Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained really has people talking. Even Minister Farrakhan weighs in with his positive dissection of the Django Unchained in this slightly spoiler-giving interview starting at about 19 minutes in until the 33 minute mark. So I had to see what all the buzz was about. This isn’t so much a movie review as it is a commentary on the external talk about the film. If you haven’t seen the film, read on, this writing is spoiler free.
So now I’ve seen it and I liked it. First off, Leonardo DiCaprio was acting his ass off. Aside from a few accent slips here and there from a few of the actors, the film was well done. Tarantino know’s the ins and outs of the 40+ year old genres he’s attracted too. It’s not a history film and it’s not meant to be. I didn’t get the sense that it made light of the atrocities of slavery, except for the fact that he made a spaghetti western involving slavery which may be the point of disgust for many, nor did it feel like a kill whitey revenge flick to me. It felt like a man going to get his woman. The violence, pacing, acting, and bad-assery was all what you come to expect from a Tarantino movie. The film is a bit different in the sense that I don’t recall slavery being shown to this degree, if at all, in the context of a western before. To put it in perspective, the tv show Bonanza took place sometime around 1857. So compare, the Cartwright’s very progressive attitudes about race over in Nevada with Django on the other side of the country getting whip trees on his back at the same time. Hoss and Little Joe dealt with the evils of racism but I don’t think slavery going on was ever addressed; the world of the Ponderosa was a bit more like the 1960’s instead of the mid-1800’s. Django Unchained is kind of similar to Inglorious Bastards but better. Where Bastards was a nod to Hogan’s Heroes, Unchained tips a hat to Shaft.
Before I even saw the film I could already understand some of the objections being raised against Django Unchained, most notably from people like Spike Lee and Tavis Smiley, being that it was Tarantino’s baby. I said I’d reserve judgment though. I even commented to that point on Gangstarrgirl’s article “Six Lessons I Learned About People From ‘Django Unchained’“. Honestly, some part of me wanted to be disgusted so I could rant about it. Tarantino has an infatuation with genre films especially those in the categories of Grindhouse, Hong Kong cinema, and most obviously Blaxploitation films. Those films portray the people in them in a certain light that may have been acceptable in the day they were produced but have since been seen to not be the case. The problem with Tarantino’s resurrection of these types of characters in this day and age is the question of, “Where does that motivation come from?” Is Quentin just fanatical about film and fascinated with the genre’s themselves because it evokes a nostalgic emotion in him from when he was a kid or, and more specifically in the case of Blaxploitation films and black characters, is it because he’s most comfortable with the caricature and stereotypical representation of the people in those films? Tavis Smiley touched on that idea in an interview with Newsweek (by way of TheDailyBeast).
“I don’t know what’s inside Tarantino’s heart; what I do know is what’s inside his head, because that’s what we see on film. If what’s inside his head is connected to what’s inside his heart, then this brother needs some help.” – Tavis Smiley. thedailybeast Tavis Smiley on Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained
I think this is at the crux of the Tarantino criticism. What’s in a person’s heart is always hard to figure out. A big criticism of Django Unchained had to do with what some considered excessive use of the N-word. I agree that Tarantino seems to be a little more comfortable with using the N-word than he probably should be, or more to the point, with making films that utilize that word so freely. There is a potential level of arrogance in his defiant continuation of finding plots to use the slur in and about telling black stories in general. Apparently his next film is about black troops in WW2 that, as Tarantino puts it, “go on an Apache warpath and kill a bunch of white soldiers and white officers on a military base and are just making a warpath to Switzerland.” That being said, in Django Unchained’s 1858 Mississippi setting, I don’t believe he’d be far off base with the frequency and viciousness of use of the N-word for that time period and location.
To be fair to Spike Lee, some of the craziness about his remarks seem to be media infused. I can only see where he commented once or twice about the film. The way the media overwhelmingly covered his comments made it sound like he was on a mission to burn down the world. You writers need to chill out, this is hardly a slam, more like a personal opinion.
“I cant speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it,” he tells VIBETV. “All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectfu
l to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.” – vibe.com Spike Lee Slams Django Unchained: “I’m Not Gonna See It”
Spike has a right to his opinion. I think the media went overboard with it though. If Spike really feels some kind of way about the disrespect then a good response would be a slavery film epic on the level of his Malcolm X or Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. Although if he had a hard time getting funding for Malcolm X and George Lucas couldn’t get money for Red Tails, I doubt those that hold Hollywood’s purse strings want us to see that reality in blockbuster season. Which could also be part of the opposition to Tarantino’s vision.
Tarantino taking liberties with black culture and history becomes even more questionable now that you can own your very own slave action figure. I think the spontaneous puberty inducing Slave Leia was the only acceptable slave action figure although I’m sure there were a number of people disgusted with the misogyny. So if people weren’t already upset enough, here’s where you get to surpass that feeling. Black slavery and everything that came with it, has come after it as a result of it, and everything that is still affected by it, was and is the most devastating thing to happen to a people in recorded history. Bar none. And now Quentin Tarantino, a white man in a country where white men have long dictated the narrative of so-called minorities and women, who has a raging hard on for the N-word, has turned the often glossed over as a rule, history of slavery in America into a sometime slapstick gore fest of a film with merchandised toys no less. Quentin Tarantino also dissed the iconic mini-series Roots. I really do get it.
No one wants someone else to speak for them especially not those that benefited from oppressing that speech. No Tarantino didn’t own slaves directly but white privilege is real. Hell, after reading what I just wrote, I kinda want to join Kat Williams in smacking Tarantino. Focus. The point is I didn’t feel like Django Unchained was an assault on black history but I can understand how some would. I didn’t get the sense that the point of the movie was to tell a slavery story but a story that was set during that time. After seeing the film you might not feel that this silliness was worth your aggravation. On the other hand, this is like at least Tarantino’s second Blaxploitation-esque flick. If that WW2 joint comes off similar, his slip may start to show. I don’t think this is the film nor its story serious enough to warrant a complete freak out.
The toys though….the jury is still out.