I recently saw Django Unchained, and I loved it. I had a feeling that I would because I love most everything Quentin Tarantino releases, but I was definitely not disappointed. I also found it to be an important film because I understood it to have a pretty critical, anti-racist message that was well-researched and thought provoking considering that it is a major Hollywood release. Now, let’s be clear. This is Hollywood, so it’s not going to be THAT groundbreaking, but I thought it did a good job.
Things I enjoyed:
- Tarantino is known for putting extensive research into his work, and the film did a good job of showing some of the horrors of slavery, particularly considering that a majority of the audience for this film are likely to be White Men, folks who need to understand better the realities of what our people did to Black people in the institution that made the U.S. the economic powerhouse it is today. Everything from the treatment of runaway slaves to the collars and masks slaves had to wear to the “hot box” to mandingo fighting is important for White folks to understand when we so commonly say to Black folks, “Why can’t you just get over it?” Well, White folks, please consider watching the film in its entirety and not covering your eyes when a slave is torn apart by dogs or when one slave is forced to beat another to death and then think for just a little while about how if that were seared into your people’s collective conscious as just two of innumerable unspeakable acts if you’d be able to “just get over it.”
- It pokes great fun at the myth of White supremacy. For those who’ve seen it, the scene with the KKK riders and their hoods = comedic genius.
- The acting was fantastic. Thank you, casting director, for that.
- It features authentic White allies (though there is important and ample criticism of Shultz as a Christ figure and as the lead when the true lead should be Django). So often White folks don’t have examples in popular culture or in our history books of White people acting as allies. Though I was troubled by Schultz saying that he wouldn’t free Django until he had served a purpose, he goes on to be an anti-racist White ally!
- It displays the culpability of poor Whites in the system of slavery and White supremacy. So often White folks will say, “Well, my family never owned a slave.” The genius of the system of White supremacy and slavery is that poor whites were and are pitted against those that should be their allies, poor people of Color, because they are given modicums of power over people of Color. By buying into that system, Whites were and are culpable, even if we “never owned slaves.”
- It’s great fun to watch as a freed slave enacts vengeance on the system of White supremacy through utter destruction of but one plantation and its White inhabitants.
All that being said, the first thing that I thought upon leaving the theater is, “I wonder what Black critics are saying about this?” I say that because privilege conceals itself from those who possess it, and I, as a White person, am unlikely to think about all of the ways that a film about slavery is problematic when written, directed, and produced through the lens of a White man.
Thus, I immediately headed over to The Root where I found a fantastic piece that tackles some of the complexities of Django. You see, in moments like this, it is not so important what I as a White Man think of this film. Instead, we need to listen to Black voices as they discuss the merits of this apparently anti-racist film that was created by a White man.
Thus, I REALLY REALLY REALLY hope that all of my readers will read “‘Django Unchained:’ A Post-Racial Epic?” by Hillary Crosley. A few of the highlights:
Herein lies the crux of the problem that many have, and probably will have, with Django Unchained:While it deals with race, the film’s mere existence is not necessarily a commentary on how far we’ve come in terms of race relations in America, which some viewers might expect from a film about slavery in 2012. At its heart, Django is a spaghetti western, and the film, written and directed by Tarantino, showcases his wild sensibilities as he imagines America’s slaving days through the narrative of a black man.
Let’s all agree up front that a film about a newly freed slave enacting revenge on those who abused him and his wife can seem problematic when the director is a white man. There is no way around this…
Ultimately, Django featured several cruel traditions that were likely historically correct — it’s not hard to imagine that blacks were branded with an “r” if they ran away, that some were torn apart by animals or that Mandingo fights had black men fighting to the death — but that doesn’t make them any easier to watch.
Enough of that. Just go read the piece!!!
And lastly, let’s be clear. This film is a big budget Hollywood fantasy about Slavery written by a White man. So, in the words of Davey D, “I say use this excitement around Django and the hype machine that director Quentin Tarantino has around him to turn folks onto other projects they may have overlooked, forgotten about, or not seen at all.” So yes, please go see the movies that he recommends in his post “4 Movies You Should See and Know About Before You See Django That Deal w/ Rebellion.”
I just read one of the better reviews I have read on Django over at IndyWire. Check out Tanya Steele’s “Tarantino’s Candy (Slavery in the White Male Imagination).”
And make sure to check out Darnell Moore’s piece “Django Unchained, or, What was So Damn Funny Anyway?”
Perhaps the single best piece I’ve read on Django Unchained: “Django Unchained: A Critical Conversation Between Two Friends.“