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Movie theater, South Side of Chicago: photo by Russell Lee, April 1941, from this site.

 

So there’s been some discussion in comments on various bits of our Django Unchained roundtable about how African-American audiences have reacted to the film.

The obvious answer to this question is, of course, that different black folks have reacted differently to the film, just as different white folks have reacted differently to it. There’s no monolithic black community response any more than there’s a monolithic white community response.

With that said…I did see Django Unchained on the south side of Chicago, with an audience that was basically entirely black (I think I may have glimpsed one other white guy there, but that was pretty much it.) The reaction to the film was, as far as I could tell, pretty enthusiastic; the little old lady sitting next to me kept loudly finishing punch lines and seemed particularly stoked by Stephen’s ignominious end.

When I was leaving the theater, I did overhear an interesting conversation, in which two men were discussing the way that “we undermine ourselves,” (to quote loosely.) I assumed they were referring to the character of Stephen — the black slave who aids his white master and effectively becomes (as Charles Reece points out) the film’s main antagonist. The idea that blacks are at least partially responsible for their own oppression is a well-established discourse in the black community, of course, from Bill Cosby and Barack Obama on down.

Still, it made me a little queasy to hear it deployed in this context, inasmuch as Stephen really is not, as far as I could tell, an accurate representation of anything. Uncle Tom really is a caricature, and looking to Stephen for straightforward lessons on slavery or racial politics really seems like a bad idea.

Anyway…while writing this, I actually started to wonder how white audiences reacted to the film. So, anybody see the film with a primarily white audience? Was there discomfort? Enthusiasm? Or what?

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