Dissecting a White, Male View of Slavery

Tanya Steele writes at Shadow and Act that she watched Lincoln and Django Unchained in succession to get a better view of slavery as filtered through the imaginations of privileged white men.

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Quentin Tarantino (Craig Barritt/Getty Images)

Tanya Steele writes at Shadow and Act that white directors like Quentin Tarantino and Steven Spielberg, the men behind Django Unchained and Lincoln respectively, have been able to create their films without worrying about their works' representations of African Americans.

As a black filmmaker, I find that I wrestle with thoughts of 'responsibility'; 'who will see it', 'what impact will it have on the discourse in America', 'what images will I be projecting to our youth/to the world'. I've often noted, even in film school, white filmmakers don't have that burden. They were free to write, to be, to create without thinking about this stuff. I'm certain they thought about other things but, the burden of race was not in their baggage. There is such a thing as privileged Art, privileged filmmaking. We see it in the current slate of insipid films coming out of Hollywood. Films that are not responsible or accountable to anyone or anything.

There is so much response to 'Django' that I needed to see it. Spike Lee's words were instructive. I respect Spike. He paid his dues. He is someone who pays attention to representation. Having had him as a Professor, I know that he is someone who gives an ear and a hand to black filmmakers, actors, even people behind the camera. Spike does not need to justify his commitment to black america AT ALL. So, I was disturbed by the awful things said about Spike. For many blacks in and out of the business, Spike Lee champions us, he is a hero. But, hey, we don't really worship our heroes while they are alive. I saw this quote on Facebook, it was posted by someone that I, usually, find interesting. After he saw 'Django', he wrote, "Spike lost." I will return to this later.

I experienced mixed emotions while watching 'Lincoln'. Why is he focusing on this part of slavery? (Understanding, he did make 'Amistad'.) Why does he feel the need to focus on 'Lincoln' or that moment in history? Why isn't he showing what these white men were fighting over -- the experience of the slave? But, I went with it, struggling every step of the way. Ultimately, I relaxed and trusted the storyteller. Yes, people are upset that there was no Frederick Douglass. The slaves appeared well dressed and weren't showing the scars of slavery. I did find that problematic. He chose to focus on the passage of the Amendment and the end of the Civil War.

Read Tanya Steele's entire piece at Shadow and Act.

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