Jan 13, 2013

One in Ten Thousand ("The Extraordinary Nigga")


                         I ain't no ordinary nigga/look around this ain't what ordinary gets 
                        you/extraordinary figures/I'm an extra-ordinary nigga.   

                                                               Jay-Z, Say Hello



There are many gems of knowledge embedded in Django Unchained.  Though this film has prompted a larger public discussion, much of this discussion has been uninformed at best.  Haters harp on, but what are they really hatin' about?  I have yet to run across a critique of the film that does anything other than regurgitate tired, old, irrelevant handkerchief-head laments.  This comment from jack-leg racial huckster Tavis Smiley typifies the unenlightened drivel that has circulated in regards to this film.  Though Smiley has not seen Django Unchained he feels quite comfortable dismissing it, stating  "I refuse to see it. I’m not going to pay to see it. But I’ve read the screenplay, and I have 25 family members and friends who have seen it, and have had thousands of conversations about this movie, so I can tell you frame by frame what happens."

First of all, Smiley doesn't have to pay to see the film.  A public figure like Smiley would not have a problem getting an invitation to a private screening or obtaining an industry "screener" of the film. He's puckered up to enough of Hollywood on his talk show to assure such access, but he doesn't say this.  He does make it a monetary issue however.  Smiley seldom does an interview without name dropping or engaging in passive aggressive attempts to let the world know how much money he has. When one considers some of the dubious corporate relationships that Smiley has engaged in over the years, it's fair to assume that money is not an issue.  Or at least it shouldn't be.  Maybe he's short?

Beyond this, reading a screenplay is not the same as watching the finished product on the screen.  The "25 family members and friends" he mentions might offer their own subjective memories of seeing the film, but the inconsistent recollections of others is not the same as seeing for oneself.  No, sorry Tavis, you can't tell anyone "frame by frame what happens" if you haven't seen the film.  You can comment on other people's unreliable memory about a film you haven't seen, but this is not commenting on the film.  Don't get it twisted.  But Smiley and others like him aren't interested in an intelligent discourse they are interested in pushing their own imbecilic dogma. The restrictive world that these zealous reactionaries live in is one where The Taliban would most certainly be comfortable. 

Every since the days of Blaxploitation, haters like Lerone Bennett, editor of Ebony, and Junius Griffin, head of Beverly Hills chapter of the NAACP, have complained about larger-than-life empowered black male imagery on screen.  The hateration that began during this time continued through the emergence of hip hop and the subsequent evolution of gangsta cinema in the 90s. Other echoes of this hateration could also be heard, for example, amongst the rampant naysayers as they gnashed their teeth during the triumphant reign of Jay-Z and Kanye's Watch The Throne in 2011, the landmark album that signaled the full maturation of hip hop's "extraordinary nigga" ethos. Such toxic hateration lingers, polluting the air of cultural discourse to this very day.



Much of the tepid criticism directed towards Django Unchained operates in the same vein.  (Forgive me, but I'm reluctant to continue naming names, as it were, for fear of giving these charlatans more light than they've already received.  As Mom Dukes used to say, " a hurt dog will holla," so when you haters start screaming, the world will know who you are.)  These would-be critics see no value in the swagger of cool defiance that has infused American culture since the days of legendary boxer Jack Johnson.  Thus they don't understand the revolutionary potential represented by Django.

Many of these haters, so-called black intellectuals and other cultural gatekeepers, prefer victimization.  They like their heroes to be weak.  They seek sympathy through guilt.  True empowerment is not on their agenda.  The haters would rather sit in their lil' group-think bubbles and complain about how their collective feelings are being hurt than embrace what NWA once defined as "the strength of street knowledge."  Yes there are those, believe it or not, who would rather see Precious steal a buck of chicken than see Django enact righteous revenge on his oppressors.

Allow me to polish one of those gems of knowledge that I referenced earlier...

A recurring motif in Django Unchained is the metaphor of "one in ten thousand."  This is what Django comes to represents, the exception to the rule, "the extraordinary nigga."  The history of the African-American struggle in this country has often been defined as a group struggle.  The only problem with this is that America imagines itself as a land of individual opportunity.  The inherent conflict is one where a group is trying to succeed in a game designed for individuals.  Thus, the group tends to remain frustrated, though individuals may have broken through.  Those individuals who have embraced the unfortunate reality of this unique challenge have tended to be the ones to rise above the limitations. In many cases, those who have embraced this individual mandate have transformed the culture in the process.  Yet in so doing, these same individuals have often rubbed up against the myopic views of their own people who see the rise of a uniquely empowered individual as a threat to their own comfortable feeling of irrelevant complacency.  The thinking is, it's better for all of us to suffer than for a few of us to thrive.

Jack Johnson, the patron saint of black male defiance, was a threat to white society sure, but he had a large share of black haters to contend with as well.  Johnson's choices in his personal life, his desire to be a man truly free from the limitations of both white and black restrictions makes him a figure difficult to embrace for many.  His attitude alone though makes him significant.  Johnson introduced the concept of "not givin' a fuck" to the American consciousness.  This concept would evolve and come to define a philosophy, while informing a range of future rebellious sorts going forward.  Cats like Bird, Miles Davis, Muhammad Ali, and Richard Pryor are descendants of this tradition.  Malcolm X represents the tradition's imminent philosopher, figures like Frantz Fanon, Stokley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, it's shining literary lights.  Hip hop is in many ways founded upon this very tradition.  Fictional characters from Youngblood Priest in Super Fly to Django demonstrate the influences of this tradition in popular culture.


The rare individual who has the willingness to go against the grain, to chart one's own path, to defy the expectation of haters whoever they may be, is what defines the extraordinary nigga.  This is about using whatever is available to the individual in question as a way of transforming the world around them.  Though the group may talk about it, the individual must be about it.  This is the sort of inspiration that I found articulated in Django Unchained.


 When Calvin Candie says to Django, "You'll hafta excuse Mr. Stonesipher's slack jawed gaze. He ain't never seen a nigger like you ever in his life....nor have I" he speaks to the shock and awe that often results when bold individuals dare to exist outside their prescribed place.  Yes, this is the same shock that momentarily paralyzed those who had never seen "a nigger on a horse."  This assertive individuality has often left a lot of shook ones in its wake.

One of the purposes of art is to help us imagine newly creative ways of seeing the world; past, present, and future.   Provoking haters is a time honored tradition in and of itself.  The dismissive response to Django Unchained from haters of all stripes is consistent with the film's profound message.  The emergence of the extraordinary nigga guarantees a negative response from those more comfortable with the status quo. Such a representation would never be roundly popular as it's too threatening.  Those who are truly hip get it regardless of race, while a rainbow coalition of squares are left to choke on their own vomit. The film's value lies in its ability to provoke the masses, while flattering those who remain committed, trying to keep it real, compared to what.

Sleep on, haters.  Get your Rip Van Winkle on, while the world continues to pass you by. 












9 comments:

Miguel Rodriguez said...

Thank you for a brilliant read!

Beth Accomando said...

Great post. Well written and spot on. Thanks!

renarowe said...

Excellent points! I especially like the points about some people's preference for suffering as a group vs rising above as an individual and people making comments about a movie they haven't seen.

Creolemommie said...

Slavery did happen and still exists. We are slaves to the past and refuse to move on.

Django is a movie made to entertain not teach. We can not erase slavery from our past but we can learn from it.

Educate to Liberate is my mantra...thank you Bunchy Carter for showing that the extraordinary negro can evolve from a slave mentality to one of a heightened mental capacity to organize, motivate, inspire and teach others.

You see, education frees us.

http://2urbangirls.com

Anonymous said...

One argument I've seen is that it wasn't extraordinary to fight back. That it happened all the time. Though considering the sheer numbers of slaves and the relatively few numbers of slave revolts of any size those who bucked the system that hard were probably pretty rare and therefore, by definition, extraordinary.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could "like" your analysis ten thousand times; I actually clapped with delight when I read it and thought 'Thank God, someone who gets it!' 5/5 Thanks so much for this.

Bruce Briggs said...

Phenomenal read. Thank you.

Steve from Online PhD Degrees said...

Excellent analysis. Even though we are several years now since the end of slavery, we still faced circumstances embracing its concept. We tend to become slaves to our own mentality of staying in the past. The movie presented here is just a reminder that we need and we have to move own with our lives.

marcus said...

Im really inspired by your insight into the Extraordinary Nigga. The idea that art has the profound opportunity to force an evolution in consciousness is a great truth. Its possible that this pressure from the presence of that evolution is what makes many feel so uncomfortable when faced with cultural phenomenons like Django. I found spike Lees Bamboozled arresting and enlightening for the same reasons. Afterall, these films, The art we consume and create, are absorbed as the Myths of our millennium. I agree that in the context of Mythology all angles of perspective must be represented in order to present a more complete set of archetypes.
I myself am an artist using chocolate to refine the consciousness of the hip hop culture. I hope to one day lend my contribution to the mythos of pop culture as a reference for how art can be a catalyst for discussion on the potential and purpose of culture as a whole. Id love to get your perspective on my gift to the culture. Thank you again for your Blog! www.hiphopchocolate.com