When Director Spike Lee said that he wouldn’t be supporting Quentin Tarantino‘s ‘Django Unchained,’ my reaction was simple (and said with one raised eyebrow):
“[Lee] has had a Black woman play a crackhead, a Black man get drunk and kill his wife, a Black woman make a living having phone sex with wealthy, White men and a Black teenager have a threesome with White women, but ‘Django’ is what’s disrespectful to our ancestors?
Now Tarantino is the recipient of the other raised eyebrow.
The fearless — some might say reckless — director says that Alex Haley’s “Roots” is “inauthentic.”
Yes, clutch your pearls and grab the smelling salts. “Roots,” that Black cultural touchstone that makes White Americans glance at their Black comrades with trepidation after BET plays it on repeat over the holidays, has been deemed “inauthentic” by white as the driven snow Tarantino.
“When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” said Tarantino. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”
Alex Haley did, in fact, plagiarize important passages of Roots, stealing them from white author Harold Courlander’s The African. After a 5-week trial in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, Haley offered Courlander a financial settlement of $500,000, acknowledging that “[he] regrets that various materials from The African by Harold Courlander found their way into his book Roots.
But the larger point is that slavery contextualized as a Spaghetti Western is not authentic storytelling.
The criticism should not be that Tarantino dared to question Roots authenticity, but that he arrogantly believes that Django is moreso.
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Quentin, as someone who believes that you will be mentioned in the same breath as Andy Warhol and Truman Capote when it comes to mastery of their respective arts, I say this with respect:
Have a seat. As a matter of fact, buy all of the tickets to a showing of ‘Django’ and just spend the entire movie going from chair to chair having seats.
Just because you pay Black people a lot of money to say “nigger” a lot of times on camera does not make you an authority on what rings true about slavery.