase alludes to the idea of individuals literally hiding their background by keeping their grandmother, presumably a dark-complexioned woman, in the back part of their homes where no one can see her. However, some Latinos have also appropriated the adage to proudly profess their African heritage. As North America’s population shifts and the rate of Latin Americans grows in the United States, there has been an increase in interest of the historical, cultural, cosmological and political narratives of Latina/os of African descent and those who racially identify as “Black.” But most importantly, there has also been a push by Afro-Latina/os for the acknowledgement of the existence of a population of millions of people of African descent living outside the U.S. in Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The term “Afro-Latino” has also given rise to nuanced conversations about non-Spanish speaking Latin Americans from places such as Brasil and the Francophone Caribbean. CCCADI has been at the forefront of conversations about Afro-Latinos since its founding by Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, an Afro-Puerto Rican scholar, for the past three decades. As an institution, CCCADI is committed to delving deeper into this complex conversation to examine where Afro-Latina/os are today as individuals and as a community, particularly as younger generations boldly proclaim their Latino AND African identities.
By Guest Contributor Paul Barrett; originally published at New Solitudes
What I find surprising in the critical and personal responses I’ve heard to Django Unchained is the unwillingness to discuss what notions of race the film traffics in. What is Tarantino’s vision of blackness and whiteness, and how does his aesthetic mode of borrowing from every movie he’s ever seen contribute to his notion of race, cultural difference, and racism?
The feud between Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee is one point of entry for discussing Django Unchained. Lee refuses to see the film, arguing that “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. It was a holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them.”
At the heart of Lee’s critique, and much of the debate over Django Unchained are the questions of historical appropriation–who has the right to tell particular stories–and the question of realism. The latter question really asks, how can we tell particular stories? Is it disrespectful, irresponsible, or racist to depict slavery as a spaghetti western or in an unreal fashion?
Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network called for a national boycott Tuesday of action figures based on the controversial and blood-soaked slavery revenge flick Django Unchained. A 10-doll assortment of characters from the film was going for $299 on Amazon Tuesday.
“Selling this doll is highly offensive to our ancestors and the African American community,” Rev. K.W. Tulloss, NAC’s president in Los Angeles, told the Daily News. “The movie is for adults, but these are action figures that appeal to children. We don’t want other individuals to utilize them for their entertainment, to make a mockery of slavery.”
First of all, Django Unchained could’ve gone horribly wrong. However brilliant a director, Quentin Tarantino is famous amongst people of color for fetishizing African-American culture, and his liberal use of the N-word in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown still rankles folks 15 years after the fact. Tarantino injecting a Blaxploitation-style baadassss freed slave into his vision of the antebellum South could’ve been disastrous. The director’s recent comments about Roots, which he has described as “inauthentic” also raised the eyebrows of many filmgoers who were already nervous about what his slavery narrative would bring. Any crass, gratuitous depiction of Whites raping actress Kerry Washington in a popcorn movie, and “Django Unchained” would’ve been a wrap.
But that’s not what happened. Instead, the Oscar-winning Jamie Foxx plays Django as a gunslinging superhero, the fastest gun in the West.
“When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” says Tarantino. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”
While many white directors might shy away from criticizing such an iconic symbol of African-American culture, Tarantino doesn’t hold back. He’s confident in his knowledge of a time and subject most people know little about and would rather forget. He was also savvy enough to bring Hudlin on board. “There were times when I’d be filming a scene and really getting into it and Reg would just say, ‘Hey is this the story you wanted to tell?’ He’d bring the focus back if I got too carried away.”
When it’s all said and done, Spike Lee isn’t totally wrong in not wanting to see Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
Setting aside Tarantino’s interpretation of the pre-Civil War south for a second, Django finds him retreading familiar ground: it’s more Kill Bill than Inglorious Basterds. But in insulating both his hero and his story from history as much as he does here, the writer/director ends up shortchanging both of them.