In the midst of all the online debates over DJANGO UNCHAINED, I had an epiphany.
It was inspired by something a gentleman had posted on a friend’s Facebook wall. He had written that he had listened to an NPR interview with Quentin Tarantino in early January where Tarantino described himself as amoral, said that he wanted to remake the 1966 film DJANGO and chose to set it during slavery because he needed a setting that was appropriate for the kind of violence he wants in his films. In other words, the gentleman concluded, “It is the violence [for Tarantino] that is cathartic. It’s not a matter of principle, but a matter of violent reaction, revenge. He is using our story for his get-off…”
Of all the takes on DJANGO UNCHAINED and Tarantino’s intentions for creating it, this is the one that has stuck with me most. I have very mixed feelings about his films and major issues with the man himself that would require another post to elaborate. Not yet having seen DJANGO UNCHAINED, I’ve only lurked discussions except to comment on the filmmaker based on things he himself has said. You know, shit like this everything-but-the-burden comment about his past lives to BRITISH GQ:
“I know I must have been a writer in a few other lives. I know I was a black slave in America. I think maybe even like three lives. Yeah, I know that. And I know that I was Japanese in another life and I was Chinese in another life."
So even though I have yet to see DJANGO UNCHAINED, comments like these made this fellow’s theory about what really drives Tarantino as a filmmaker resonate.
Then I woke up one morning and realized that all the understanding we need regarding the intersection of Tarantino’s racial politics and artistic impulses can be found in one line from KILL BILL VOL 1.
I should've been motherfuckin' Black Mamba.
I’m no stranger to the use of poetic license. But license not only engenders responsibility, it also casts more transparency than even the most deliberate artist may realize. Whether a media maker is aware of the deeper motivations influencing the way s/he wields poetic license is irrelevant. Poetic license is gonna tell on you.
And what does the Black Mamba moment say about QT?
Let me ask you this.
Do you think for a second in the Real World Vernita Green wouldn’t have been Black Mamba?
On the surface, it’s a hilarious line. An effective one, too, saying a great deal about not only Vernita and Beatrix’s relationship but also about their respective standing in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. And that's precisely why it’s bullshit. It reveals that when it comes to race, Quentin Tarantino just ain’t that fuckin’ knowledgeable or deep, er, his past life as an enslaved African in the United States notwithstanding.
For all the racial messiness that often insidiously permeates even the most progressive of multicultural organizations, there’s no way that a woman like Vernita would have allowed Beatrix to take on the moniker of Black Mamba. No. Freakin’. Way. Beatrix could’ve been turning Bill out three times a day and all-day Sunday. Never would’ve happened. The minute Blondie would’ve piped up at the meeting talkin’bout, “I wanna be Black Mamba,” Vernita would’ve said – say it with me – …
“Bitch, please. I’m motherfuckin’ Black Mamba.”
And that would’ve been the end of that. She either would’ve been Black Mamba or she would’ve been out. With the skills she had, Vernita had plenty of opportunities in the underground economy to bounce to an organization where this never would’ve been a question. The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, after all, is not a member of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex. Or the left for that matter.
The fact that Vernita Green was not Black Mamba and is sore enough still so many years later to even mention it is proof-positive to the extent Tarantino will flex his poetic license to pursue the superficial laugh at the expense of accuracy. “I should’ve been Black Mamba” reveals he either has a flimsy understanding of how racial dynamics play out in an organization or doesn’t care about depicting those dynamics accurately. Rather he only wants to approximate the truth to that delicate point where it can be named without being disrupted. Therein lies the shits and giggles for him, and the rest of us if we don’t give it a second thought. The bottom line: it was far more important to Tarantino to solidify the Bride’s superiority over Vernita, physical and racial, and for that superiority to be so obvious and impervious, the Black woman is the one who has to complain about it.
Don’t even get me started on the shit that comes out of Tracie Thom's mouth in DEATH PROOF.