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“Django” Critics Do It For the Money? The Slanders of Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino commits one insult after another to black Americans. His “Django Unchained,” was an insult to Black History and his comment during an interview conducted by a fawning Bret Easton Ellis (New York Times, Oct.12,2015) and Yahoo Movies (Oct.13,2015) insulted some of the country’s preeminent black scholars and intellectuals. While Spike Lee and I were singled out in an interview with Tarantino (Esquire, Oct.13, 2015), the Time’s piece questioned the motives of all of the critics of Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.”

Ellis writes: “Such controversy is not new to Tarantino. ‘If you’ve made money being a critic in black culture in the last 20 years you have to deal with me,’ he says. ‘You must have an opinion of me. You must deal with what I’m saying and deal with the consequences. ’He pauses, considers. ‘If you sift through the criticism,’ he says, ‘you’ll see it’s pretty evenly divided between pros and cons. But when the black critics came out with savage think pieces about ‘Django,’ I couldn’t have cared less. If people don’t like my movies, they don’t like my movies, and if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter.”

The New York Times considers Quentin Tarantino to be a “great” filmmaker even though blacks find some of his films be offensive, but this wouldn’t be the first time that the Times (where I get published from time to time even though my last four books have been ignored by the Book Review) assessment of a film, art, or literature has clashed with that of black critics. Here’s the Times’ review of “Gone With The Wind,” which is one of the antecedents of the Tarantino Race films:

“Understatement has its uses too, so this morning’s report on the event of last night will begin with the casual notation that it was a great show. It ran, and will continue to run, for about 3 hours and 45 minutes, which still is a few days and hours less than its reading time and is a period the spine may protest sooner than the eye or ear. It is pure narrative, as the novel was, rather than great drama, as the novel was not. By that, we would imply you will leave it, not with the feeling you have undergone a profound emotional experience, but with the warm and grateful remembrance of an interesting story beautifully told. Is it the greatest motion picture ever made? Probably not, although it is the greatest motion mural we have seen and the most ambitious film-making venture in Hollywood’s spectacular history.” (By FRANK S. NUGENT Published: December 20, 1939)

This is the newspaper where Virginia Heffernan added to the tributes made by the newspaper to “The Wire,” which scapegoats blacks for the drug trade. She called the show’s writers Richard Price, George Pelecanos and David Simon, “The Lords of Urban Fiction,” a genre to which black writers, including Chester Himes, have contributed since the migration of blacks to the cities in the late 1800s. “The Wire” is being taught in college class rooms even though Prof. Karl Alexander in his book Long Shadow, The: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood cautions that David Simon’s portrayal of the Baltimore community that appears in “The Wire” is “one-sided.”

A “Wire” actress has a less favorable review of “The Wire” than the white students who are signing up for courses on “The Wire” and their cynical professors who are taking advantage of their fascination with black pathology. These are students who throw racist hood parties where they sometimes show up wearing blackface. Actress Sonja Sohn said of the series on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show, (5/2/2015) ”The Wire” conveys the blk hlywdimpression that people don’t care about their neighborhoods,” and that “all of them are lazy and just allow their neighborhoods to go dilapidated.” HBO executives, some of whom have gotten into trouble for their criminal behavior against women,  have hired “Wire” creator David Simon to produce a series about Martin Luther King, Jr., the kind of news that makes exile seem appealing.

Esquire (Oct.13), and Yahoo Movies (Oct.13) singled Spike Lee and me as those who according to Tarrantino “don’t get it.” The director said,“If they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter.” In the Times review Tarrantino said that those black critics who didn’t like the movie were making money from their dissent. I earned seventy-five dollars from my review of the film in The Wall Street Journal, which certainly made a big difference in my income during the year in which the review appeared. I tried to point out unsuccessfully to the Times, which has a romance going on with Tarantino and David Simon, that the leading defender of the film, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., made more money than all of Tarantino’s critics combined. Since Spike Lee and I had been singled out as the chief complainers, I wrote a letter in my defense. (Oct.26, 2015)

Dear Times,

Quentin Tarantino implies that those black critics of his movie,”Django Unchained,” criticized the movie for the money. I’m sure that those critics, among whom are some of the leading African American scholars, and intellectuals, who appear in the anthology that I edited, “Black Hollywood unChained,” would be surprised to hear this.

Third Word Press, which published the book, paid each writer one hundred dollars.

It was Tarantino’s most influential black supporter who got paid. He appeared on NPR where he supported the movie, without informing his interviewer that his magazine had received ad revenue from the film company.

Thank You

My name came up when Henry Louis Gates, Jr. defended the film on NPR without informing the host that his magazine TheRoot received advertising revenue for “Django UNChained,” which also might explain why it was selected as a course topic at the African American Studies Department at Harvard.

My letter to the Times wasn’t published. Beginning in 2013, after getting the go-ahead from Haki Madhubuti, publisher of Third World Press, I began gathering contributors to an anthology that was published in October under the title Black Hollywood unChained, where some of our leading black academic critics, who are well known abroad, but largely ignored by the mainstream media, scrutinize Django Unchained, as well as Precious, Selma, Fruitvale and other films. Not all of the contributors are black. Italian-American, Muslim, Native American, and Hispanic scholars also criticize the treatment of their ethnic groups by Hollywood. The late Hariette Surovell, the great Jewish-American intellectual, pens the most devastating criticism of the film ”Precious” yet written. Some of the leading African-American scholars and intellectuals contributed to the anthology, apparently because they were so hard up for the one hundred dollar permission fee, as Tarantino would have it.

Third World Press is the only publisher who would have presented the dissent of those black scholars and intellectuals. With a press like Third World Press, we get to sass. As it stands now, writers who’ve never been subjected to racial profiling, or all of the other humiliations that blacks undergo each day, monopolize the discussion of race. They write the scripts, the novels, the newspaper stories and the Op-ed columns whose purpose is to attract money by demeaning blacks. Nichols Kristof gets more space to comment on race, often in a condescending manner or by driving a wedge between so-called proper “model minorities” and backward blacks, than any two hundred black scholars and intellectuals. In the 1940s, there were hundreds of Third World Presses. So subversive was the black newspapers in the 1940s that J. Edgar Hoover wanted to indict them for sedition. Integration had benefits, but there also has been a downside. School integration has led to thousands of black kids gaining arrest records for the most trivial classrooms offenses. Some of them are brutally assaulted by the police. (“In August, a school district in Kentucky was sued over an officer shackling children ages 8 and 9.

Since the early 1990s, thousands of school systems around the country have put officers in schools, most often armed and in uniform, while many schools have adopted ‘zero tolerance policies for misconduct. That has produced sharp increases in arrests, especially for minor offenses, giving criminal records to students who in the past might have faced nothing more serious than after-school detention.” Oct.28 Times) Integration also led to the decline of the black press as some of its most brilliant writers were hired by newspapers with Jim Crow newsrooms, where their power has been diminished.

With “Black Hollywood unChained,” Third World Press has provided readers with a rare opportunity to sample the opinions of Black Intellectuals who are not auditioning to become proxies for powerful northeastern interests.

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Ishmael Reed is the author of The Complete Muhammad Ali.

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