Actor Jesse Williams, known for his role as Dr. Jackson Avery on the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy” just published an essay on CNN.com that juxtaposes the Quentin Tarantino films “Django Unchained” with “Inglorious Basterds,” the 2009 fantasy involving a band of American soldiers taking revenge against the Nazis.
Williams asks why “Django Unchained” included stereotypical and graphic images of black slaves while “Inglorious Basterds” avoided much of that imagery.
“Inglourious” did not walk us through provocative scenes of concentration camp torture, gas chambers and ethnically stereotyped victims. Nor were Jewish characters subjected to the indignities of being torn apart by dogs. And while we have our trusty authenticity card out, did the Jewish people not suffer the repeated verbal onslaught of “kike,” “rats” and other grotesque terms?
Were such words used in “Inglourious Basterds” more than 100 times? How about 70? OK 30? 10? Thankfully, Tarantino knew that he was perfectly able to tell a story without such gimmicks. (He also knew the community he claimed to be avenging wouldn’t stand for it.)
Hey, remember when Tarantino was selling those emaciated Jewish prisoner action figures with the concentration camp tattoos? So funny and ironic and harmless, right? No. That would have been cheap and disgusting.
A big reason slavery is avoided in American storytelling is guilt. Unlike the Holocaust, when it comes to slavery, our people were the bad guys. But we’re not German, so we can rail on Hitler and the Nazis all day without thinking critically about our legacy.
For descendants of slaves, and all Americans, our ovens – the slave plantations – are tourist destinations and wedding venues, home to preservation societies and guided tours. The “good ole days,” when faceless black folks with zero potential were merely quiet, collateral damage.
Williams is a Temple University graduate and former public high school teacher that taught “American and African history.” Williams founded the production company, farWord Inc. and is an executive producer of “Question Bridge: Black Males.”