Django doesn’t make light of slavery (and random other thoughts)

I've been reading a lot of news stories (and, unfortunately, comments as well) about Tarantino's newest film, Django, and here are some of my random thoughts.


First of all, I'm a big admirer of Spike Lee, but he admittedly has not seen (and refuses to see) Django, so his opinion on the film shouldn't be a huge news story. There are also seem to be a number of news outlets misreporting Lee as mainly objecting to the use of a certain six-letter racial slur in the movie instead of objecting to the movie being a spaghetti Western, and thus disrespectful to his ancestors. In the past, Lee has objected to Tarantino's overuse/misuse of that racial slur, but the tweet in question refers mainly to Django possibly making light of slavery.

Unlike Spike Lee, I have seen the movie, and I can assure you that it takes slavery very seriously. There exist funny moments in the movie, but no one in the theater laughed at slaves being whipped, branded, or torn apart by dogs. No one laughed at Django and Broomhilda being auctioned off separately. Those moments were sobering and deadly silent ones among the audience members I watched the film with (racially mixed and predominantly white).

Are there silly moments in the film? Sure. But it isn't a silly movie. The movie is a weird hodgepodge (as most Tarantino films are) of intense drama, light comedy, silly action, and graphic violence. Does Reservoir Dogs make light of ear dismemberment because there's also a funny moment when Mr. Pink explains why he doesn't tip at restaurants? No.

What I would contend is that this film is probably one of the least racist films I've ever seen a white man direct (The Negotiator is also not that racist, but a black man directed it). How many films have you seen from Hollywood in which the black guy is the main character, the white guy the sacrificial sidekick, and most of the other white people in the film villains? Where are all the people complaining about Amistad or The Blind Side? How many movies have we seen get virtually no press for being racist that are actually racist? If you see another movie in which the black actor's sole purpose in the film is to help the white protagonist find himself or win the battle, are you also going to say it's racist and disrespectful? I hope so. If you see another movie that's supposedly about black people but is really about how some nice white person lifted the black person up from poverty and ignorance, are you also going to say it's racist and disrespectful? I hope so. Who, apart from the Asian American community, spoke up about the yellowface in Cloud Atlas? How many times have we been told "it's just a movie" or "it's just entertainment" when Hollywood movies depict non-whites negatively?

I'm actually quite proud of Tarantino. I remember watching Inglorious Basterds and thinking to myself "Yeah, people seem cool with Jews killing Hitler, but when will there be a movie about black slaves killing white slave owners?" Little did I know that was Tarantino's next project.


There's been a lot of focus in the mainstream press about race in the movie, and very little about gender. The movie barely passes the Bechdel Test (I think Miss Candie asks Broomhilda to speak German). Regardless, the women in the movie are basically useless props. Broomhilda is a totally helpless maiden, as badly fleshed out a character as any Disney 1950s princess (Mulan and Belle have more depth). Miss Candie and her female slaves all have very little to no personality or depth. I understand in the deep South of the mid-19th century women didn't have a lot of power. That's fine. Does that mean they also have to be totally devoid of personality or feelings?


The other thing I thought about while watching the film was the whole gun control debate. There was a lot of shooting in the movie, lots of bloodshed. What's more interesting, though, are all the times the camera does a close-up on Django reaching for his gun when he gets upset, and then deciding not to use it. The gun, as the movie portrays it, is an easy way to kill lots of people without thinking about it. Without spoiling the movie with exact details, there's another character who compulsively shoots someone else, and it wasn't necessarily a good idea. At another point in the movie, a character rigs a building to blow up. The rigging took a lot of time and setup. It was deliberate and planned. A lot of the shooting comes from impulse.

This reminds me of a normally politically conservative former co-worker of mine, who surprised me by telling me he didn't think people should have guns. He used to own guns. But he said one time he got really angry at someone he was driving behind (ye olde road rage), and he was very glad to not have his gun with him, because he said he probably would have taken it out and shot the other driver. That compulsion frightened him.

I think that component of "the gun" is often missing from all the gun control debates. Yes, you can blow people up with fertilizer or crash a plan into a building using a box cutter. Those methods of destruction require a lot of planning and forethought. If you happen to be angry and have a gun nearby, you can go on a rampage without thinking the whole thing through.

I remember the debates a couple of years ago in San Francisco about the Golden Gate Bridge nets. Many people thought it was stupid to have nets. The logic went "If these people want to kill themselves, they'll kill themselves. If it's not jumping off a bridge, it'll be something else." I get that logic. In fact, that's what I thought, too, until I kept reading more letters to The San Francisco Chronicle and also watched the documentary The Bridge. Yes, someone who's completely determined to kill herself or himself will find a way to do so. But many people who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge (or any bridge) just have a suicidal compulsion at that moment (they may be depressed in general but not determinedly suicidal). The bridge being closed or a net being in place may stop those people from making a stupid mistake.

Just some random thoughts I had that I didn't see in a lot of the mainstream media or even the blogosphere.


Celibacy doesn’t lead to pedophilia

As someone who seriously planned on a lifelong celibacy (before eventually getting married to another adult), I have to say I’m completely baffled by the discussion in the press right now about questioning priesthood celibacy in connection to child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church:
Austrian Priests Suggest Celibacy May Be a Problem
Celibacy vows to stay despite sex abuse scandal
Celibacy debate re-emerges amid Church abuse scandal

Get it through your thick skulls, people. Even if you accept the premise that forcing priests into a celibate lifestyle might make some of them (the ones who actually were forced instead of actively choosing the lifestyle) sexually frustrated, why should sexual frustration mean child abuse? Seriously. If you’re sexually frustrated, break your celibacy vow… with a consenting adult. If you have that much of a problem with being celibate, why not just take off your priest outfit and go have sex with a fully grown adult woman or man? As Paul says in I Corinthians 7:8-9:

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. [NIV]

Celibacy’s cool. Or, as Jesus says in Matthew 19:11-12:

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word [that it is better not to marry], but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” [NIV]

I don’t see anything about people who can’t handle being celibate thus being okay’ed to molest little children. Look, if you’re a priest reading this, and you don’t dig the whole swearing to be celibate, I would highly recommend A) quitting the priesthood and marrying B) masturbating extensively or C) having a consensual sexual encounter (or two or three) with someone 18 or older, male or female. Yes, I realize as a die-hard Catholic, you probably consider B and C to be sinful, but would you rather be sinful and hurting nobody or sinful and traumatizing lots of people for the rest of their lives?

If you really want to cut down on priests molesting children, how about making sure they’re never alone with children behind closed doors? How about not allowing priests who have molested children to simply be transferred to another parish? How about just convicting molesting priests and sending them to prison? Stop blaming celibacy. Celibacy isn’t for everyone. I’m certainly a proponent of ridding the celibacy requirement for priests, but please stop pretending celibacy has anything to do with pedophilia.


Why schools play “the game” with students

If you’ve ever worked as a teacher in a high school, you’ve probably had to play “the game” with your students. You become acutely aware of how awkward “the game” is when you start talking about school events with adult friends of yours who do not work in education. Here’s how such an exchange between adults goes. Chandra works as a teacher in a school. Gemma has a non-school-related job (investment banker, magazine editor, graphic designer, consultant, etc.).

Chandra: I can’t believe they made me chaperone that dance last night.

Gemma: Oh, did they put you on sex-and-drugs patrol?

Chandra: Yeah, it was terrible. There were students freaking in the middle of the dance floor. There were people trying to sneak off to the main building to smoke pot and make out. We didn’t have enough faculty to supervise.

Gemma: I remember my junior year in high school, Daniel and I were the only ones who were able to sneak out of our homecoming dance to hook up.

Chandra: Yeah, well…

As you can see, Chandra is playing the game, and Gemma is inadvertently calling Chandra on it. Chandra was probably once in high school as well, experimenting with drugs, fooling around sexually with other students, and trying to skirt the rules of the school. Now that she’s a teacher, though, she has to enforce the rules.


I would argue that Chandra probably does not really believe that high school students should not indulge in any risk-taking behavior at all. She probably does not regret any drug use or sex (unless she was raped) that she had as a young adult. She probably views that time in her life and all the “mistakes” she made as part of her growth into being an adult. Gemma not only feels that way but acknowledges it vocally. Gemma can do this, because she doesn’t work in education.

If Chandra started telling kids it was okay to smoke a little pot or to have sex in high school, she’d probably get a reprimand from the school administration and some parents. She might even get fired. Parents of teenagers, as a whole, don’t want to encourage their children to do illegal drugs or have sex, and they generally will not enroll their students in a school that encourages the teenagers in that way.

If a school existed (and schools like this may exist), it would quickly gain a reputation as being for “bad kids” and would attract students who don’t just casually experiment with drugs and sex but who take both quite seriously as endeavors.

I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve had to play that game. I don’t feel like a hypocrite for doing so, as I didn’t have sex or do drugs in high school. I was pretty much as straight an arrow as you could get. I didn’t drink before I was legally allowed to. I didn’t go to wild parties. I didn’t baseball bat mailboxes. I didn’t throw eggs at houses. At the same time, though, I don’t think that everyone should do what I did. I don’t think it’s healthy to force all teenagers to or to pretend all teenagers do run the straight and narrow.

I don’t know a good solution, though. I don’t want to be in a school that says to the kids, “Hey, make sure you lose your virginity some time in high school. We don’t want you doing hard drugs, but smoking the occasional joint won’t screw you up big time.” But I don’t like the other directions schools have gone, which is basically “Don’t do anything bad. We may have done bad stuff, but we’re all adults now and we’re going to pretend we never did that. You shouldn’t do it.” Who knows? Maybe the game is necessary for the sake of order. At least these days, when students go to college (university, to you non-Americans), the schools no longer demand students be squeaky clean. In terms of legal liability, they’ll play a little of the game, but not as much as secondary schools play.

Race, Class, Gender, Sexuality

How many prison rapists will use a condom?

Apparently, a Local Prison [in Vacavilla is] To Provide Condoms To Inmates even though sex between inmates is supposedly illegal. Of course, everyone knows same-sex sex happens in prison all the time, and it is usually prison rape, not consensual sex.

So what’s the point exactly? Sure, HIV is spreading widely (five to seven times the rate the outside-of-prison population has, according to the article), but are prison rapists really going to say, “Yeah, I’m beating you up and raping you, but hold on a second—I want to get some lube and put on a condom to make sure I don’t infect you with HIV”? I highly doubt it.

The only way to stop prison rape is for prison administrations to really crack down on prison rape and punish severely those who rape other prisoners. If you stop prison rape, the only people who’ll be having sex in prison are the actual gay prisoners (a relatively small percentage of the prisoners currently having same-sex sex, since some men seem to believe that sticking their penises in another man’s ass or mouth is heterosexual but receiving by force another man’s penis is being homosexual).

Maybe some prison administrators and lawmakers should read the Human Rights Watch report on prison rape.