The Public’s Reaction to to Hollywood’s Slavery

The Public Sphere is essentially how issues and the news is  discussed in public. This week we were asked to look at a media text that contributes to debate in the public sphere. I thought a good example would be to have a look at two of the biggest pictures of 2012/13.

Django Unchained

Django Unchained

And

Lincoln

Lincoln

Both movies were Box Office hits grossing $680,200,000 and 17 Oscar nominations collectively. However it is the issue of African-American slavery that really made controversy in the Public sphere.

Lincoln, directed by the respected Spielberg, explores the political history surrounding the passing of the thirteenth amendment to secure the freedom of African-Americans. Django Unchained, directed by the less publicly respected Tarantino  explores the violent history of the slave trade in the Southern states of America and closely follows the actions of Django to secure the freedom of his African -American wife.

Django Unchained subsequently garnered a large amount of controversy in the public sphere. The film can be considered an ‘exploitation film’. An ‘exploitation’ film is defined as ‘a type of cinema, often cheaply produced, that is designed to create a fast profit by referring to, or exploiting, contemporary cultural anxieties.’ Firstly, Django Unchained was not produced cheaply with a budget in excess of 100 million. The movie, however, does portray slavery in a poignant yet black-humor manner. Whether this is through branding, fight-to-the-deaths, eaten to death by dogs or ‘hot boxing’; these abhorrent images certainly brand your memory. The movie was heavily criticised, including that of Cecil Brown who claimed it was “a howling, empty N*gger joke played on Black people.” and director Spike Lee, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western.

Lincoln historically portrayed the issue of slavery by demonstrating the white Congressman’s inner struggle on whether African-Americans can be considered people too. The movie played on this ignorance, illustrating examples of slavery, racism and the slow progression of how (spoiler alert) the thirteenth amendment was passed. The movie had little to no academic criticism for its portrayal of slavery. Most likely because very minimal slavery was actually portrayed on screen.

So which one made a bigger impact in the public sphere? Personally I believe it was Django Unchained. Despite Lincoln hitting all the right buttons in Hollywood, but it was Django that confronted the history of slavery in the public sphere.

Reference:

Django Unchained: http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMjIyNTQ5NjQ1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODg1MDU4OA@@._V1_SX214_.jpg

Lincoln: http://www.vtcommons.org/sites/default/files/images/blog-images/lincoln-movie.jpeg

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2 thoughts on “The Public’s Reaction to to Hollywood’s Slavery

  1. Interesting argument. Both films took a rather different approach at discussing slavery, with Lincoln being focused on the fight to outlaw of slavery in congress and Django focusing more on the actual reality of slavery, however dramatised the film may have been. Very intriguing comparison of two films based in the same setting.

    • It can be considered that Tarantino was a bit melodramatic within Django Unchained. But that, I think, was very powerful. The ‘over-the-top’ scenes provide a humorous setting for these real circumstances to occur, in which any other setting would have been too detestable for the screen. Furthermore it draws the line between what is socially accepted. Only in a ‘spaghetti western’ could Tarantino display fight-to-the-deaths and an outrageous amount of the word ‘N*gga’. Personally I think Tarantino deserves more credit for confronting these ghastly true events of slavery rather than cotton picking.

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