Thursday, January 24, 2013

Django Unchained

Django Unchained
seen @ AMC Loews Fresh Meadows 7, Fresh Meadows, Queens, NY

Had a big problem with a cell phone user at my Django Unchained screening. Big as in had-to-get-a-manager big. Here's the deal: I think the Fresh Meadows must have done some kind of remodeling or something from the last time I was there, because this was the first theater I've been to (that I recall) where I could pick which seat I could buy. 

I was stunned; the clerk at the box office showed me a layout of the room and each seat had assigned alphanumeric designations. I suspect this probably matters more at night and weekend showings, where there are bigger crowds, because the room was only half full and it didn't seem like anyone was enforcing the assigned seats thing. 

Plus, the seats themselves were really cushy. When I first sat down in mine, it automatically reclined back and my feet were propped up! Unfortunately, I must have done something wrong, because it went back into its standard position and I didn't know how to get it to recline again. Still, it felt great, however briefly.

Anyway, there was this dude in the row in front of me, about two seats or so to the right, who started texting about a half hour or so into the film. I ignored the glow of his cell the first time he did it, but the second time, I decided I needed to do something. I stuck my foot out across the very wide aisle, over to the right, and nudged his seat to get his attention. It wasn't a kick; it couldn't have been because the aisle was so wide, but I did it to get him to look at me as I asked him to put the cell away. In hindsight, this may not have been the best way to go about it, and I admit, frustration made me act before thinking it through fully. I accept my share of the blame there. But the guy mistook my nudge as a kick and started yelling at me. I kept telling him to turn his cell off, but he copped an attitude and ignored me. 

When he whipped out his cell again, I went outside and asked for a manager at the concession stand. I was pointed out to her, I told her my situation, and we went back inside the auditorium. I pointed out the guy, she spoke to him, he complained about me, but whatever the manager said to him worked. He put the cell away for the rest of the movie. I wasn't entirely sure if the guy would try and start a fight with me afterwards, so I left right as the words "Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino" came up on the screen.

I've complained about AMC theaters in the past, but I just wanna take this opportunity to publicly compliment this particular AMC and its manager for handling the situation. If I knew the woman's name, I'd give her a shout-out. It's kind of funny, because the last time I was at the Fresh Meadows (to see Captain America), I also ended up complaining to management, for a different reason. Still, this, plus the revised seating arrangements, makes me think that maybe I should start coming here more often.

So now that that's out of the way...

All these people complaining about the usage of the word nigger in Django are totally on crack. In the past couple of weeks, I've been having an e-mail conversation with a long-time cartoonist friend of mine, a highly intelligent and deeply sensitive white woman, who is currently working on a historical comic in which race is an indirect factor in the story. There are clearly racist characters in the story, and she's concerned about how to present them as products of their time while honoring the basic human dignity of the minority characters, so she's been trying to get my perspective as a black man. We've had similar discussions in the past.

She showed me a page in which a character is implied to be saying nigger (or some other racial epithet) but she replaced it with a squiggle, as if the offending word had been crossed out by hand. I told her that I thought that was a bad call, for the reasons I outlined here. She countered that she's trying to go for a young adult audience and that she'd rather err or the side of caution than be exposed as ignorant, for whatever reason.

The question she keeps coming back to, and it's an excellent one, is whether or not it's possible to have an intelligent discussion about race without citing specific racial epithets as examples of racism? I believe so, at least - and this is something I probably should've mentioned before - when the parameters of the discussion are made plain at the outset and everyone involved is conscious of them and okay with them. This is probably easier to do in smaller groups than in bigger groups, with acquaintances rather than with strangers.

As a white person, my friend is also concerned about issues of propriety; i.e., who can use racial epithets and who can't. I'm sure that's something Tarantino has had to deal with in the past as well. We know Tarantino doesn't fear words (not to imply that my friend does); he is renowned for his screenwriting ability as much, if not more, as his directing ability, and he's well aware that different people talk different ways. He's also aware of context. 

However, like my cartoonist friend, he can't be completely certain that everyone who sees his work will react the way he would want them to. A major Hollywood motion picture has the potential to be seen by millions of people worldwide, and here we run up against the problem of bigger groups of strangers not being privy to the parameters of the discussion at the outset. (Not all moviegoers read Entertainment Weekly.)

Regardless, though, we have to continue having that discussion. However complex, however painful, we need to keep the lines of communication open. Art is a reflection of reality, and the more accurate that reflection, the better we can see ourselves as we really are, warts and all. There's nothing wrong with keeping one's audience in mind when dealing with race in a work of art, but my feeling is that if this art is intended for a wide audience, then there's gonna be a point where one simply cannot control the reaction to it, no matter how one tries. People will find things to complain about in just about anything, so you might as well go ahead and make your art. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

On another level, Django was pretty bloody - no surprise in a Tarantino movie. In the wake of the Newtown and Aurora shootings, Tarantino has had to defend his use of violence. I don't have much to add to his statements except that by showing the realities of the slave trade in America - and he shows things that I've never seen anywhere before - one hopes that people will learn from it, and work towards preventing it from happening again, both here in America and abroad. As for the gunplay, I'll admit that he really lays the body count and the blood on thick, but again, the thing to remember is that it's only a movie. It's not real. Newtown and Aurora were real. Big difference.

Django is awesome; go see it... but please turn your cell phone off when you do.


  1. "However, like my cartoonist friend, he can't be completely certain that everyone who sees his work will react the way he would want them to." Therein lies the problem and the potential in all works of art. You put it out there and, in a sense, it is no longer yours - it belongs to the audience. To all of the audience, the thoughtful and the reactionary.

    1. Unless you're George Lucas. Then you can tweak with it endlessly and keep your fans from seeing it the way they remember it!

  2. There's an AMC "fork and screen" theater here where they do assigned seating as part of the full menu option. I've actually seen this a couple of times and it holds up to repeat watching. As to the language objections, I don't have the objection if it's appropriate to the period. If the movie had been set today and they used it with that frequency, I'd have a problem. But, in the historical context it was appropriate... well, appropriate's the wrong word but I think you get the gist (or I hope you do).

  3. I've read about those AMC theaters before, but this was definitely the first time I'd been in one. There are a few places here in NYC that also do things like serve beer, fancy food, etc., but one usually has to pay extra.


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