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Django Unchained: 'Brilliant' or 'Offensive'?

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By William Reed
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) Have you gone to see Django Unchained yet? Activist Dick Gregory called the current box office smash “brilliant,” while filmmaker Spike Lee said it was “offensive to my ancestors.” All the while, the force behind Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino, is taking bundles of money to the bank from throngs of Blacks who have attended showings. The movie is pure fantasy and takes privileges with history, but Blacks like it a lot.

Django Unchained is a 2012 American western film written and directed by Tarantino. The film stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson and was the fifth highest-grossing Christmas release in history. At a New York City premiere, Black society and its media were “overwhelmed” with the film and its cast.

Black historians see similarities of abolitionist John Brown and his Gang of 21 in Tarantino’s tale. Django Unchained is set in 1858 as several male slaves are being transported across Texas by the Speck brothers. In their group is Django (Jamie Foxx), who has been sold away from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). The Speck brothers encounter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German immigrant dentist and, unbeknownst to them, bounty hunter.

Schultz takes Django and kills one of the Speck brothers, leaving the other to be killed by now-free slaves. Schultz reveals that he sought out Django to aid him in identifying the Brittle brothers, a trio of ruthless killers working for a plantation owner. Schultz confesses that his bounty hunting is opportunistic, but emphasizes to Django that he despises slavery. The two come to an agreement: in exchange for helping locate the Brittle brothers, Schultz will free Django from slavery and give him $75 and a horse. After hunting down and killing the Brittles, Schultz takes Django on as his bounty hunting associate.

In many ways Django is three hours of caricature. After their bounty hunting success during the winter months, Schultz and Django confirm that Broomhilda’s current owner is brutal plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). At Candie’s plantation, Candyland, some male slaves are trained to fight to the death (called “Mandingo fighting”). Schultz and Django devise a plan to reach Broomhilda by posing as potential purchasers of a Mandingo fighter. Schultz introduces Django as a free man and “expert” on Mandingo fighting. Candie and Schultz come to an agreement to purchase a Mandingo fighter for $12,000. Schultz also offers to purchase Broomhilda, claiming that she would help alleviate his nostalgia for his mother tongue because she speaks German. Django raises the suspicions of Candie’s house slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), who correctly deduces that Django and Broomhilda know each other, and that the Mandingo sale is a ruse. He informs Candie.

Throughout, Django Unchained is a brutal tale of retribution based on the theme that punishment doled out is morally right and fully deserved. Django is an audacious Black hero who shoots White slavers with impunity and lives to tell about it. The film’s violence is used as a kind of spiritual redemption which Black audiences are meeting with glee.

But, is this the “spiritual redemption” the descendants of slaves need right through here? With the “debt due” and legacy of slavery continuing in our daily lives, how can self-respecting descendants of African slaves be party to such a charade that mocks us and our ancestors?

Today’s Blacks deal in movie “make believe” and are loath to accept the reality of slavery and its legacy in our lives. Blacks accept as “fact” that they have high unemployment rates, and that Whites rightfully have 20 times our wealth. To be about eliminating America’s gross inequities, Blacks need to be organizing constructive collective actions. Stop accepting that “slavery was a long time ago and there is no one alive to collect or pay reparations.”

The legacy of slavery is without end across America. Those who profited from slavery don’t just owe reparations for the past, but for the inequities of the present as well.

William Reed is head of the Business Exchange Network and available for speaking/seminar projects through the Bailey Group.org.

One Fontana – One Leadership Team - Regardless of Politics

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By Acquanetta Warren
Mayor, City of Fontana

During my tenure as mayor of this great city of Fontana I have had a consistent message: “One City – One Leadership Team.” It has been this philosophy which has allowed us, as a city, to be highly successful in providing quality services to our residents, building infrastructure to meet the needs of the entire community, and engender trust so our city council can provide nonpartisan leadership in solving the cities challenges.

There is only one goal: To always move Fontana forward in a positive direction.

Non-partisan leadership is the key to this success. Putting party labels on local government officials directly defies what the founding fathers of this nation envisioned. Whether Republican or Democratic, our duty is to serve this community and assure that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is achieved by all. While I serve as mayor, this will continue to be the guarantee to all the citizens we are privileged to represent.

Building a library, interchange, road, or storm drain system is necessary, irrespective of a public official's partisan registration. Providing police and fire safety services, or a quality after school program to enhance the educational system is all about meeting needs and doing the right thing.

However, recent discussions about the implications of the recent election are misplaced when they focus strictly on partisan issues, rather than focusing on the needs of the community. Fontana is one city, with one elected leadership team, and we will continue to work together for the good of all. Pursuing policy based on partisan politics is counterproductive to the success of the community as a whole.

If you look at the other levels of government where partisan and parties dominate you see the business of the people taking a back seat to the partisan gamesmanship of both political parties. You need to look no further than the current battle between the Executive Branch and the House of Representatives to stave off the “Fiscal Cliff” which could result in an economic downturn for the entire nation. This is not what we want to happen to local governments and particularly in our city.

In Fontana, city elections the ballot doesn’t list the party affiliations of the candidates because once elected you must leave those affiliations at the door. Once elected to the city council, you only need to address one basic issue as you consider your vote. “Is This Good for Fontana?” We all have our beliefs and they pattern our ability to govern but they can’t be the driving force when we decide at the local level to serve our neighbors. I respect each person’s voice and opinion on local issues and encourage everyone to participate in the process of Fontana government. Whether Republican or Democrat, your opinions are important to me and to the other members on the City Council. Let your voice be heard because it will be listened to by all.

Right now, Fontana is fortunate to have a diverse city council representative of the community as a whole. That is truly positive.

Fontana, beware of partisan party interests from any political party organizers who want to interject party politics into this city and local government. There is no place for it here at the local level. We must not allow partisan politics to polarize the community by race, gender or party affiliations. We have far too many challenges and good work ahead of us to be distracted by such counter-productive messages.

Fontana is indeed a very diverse community with a rich history of being a family oriented community. Let's keep it that way.

Surely, we don’t desire the dysfunctional structure that governs us at the state and federal level, because we want to get things done and be responsive to the needs of our citizens. Fontanans demand action and results, not finger-pointing and political games.

Our Founding Fathers, who sat down in Philadelphia in 1787 and wrote the seventeen page document known as the Constitution of the United States of America, didn’t intend party politics to destroy the ability of our nation at the federal and state levels to dominate every decision made for our nation from our birth to our death. It should be this Constitution, our laws, and the needs of our community that drive our decisions, not special interest groups.

As long as I am mayor, Fontana will continue to be successful because we will not allow the interference of political parties to dominate our policy discussions. Rather it will be the needs and voices of our citizens that each and every member of this city council to whom we will listen.

Fontana has been and will continue to be a glowing example of what happens when party politics doesn’t get a chance to dominate. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your trust in me as mayor. I look forward to working with each and every one of you, regardless of whether you are a Republican, Democrat or neither. This community deserves nothing less.

The future of Fontana is exceptionally bright. By working together, there is nothing we cannot do!

Clearing the Air on Climate Change

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(NNPA) In response to a commentary I wrote, I received a note the other day from a reader. Among other things they were most concerned about what they believed to have been the dismissal of those who challenge the very notion of climate change. As far as this reader was concerned, there are all sorts of people who have questioned climate change, so the matter is up in the air, so to speak.

What is critical for us all to understand is that the preponderance of the evidence indicates that climate change is underway. Many people have gotten confused because of the usage of the term “global warming,” thinking that this means that the Earth is turning into a desert. When they see snow storms they conclude that global warming cannot possibly be happening.

“Climate change” is underway. We all, actually, know that. One example that scientists warned of was the development of extreme weather. The hurricane that hit the New York/New Jersey area is one example of that, but so too are the droughts that we have been experiencing in the Midwest, the increasingly warmer summers, the winters that have started to feel like springs, and, yes, the very odd snow storms. There are, of course, other examples of climate change, such as the melting of the polar icecaps.

Though it is factually correct that the climate of the Earth has evolved over millions of years, with ice ages and warmer periods, again the evidence points to the increase in the usage of fossil fuels as contributing to what has been described as the “greenhouse effect.” In other words, even if you were to assume that the human contribution to climate change was minimal, you would still be faced with a reality that has profound implications on how we live.

What the reader who commented on my column missed is that the fact that there are many people who disagree on the very existence of climate change means little. The question is more what does the evidence show? What is the balance of opinion among reputable scientists on the question of climate change? It is important to keep in mind that to this day there are those who assert that the world is flat and that what appears to be a curved Earth is nothing more than an illusion! While everyone is entitled to their beliefs, the fact that someone believes something that is unsubstantiated (and sometimes irrational) does not mean that it needs to be respected at the level of policy.

I sit here writing this commentary during a week when the temperature has dropped to the low 20s. What is odd is not that fact, but that most of the winter so far has been above normal in temperature. While many of us have enjoyed the more pleasant weather, to be honest, it has me very nervous because we all know that it is not supposed to be this way.

Let’s start looking at the evidence rather than listening to the commentators on many of these right-wing talk radio shows who seem to want to keep us in an ignorant bliss. The reality is that there are things that we can do about climate change IF, and only if we act now.

[Note: for more information on this, please check out www.350.org for excellent information and suggestions on what needs to be done.]

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. You can follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Children Must Stop Dying from Gun Violence

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By Marian Wright Edelman
NNPA Columnist

(NNPA) On Saturday, January 26, I was part of the March on Washington for Gun Control. We called on members of Congress and state legislators to pass common sense gun safety laws to stop the epidemic of preventable child and adult gun deaths. Others were marching in Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, San Antonio, Jersey City, and in communities across the country.

Grassroots groups came together in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Mothers and fathers, grandparents, pastors, gun violence survivors, law enforcement officers, elected officials, child advocates, and everyone who believes that our children’s right to live, learn and grow up safely must be protected before guns, must not stop marching, calling, writing, and visiting and holding our political leaders accountable. We must vote them out if they do not act to end the preventable and immoral loss of child and human lives and honor what most Americans want and our children need.

A new Gallup poll shows that most Americans support universal background checks for gun buyers, a ban on assault weapons, limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds or less, and other proposals in President Obama’s plan to reduce gun violence. It will be a formidable fight to achieve these essential steps but we can and will succeed if all of us raise an irresistible and unrelenting voice in every state in the weeks and months to come, and for as long as it takes.

Don’t let anyone tell you current gun safety regulations are working just fine. They aren’t. The massacre at Sandy Hook woke up many Americans to the epidemic of gun violence which has snuffed out the lives of 148,000 children since 1968 – this is the equivalent of 7,400 classrooms of 20 children and teens. Every 30 minutes a child or teen is shot in the United States. Every 3 hours and 15 minutes a child dies from gun violence. It’s time to say “no more.”

Epidemic gun violence against children—and its toll on all who live in the United States—is a uniquely American phenomenon. In 2010, the U.S. gun death rate— homicides, suicides, and accidents—for children and teens was nearly 65 times higher than the rates in the United Kingdom and Germany and 108 times higher than in Spain. The U.S. gun homicide rate for children and teens was 106 times higher than the rate in Germany and 213 times higher than the rates in Spain and the United Kingdom.

The reason gun deaths are a huge epidemic in the United States is simple: it’s the guns and the permissive gun laws that protect them. In a 2007 study of 178 countries by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the U.S. ranked number one in the number of guns per person (88.8 per 100), far ahead of all the other countries in the study. Yemen was a distant runner-up with 55 guns per 100 people, 40 percent less than the U.S. rate.

Although the U.S. accounts for less than five percent of the global population, Americans own an estimated 35 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. Between 270-300 million guns are in civilian hands in the U.S. – nearly one gun for every man, woman, and child. Our nation is saturated with guns and the National Rifle Association wants more and more.

We can free our nation of this scourge of gun violence. No external enemy ever took the lives of so many children and adults. We can and must change this. I am confident that most Americans value children’s safety and right to live more than they value the right of anyone to have assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. If America can’t stand up for its children, it doesn’t stand for anything.

Marian Wright Edelman is president of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to www.childrensdefense.org.

Drones: Warfare of the Video Age

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(NNPA) Drone warfare is truly the warfare of the videogame age. The ‘pilot’ sits behind a panel, miles away from a flying machine that contains no human being. Through cameras and various forms of sensing equipment they direct the drone to the location where it will carry out reconnaissance and/or a missile strike. And then, in the case of a missile strike, presto, the target vanishes!

There are many problems with this entire scenario. Drone warfare, particularly the manner in which it is played up in the media, leads one to believe that war is now easy and relatively painless, at least for those operating the drones. Yet, the accolades for drones ignore a few things, such as, what if the wrong target is hit? What if there is a mistake?

None of this is abstract. Drone warfare, whether carried out in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or any number of other places, has brought with it an extensive amount of what is politely called “collateral damage.” The estimates of the number of civilians killed in drone strikes range significantly from 200 – 600 for the first years of the Obama administration. Yet each time that we hear about these drone strikes, we are informed, through the mainstream media, that another “militant” has been eliminated. The reality is that we, the public, really do not know who has been killed.

There is one thing that we do know and it has been documented. The drone strikes in the Afghanistan/Pakistan war have turned populations against the U.S.A. The hatred of the U.S.A. in Pakistan is now almost legendary. While we hear about the ‘pilots’ directing the drones from the security of buildings miles away, civilians in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan are often fearful of where they walk, not knowing whether a drone thousands of feet in the air, will mis-identify them as a terrorist, and as a consequence, eliminate them.

The Obama administration seems almost impervious to criticisms of its drone campaigns. For too many people of the U.S.A., drone warfare is an acceptable approach to the ugliness and confusion of the alleged war against terror. As a result, there is so little pressure on the administration. As has been demonstrated repeatedly since the end of the Vietnam War, when the body bags are not returning to the U.S.A., it is easy for most people here to believe that there is no crisis; there is no war. From the standpoint of those in the countries where the drones are deployed, there is a very different story.

As we learned in the aftermath of both the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq War of 2003, hi-tech warfare is far less accurate and ‘clean’ than it appears when watching selected clips on television. In viewing missile strikes on television we do not see the families blown apart or the survivors crying hysterically. All we actually hear is a number, that is, the number of alleged terrorists supposedly taken out.

We are then asked to go to sleep.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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