[Marxism] Adolph Reed on Django Unchained

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 25 15:37:04 MST 2013


Django Unchained, or, The Help: How “Cultural Politics” Is Worse Than No 
Politics at All, and Why
By Adolph Reed, Jr., University of Pennsylvania

Django Unchained, or The Help

On reflection, it’s possible to see that Django Unchained and The Help 
are basically different versions of the same movie. Both dissolve 
political economy and social relations into individual quests and 
interpersonal transactions and thus effectively sanitize, respectively, 
slavery and Jim Crow by dehistoricizing them. The problem is not so much 
that each film invents cartoonish fictions; it’s that the point of the 
cartoons is to take the place of the actual relations of exploitation 
that anchored the regime it depicts. In The Help the buffoonishly 
bigoted housewife, Hilly, obsessively pushes a pet bill that would 
require employers of black domestic servants to provide separate, Jim 
Crow toilets for them; in Django Unchained the sensibility of 1970s 
blaxploitation imagines “comfort girls” and “Mandingo fighters” as 
representative slave job descriptions. It’s as if Jim Crow had nothing 
to do with cheap labor and slavery had nothing to do with making slave 
owners rich. And the point here is not just that they get the past 
wrong—it’s that the particular way they get it wrong enables them to get 
the present just as wrong and so their politics are as misbegotten as 
their history.

Thus, for example, it’s only the dehistoricization that makes each 
film’s entirely neoliberal (they could have been scripted by Oprah) 
happy ending possible. The Help ends with Skeeter and the black lead, 
the maid Aibileen, embarking joyfully on the new, excitingly uncharted 
paths their book—an account of the master-servant relationship told from 
the perspective of the servants—has opened for them. But 
dehistoricization makes it possible not to notice the great distance 
between those paths and their likely trajectories. For Skeeter the book 
from which the film takes its name opens a career in the fast track of 
the journalism and publishing industry. Aibileen’s new path was forced 
upon her because the book got her fired from her intrinsically 
precarious job, more at-whim than at-will, in one of the few areas of 
employment available to working-class black women in the segregationist 
South—the precise likelihood that had made her and other maids initially 
reluctant to warm to Skeeter’s project. Yet Aibileen smiles and strides 
ever more confidently as she walks home because she has found and 
articulated her voice.


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