Thursday, February 21, 2013

"I Should've Been Motherfuckin' Black Mamba:" What the Poetic License of Quentin Tarantino Reveals about His Racial Politics

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.


Anonymous said...

I agree completely with you! I love Kill Bill, but I always tell my friends "Can you actually believe that the Bride could defeat O-Ren Ishii?" After the background story we get with O-Ren, there is no way that little girl would have been defeated. Just sayin'

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I disagree with your logic here. I don't think that any of the women in the Deadly Vipers got their way much. It's very much a Bill-dominated organization, until Beatrix goes on her kill-crazy rampage. Vernita's complaint about her name echos Mr. Pink complaining about his name: he wanted a cool name too, one he thought fit him better. Both these characters are members of criminal organizations that don't give a crap about their members, and slice up their identities as it suits them. Vernita's protest and continued bitterness seems very much how people feel when they are denied what they believe is their due, their identity. However, making it a big racial issue I think misses the larger point Tarantino is making. I also have a pet peeve about taking a small insight into a literary work and blowing it up into some deep, searching comment about an author's psyche. Stick to criticizing the literary work. You're on much firmer analytical ground.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

One last point to 2nd Anonymous, there's PLENTY out there on which to discern Quentin Tarantino's views on a variety of things. How convenient of you to overlook the two examples I refer to in the blog. And there's far more where that comes from and it's fair game. If you like the man and don't want to critique him, that's your prerogative, but your desire to ignore the record of his views outside of his films doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Unknown said...

1st Anonymous - LOL! Thank you. Just sayin' I wrote this piece somewhat tongue in cheek, and that went over some folks' head.

2nd Anonymous - No need to apologize for disagreeing. It's all good, I find how seriously you took this post amusing. While I stand by my overall point that Quentin Tarantino is not the racial progressive his stans make him out to be, I wrote this tongue in cheek. I actually enjoy a lot of his films, but they're not beyond critique, especially from a gender, racial and other lens. As for your suggestion that I stick to literary analysis, I'll do what I want. How 'bout that? It's very gutsy to post a remark like that anonymously. And since you missed the intended humor of the blog, I'll do you the favor and spell out that the previous sentence was sarcastic. You can take the post completely seriously, disagree with my points, build an argument. I welcome that. You're not invited to be a jerk, especially if you won't post your name. That's what you should "I'm sorry" for.