Thought The Django Debate Was Over? Wrong. Jesse William Weighs In

by on February 19, 2013


Jesse Williams’ message for Director Quentin Tarantino after Django Unchained is don’t act like you’ve done us a favor. Williams, who plays heartthrob surgeon Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, is a graduate of Temple University and a former teacher of American and African history. The actor published what can only be called an impassioned essay on the subject of Django at CNN today. It turns out he sides with Spike Lee, who called Django “disrespectful to my ancestors.”   Williams, having actually seen the film, expresses his distaste for the film with an even higher level of conviction than Lee, which is tough to ignore.

While Williams understands the need to take liberties in storytelling, he feels Tarantino went way over the line, taking liberties unnecessarily. These two quotes from his article summarize how he feels:

Tarantino’s plantations are nearly empty farms with well-dressed Negresses in flowing gowns, frolicking on swings and enjoying leisurely strolls through the grounds, as if the setting is Versailles, mixed in with occasional acts of barbarism against slaves.It’s the opposite of the exploration of the real phenomenon of slavery about which he boasts.

Williams asks thoughtfully:

How does depicting slave plantations like circus campgrounds, fit with delirious, babbling overseers wielding bull whips and overdressed rabble wandering aimlessly, further Django’s truth?

For background purposes, Williams talks about the perspective he gained as a biracial child:

My personal biracial experience growing up on both sides of segregated hoods, suburbs and backcountry taught me a lot about the coded language and arithmetic of racism. I was often invisible when topics of race arose, the racial adoptee that you spoke honestly in front of.

I grew up hearing the candid dirt from both sides, and I studied it. The conversation was almost always influenced by something people read or saw on a screen. Media portrayals greatly affect, if not entirely construct, how we interpret “otherness.” People see what they are shown, and little else.

It’s why my dad forced me to study and value history from an absurdly young age — to build a foundation solid enough to withstand cultural omissions from the curriculum and distortions from the media. It’s what led me to become a teacher of American and African history out of college. There is a glaring difference in outlook between those who have mined the rich, empowering truth about how we’ve come to be, and those who just accept that there’s only one or two people of African descent deemed worthy of entire history books.

If, like Tarantino, you show up with a megaphone and claim to be creating a real solution to a specific problem, I only ask that you not instead, construct something unnecessarily fake and then act like you’ve done us a favor.

Williams’ full article is a worthy read. He doesn’t hide his education and

He has a full blog about problems he sees in Django Unchained on his Tumblr page here.

Where do you side on the Django Debate? How was Jesse Williams made you reconsider your position, if at all?

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