A meager two days after the release of the (in)famous NAS Report, I settled into a seat towards the back of Smith Auditorium to watch Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” The film—second of Tarantino’s revenge fantasies—follows the adventures of a slave-turned-bounty hunter, who is seeking to find and recover his wife after the two of them were sold to separate plantation owners at a Greenville slave auction.
Most of the film—in my own opinion at least—addresses a single, pointed issue: the issue of black masculinity in America. It did so by meditating on stereotypes of black physicality. At one point, a suggestion is made to call a certain slave-fighter “Black Hercules.” Certainly, the film’s overall plot—Django’s (Jaime Foxx) quest to find his wife—offers abundant references to contemporary prejudices and realities of black family life. Another riveting aspect of the movie—Samuel Jackson’s unsettling performance as the consummate “Uncle Tom”—forces us to think about slavery’s legacy of African-American powerlessness. And, finally, there is a blood-chilling scene where Django is nearly emasculated (literally) before a fateful interruption.
Once again, I contend that the central theme of the film is black masculinity. What intrigues me about this inference, however, is the fact that a mere three years ago I would not have had the requisite vocabulary to come to this conclusion. I would have been bereft of the discussions and the coursework and the ruminations that give the idea of “black masculinity” any substantive meaning for me today. It is this broadening of my interests, my sensitivity and my ability to ask questions that I believe forms one pole of Bowdoin’s academic offerings.