Me and Niema sat in the Magic Johnson Harlem Movie Theater paying attention to too many things; the old ladies beside us ooh-ing and ahh-ing ever 30 seconds, the ushers who walked in and out as though they were trying to watch the movie, too, and the white folks who sat uncomfortably each time the black folks cheered for Caesar and his motley crew. And of course we were paying attention to the film. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen, and that bold statement has little to do with the actors, acting, cinematography or the fact my ticket was paid for by someone else. Here’s why:
While a student at Bethune-Cookman College I changed my major from Mass Communications to Speech Communication once convinced I possessed a quality many lacked. Apparently, according to them not me, I’m a born leader, so I changed majors to better hone my skills. It didn’t take me long to take notice myself. Hindsight being 20/20, I think I’ve always known. In grad school I studied Leadership, specifically Global Leadership Development, to take my talents a bit further than the 3000-student campus, my hometown and social media. Leadership is everything. As one of the biggest fans of HBO’s The Wire, I’d watch, breaking down the leadership styles of Barksdale and Bell. Caesar the ape is by far one of the greatest leaders of all time.
Forced into a situation unlike any other he’d be exposed to, and far outside of the comfort in which he grew up, Caesar survived, but he did not merely adapt, as some will tell you to do. We often hear about the giraffe that once had a short neck, and lived around tall trees. That giraffe was forced to adapt to his environment. Caesar adapted his environment to him. Not to say the giraffe was no leader, because there are many great leaders who adapted to survive because they felt no other way, or their altruistic nature prevailed. Steering this boat slightly right, we can talk about Django was forced into two very different situations; slavery and freedom. As a slave, he adapted to survive. As a free man, he made honest attempts at making his world adapt to him. We see this several time throughout the film. But was Django a leader? Was he asked to be? Did someone see him as a leader?
At risk of going too far with these thoughts, let’s go a little bit left and see where we end. Both films, undoubtedly open several doors for us to discuss the then and current state of Black America.
Shafiqah Hudson says “It is extremely difficult to draw true parallels between the lives/experiences of Black people in the United States in the present,” so I won’t make too many attempts on it, but I will set up three groups:
Group One: Those who are ignorant by its true definition. They know little, have seen less, and have found a great comfort in that.
Group Two: Those who have been education by a system or a person, or taught themselves in an attempt to fit in with “normal” society. They were once able to relate to those in group one because they all grew up together, but because of what they now know, and have seen, it’s difficult.
Group Three: Those who find little no commonalities between themselves and those in group one or two. They feel they blend in flawlessly with who they believe to be the top tier of society. Typically known as “the sell out.”
Caesar and Django represent Group Two, but each film shows all three groups. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Group One is represented by the Apes, Gorilla, and Orangutan Caesar found himself locked up with, and the ones locked up in the zoo. Group Three is represented by the Dr. at the beginning who ran the lab where Caesar’s mother was kept.
In Django, we see Django starting with Group One, the slaves who accepted their situation because no other option seemed available. Quickly, he’s initiated into Group Two, being educated by the German who came along to help. Group Three is owned by Samuel Jackson’s character, feeling far removed from the “niggers” surrounding him. We even see him doing what the others aren’t allowed to do as advisor of Master Candy.
Where leadership and parallels are concerned:
Caesar, through a well thought out strategy and approach, made his environment adapt to him. He did this by developing his vision, sharing his vision, and made sure it included the people. Before he could share this vision with the people, we needed them to understand that he was in it with them. He made sure they, too, were eating. He was much like Ace in Paid in Full. He made sure everyone ate equally. Not only did the vision, but he equipped his people with the tools needed to understand that vision. He educated them. Perhaps he understood becoming a leader among idiots in too easy a task, but to become a leader among equals is great. There’s a parallel that can be drawn here showing Caesar and those who’ve tried to bring evolution to “the hood.”
Django became a free man and felt no concern with freeing anyone other than his wife. I am in no way saying this is wrong, but it’s certainly a parallel to those we see who leave Group One, join Group Two, and never reach back (cliché) to share what they’ve learned. Instead we hear Django tip toe between Group Two and Group Three with lines like “I’m one in a million.” Once Django left with the German, he never looked back. He was never able to fully relate to the slave anymore. In the end, we see Django kill the men driving him and the others to the next place, and he offers nothing to the slaves he was captured with even then. Another parallel. I have friends who’ve gone from the hood to Harvard and can’t hold a conversation any longer with the hood dwellers because their words have become too complicated for “home.”
I’ve written before, years ago, how dangerous education can be when there are so few seeking it. It splits families and blows up bridges between friends. Caesar’s a fantastic example of how to effectively use education. Teach others.
Yeah, I probably lost my point somewhere along the way…but I like my ending: Teach Others.