[2012] Django Unchained

mv5bmjiyntq5njq1ov5bml5banbnxkftztcwodg1mdu4oa-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_l learned, recently, that Alexandre Dumas was a black man writing white stories in the nineteenth century. Cornerstones in American literature – The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers – were written back-to-back in 1844 and 1845 in a post-revolutionary but pre-abolition world. The era is specifically important and places this work into a context not unlike the films we watch today, of yore: representative and reflective. Depending on the reader’s station, she will read Dumas’ work with a particular bent and her life will be further honed because of it. A wealthy white woman in 1855 might understand, through no fault of her own (though, it is very much her fault) The Count of Monte Cristo as a personal attack on the long-aft bourgeoisie, dismantling the wealthy for the betterment of the working and underrepresented classes. A modern black man might read it as a triumph of the wrongly imprisoned over corruption and the consolidation of white power. The very real differences in how people read art makes literature entirely subjective and wholly personal. The same holds true for film.

I learned that Alexandre Dumas was a black man from watching Django Unchained.

That this is true is a testament to how young people are learned and I must read him differently now that I know I know his race, regardless of how I read him before. Does it matter, at all, that I learned this fact from a film? Here are the arguments for both.

No: How a person learns something is irrelevant and that he knows it now is the whole point of education. When building a person, his combination of experiences, truism, faults and values make him who he is and the purpose of education is to ensure that he  has access to as much information as possible. Combined with critical thought these ideas become ritualistic: he will draw upon them to make decisions day-to-day, whether by choice or by subchoice. I happened to choose to watch Django Unchained and by way of this choice I learned a fact about a historically significant figure. I can now make more refined choices about how I think about him, his historical context, his offshoots and literary descendants, and modern application of the Higher point, should I choose to attribute one. For this I thank writer and director (and actor) Quentin Tarantino.

Yes: The question here is why this wasn’t taught to me while in an institute of lower learning. Why were my English teachers, or professors, apt to teach race as contextual clues to enhance the richness of the text. It is not rare that a person’s demography has a circular relationship to his work; in fact by presenting the work of literature as a standalone object, we are doing every aspect involved a disservice. The teacher is teaching nothing; the students are learning next to nothing. Beyond basic reading comprehension, which is necessary and overrated, knowing who Edmond Dantès is and what is struggle is is unimportant. Why did I learn this fact from a movie, in passing? Continue reading

[2013] The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s a real travesty that over 20 years into his career, Mr. Leonardo Michaelangelo DiCaprio hasn’t yet won Best Actor at whichever Academy Awards ceremony we’re begrudgingly sitting through, again. He’s been nominated a handful (?) of times and has (so far) walked away with zero. He’s incredibly gifted and unlucky. He’s the face of the generation but the gold one still eludes him. His presence on the screen almost guarantees tons of cash for the studio – how much does an Academy Award weigh anyway?

The real travesty is that Jonah Hill doesn’t yet own an Oscar.

Mr. Hill knows his role within every film he steals to a tee. His breakout film, Superbad, is canon and a torchbearer for 2000s comedy pastiche. The first film for which the Academy graced him with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Moneyball, had Hill shed the goofy routine for a more dramatic role and he proved that his range extended beyond dick jokes and fat humor; in fact so much so that legendary film auteur and same-amount-of-Oscars-as-3-6-Mafia director, Martin Scorcese, chose him for a pivotal role in his adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s tiresome and self-aggrandizing laugh fest that was The Wolf of Wall Street.

Note that this is NOT a bad or even mediocre film: Jonah Hill’s acting and Margot Robbie’s “acting” were the high points; Leo’s physical acting grabbed him the nod. It was The Wolf of Wall Street‘s 3 hour run time and a heaping load of better films that landed it just under 1 Oscar total. This outcome begs the question, “would this film have been nominated had this been 2008, when only five films got the nod? Does it have the same canonical presence as The Dark Knight? It’s hard to see The Wolf of Wall Street from behind the obvious star power of its production team, but the answer is no. Continue reading