Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Unchained Melody: Two Troublemakin' Bruvas Take on Tarantino's Django Unchained

By Steven Boone and Odie Henderson

(This is a conversation between Big Media Vandalism's resident troublemakers, Steven Boone and Odie "Odienator" Henderson. It is the third in a series of "Black Man Talks." The others may be found here and here.)

(WARNING!! Do not read this if you haven't seen the film! I will personally come of out of this screen and slap the shit out of you if you bitch about spoilers. Proceed at your own risk. -Ed.)

Round 1: Odie


Time for another "Black Man Talk," and have I got a subject for you: Slavery! And not just conventional slavery, but slavery as seen through the eyes of the man who loves the word "nigger" more than Dr. Dre and David Duke, Quentin Tarantino.

When I saw you last, you'd been privy to Django Unchained, Tarantino's latest flight-of-fancy-slash-fuck y'all ode to his cinematic obsessions. You were practically jumping out of your skin to discuss it with me, but I hadn't seen it yet. How I wished at that moment a duck from in front of the Beacon Theater would drop out of the ceiling, holding a bootleg copy of Django Unchained in its beak. I could have seen exactly what you had, and this discussion would have begun earlier.

Alas, such magical powers exist only in my tattered, skewed subconscious. I had to wait until general release to partake in the heroic negritude emanating from Tarantino's equally tattered and skewed subconscious. As I had done with Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds, I saw Django Unchained in the former grindhouse capital that is Times Square. My audience wasn't as rowdy as I'd hoped, but they were clearly into it. One guy yelled out "FUCK YOU STEPHEN!!" after a particularly egregious sin was committed by Sam Jackson's character, the film's truly reprehensible house nigger.

"FUCK YOU, STEVEN!!" is probably the first thing that popped into readers' minds when they read your brilliant take on Spike Lee vs. QT over at Press Play. 'Tis a good a place to start as any in this discussion. Spike Lee has become media shorthand for "Angry Negro," and the media couldn't wait to latch onto his comments and run with them. CNN wrote that "despite Spike Lee's disapproval, Django Unchained has received rave reviews." Articles were written, pro and con, about Lee's comments and his subsequent tweet:

"American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them."

Why was all this time devoted to Shelton? If he had the power CNN assigned to him, his superb documentary Bad 25 wouldn't have been butchered and crammed up ABC's ass on Thanksgiving evening. I'm a little sick of the media turning to (and on) Spike whenever something seems racially fishy. There are far angrier Black men out there, but nobody would have asked, say, Chuck D, for his opinion, because scared White readers wouldn't know who the fuck Chuck D is. So, Lee complains and suddenly HE IS SPEAKING FOR NEGRO AMERICA even though Lee explicitly stated his opinions are his own. But I think it's comments like Lee's that prevent our history from being depicted onscreen in any fashion. Last thing anybody wants to do is be considered disrespectful or a racist.

Slavery for us is like the Crucifixion for Christians, that is, a topic that is held in such regard that it can't be examined in any thematically controversial way. We need to see things like Django Unchained and other interpretations and responses. We deserve and demand to see them. We don't, however, because Black folks are too scared to confront these images and White folks are either too scared (for different reasons) or fear it won't make any money. Black filmmakers will feel visual guilt; White filmmakers will be accused of liberal guilt.
For years, I hoped Lee, or any Black director for that matter, would turn his or her attention to giving us a slavery based movie from a literally Black point of view. Our backstories are rich and endlessly dramatic. Yet how many Black directors have even been CLOSE to making an epic movie about slavery? We've seen our perspective in books (Toni Morrison's Beloved), and on stage (August Wilson's The Piano Lesson, for example), and on TV (Roots), but we've not really seen this perspective on film. Lee could get it done. I would have loved to have seen Spike Lee's Beloved, or his take on Nat Turner. Especially his take on Nat Turner! But no, I just get complaints.

Granted, with slavery epics buoyed by both Oprah and Spielberg failing to make paper, the financing wasn't there in Hollywood. But why not a low-budget indie? You don't need $100 million worth of CGI, because aliens don't run plantations. Get a kick-ass script, find a field down South, get some ashy muthafuckas with raggedy clothes on, some sinister looking White people, and voila! There are stories to be told out there, and with a lived-in funkiness to them, not the stifling beatification that can only serve to mar creativity.

After Inglorious Basterds, I said "I bet nobody would try that shit with slavery." And here we are, with Django Unchained, which I consider a ballsy move on Tarantino's part. He knew the kind of backlash he could face, and like all crazy ass people, he didn't let it hinder the need to satiate his compulsions. It's not just an homage to spaghetti Westerns, it also tips its hat to the many prior Black movies that dared put a bruva on a horse and give him a gun, from Poitier's Buck and the Preacher to Margheriti's Take a Hard Ride to the numerous lousy vanity vehicles Fred Williamson crafted for himself in Blaxploitation days. This wasn't our first time to the rodeo; in fact, we invented some of that rodeo shit.

So, we have a vehicle that puts a Black man in a position of vengeance, gives him guns and has him shoot up plantations owners and other racists left and right, with maximum carnage splattered all over the screen. Underneath that lay some truly disturbing material that shook me to my core if only for how easily I could draw parallels to what's happening today. But from a purely basic instinct, like the Blaxploitation flicks of our youth, Django Unchained provided me with a sense of fantasy empowerment; after listening to months and months of shit about Obama and poor people, Jamie Foxx shooting racists made my dick hard.

So why the hell are folks losing their damn minds about this movie? Let's discuss the many ways it stuck with us, for better and worse.

Round 2: Boone

You ask why folks are lavishing so much attention on Mr. Lee? I think because we all know Django Unchained is the kind of film we'd love to see him make, something bold, angry, vulgar, tender, musical and sublime about American Slavery. You're dead-on about a Nat Turner Spike Lee Joint. Now that Tarantino has used his clout to initiate a historical subgenre that should have gotten going at least as early as Buck and the Preacher, Spike should tackle his own antebellum epic. Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman--so many of those proud ancestors that Mr. Lee invoked are waiting patiently for beautiful films that honor them. The best way to honor them is not with tasteful, funereal reverence but some real attempt to measure the dimensions of the stretch of history they occupied. The units of measure are various; whether the storyteller's measuring tape skews moral, spiritual, political, anthropological, patriotic or mythic, the richness of the fabric always depends upon his regard for people as people. I might have shown a little more love to Spike in my piece, given the beautiful moments of compassion and insight scattered throughout his filmography, but I maintain that QT, for all his love of trash and gore, expresses a more consistently generous and soulful sensibility


(I'm sorry, I just can't stop reliving that moment. The way Leo DiCap was half-turned to the two brothers destroying each other, like he was shouting down at a heated Parcheesi match.)

Odie sez:
"Get a kick-ass script, find a field down South, get some ashy muthafuckas with raggedy clothes on, some sinister looking White people, and voila! There are stories to be told out there, and with a lived-in funkiness to them, not the stifling beatification that can only serve to mar creativity."

Now, you see there? [said in a Bill Duke-in-Menace II Society voice] You see what you done did there? You just articulated Big Media Vandalism's reason for being, Any young filmmaker growing up in the kind of hoods we grew up in should browse this site and find in your essays reasons to push forward with their dreams, money and connections be damned. Is Django Unchained destined to be the greatest American slavery epic for all time? Hell no, not even close. QT has said it himself, that he is just throwing the first rock through the window. I promise you, some kids in Atlanta, Detroit, Gary, Watts or, shit, Honolulu will astonish us all with their artful filmic interpretation of American history, made with Best Buy equipment.

And Spike has made self-effacing comments similar to QT's in the past, saying that he's more of a pioneer in so-called black cinema rather than a Mozart or Coltrane-level virtuoso. But that shouldn't stop him from continuing to challenge and provoke with his best weapon--and it ain't Twitter.

Anyhow, what are some of your favorite moments in Django, nigga? You told me you love it. That's a bold statement from a man with such high standards. At what point in this movie did you realize you were in love?

Round 3: Odie

Last night, I dreamed a dream--no, not like Anne Hathaway! I would NEVER let a camera get that close to my face--my dream was of some young bruva emerging from the ether, a tripod-clad video camera slung across his shoulder like John Henry's hammer. "My brother," he said to me, "the drought is over." He sat me down, flipped the viewer of his camera my direction, and pressed play. I don't remember exactly what he showed me, but I do remember the feeling I had when it was over: I was jumping up and down, applauding wildly. This was the cinematic statement on my ancestors for which I'd been hoping. I woke up with a smile on my face.

It's nice to dream.

Well, maybe not.

Django Unchained isn't my dream scenario's epic statement, but it is the loud noise atop the snow-covered mountain, the sound that will hopefully cause the avalanche. You asked for my falling-in-love moment, and I've many to choose from, but I'll go with QT's placement of Jim Croce's I Got A Name. It's both blatantly obvious and surprisingly touching. Django is surprised King Schultz would allow him to pick out his clothing ("and you chose THAT?" asks the slave girl giving Django the tour of Big Daddy's Bennett Manor estate), and put him atop a horse of his own. Croce's lyrics resonate in ways I hadn't given thought to despite my familiarity with the song. As subtly as Tarantino can muster, he presents the gift of humanity to a former piece of property. I daresay I was profoundly moved.

That's the polite Negro in me speaking; the hoodrat would go with the moment Django opens fire on the Brittle brothers. "SHOOT THOSE FUCKERS!" I heard my inner voice yell. You can take this boy out of Blaxploitaion, but you can't take the Blaxploitation out of this boy.

Boone sez:

"And Spike has made self-effacing comments similar to QT's in the past, saying that he's more of a pioneer in so-called black cinema rather than a Mozart or Coltrane-level virtuoso. But that shouldn't stop him from continuing to challenge and provoke with his best weapon--and it ain't Twitter."

Lee's most profound moment for me is an image in one of his forgotten earlier films. I loved Reggie Bythewood's Get on the Bus, which explored several different types of Black men en route to the Million Man March. Two of the characters, a father and son, are shackled together, if I recall correctly, because the son is under some form of house arrest. Lee's last shot is of those shackles, broken and cast aside. Tarantino does not have  an image that loaded and coded in Django Unchained, and I don't think it's his intention to do so. Both men are provocateurs, but Lee's artistic provocations often stem from unpopular, uncomfortable viewpoints. Mainstream viewers are challenged, even in Lee's worst offenses like She Hate Me, by a (figurative and literal) minority opinion.

Django Unchained attempts to mine those unpopular opinions a bit, because as your Texas-published textbook and GOP politicians will tell you, slavery wasn't that bad. And as a certain blonde Republican correspondent's book will tell you, racism is over, so there's no need to



Unlike the Nazism QT's heroes combat in Inglorious Basterds, slavery makes America the villain. The American way of life at the time is the bad guy here, and this creates a discomfort that I've seen reflected in several reviews: "Where's the morality in Django?" I acknowledge that Inglorious Basterds adds a morally ambiguous layer to its heroes, whereas Django Unchained is more a product of QT's love of Blaxploitation and the Sweet Sweetback notion of a "baadasssss nigger comin' back to collect some dues." Why is that wrong?

Yet, Tarantino knows that, as a White man, he processes his rage against the institution of slavery differently than Blacks. I can make this statement based on the mini-arc he crafts for Dr. King Schultz. When Leonardo DiCaprio's Calvin Candie authorizes his lackeys to turn the dogs loose on his runaway slave, Waltz's Schultz is clearly shaken. Foxx's Django remains unsurprised, and even somewhat complicit. The latter I'll talk about next time, when I pitch the art of slave role-playing as a side hustle. The former is made explicit in dialogue: "Your man looks a little green," Candie says to Django. "He ain't never seen a man torn to pieces before," Django responds. Later, it is Schultz who has the flashback to that horrible sequence, and the fact that it's so new to him contributes to his fate. Django is also angry, but like most Black folks, that anger is both stoked and tempered by a sad familiariity, a "been there, seen that" stoicism stitched into our DNA by the experiences of both our ancestors and our contemporaries. (Think about how you feel when you hear about police shootings et al.) Touches like this are what haunts me about Django Unchained.

What also haunts me is how much DiCaprio's major speech sounds like the shit we heard on Fox News during this election cycle, and especially after Obama won the election. "Oh, he won because brown folks wanted something." I'll come back to that, too.

I want to close out with something else that made me love this movie: The way people reacted to seeing something as commonplace nowadays as a Black man on a horse. Everybody, both White and Black, react as if Django rode into town butt naked and under a White woman. "Who's this nigga up dere on dat nag?!!" Sam Jackson's Stephen asks in one of his first lines of dialogue. These reactions, and the scenes with the Klan, have led reviewers to compare Django Unchained to Blazing Saddles. That's a fucking lazy observation, because in Blazing Saddles, Black Bart rides into town with an empowering sheriff's star, and THAT'S what the "God-fearing citizens of Rock Ridge" are reacting to, not to him being on a horse. Django has no observable, nor symbolic powers.

Sam Jackson and Christoph Waltz were born to speak QT's dialogue--both are excellent here--and I want to get your take on both of their roles. Also, you said to me "this film won't leave me alone." Expand on that, my brother.

Next time, I want to talk a bit about Tarantino's directorial influence, Sergio Corbucci, and his film The Great Silence.

Round 4: Boone

This movie won't leave me alone because I, too, fell in love with it. The first swoon was during the scene where King and Django have a teachable moment over beers in a saloon while waiting for a Sheriff to come arrest them. That sequence is the essence of what a lot of Tarantino detractors deny exists: his restraint. The hilarity of that series of negotiations and killings is all about rhythm, pace and QT's delight in his stylized characters. It's also the first scene to establish Schultz's M.O. of exploiting his own whiteness to the fullest. He uses his race and refinement like a CIA asset whose swarthy complexion and command of Arabic lets him move freely through the Muslim and Arab world. The fact that Schultz's ruse ultimately serves to turn a slave into an avenging outlaw is fucking thrilling to my black eyes.

This is like that beer summit Obama engineered between Henry Gates and that cop...

The second swoon was the entire sequence at Big Daddy's plantation, Bennett Manor aka Miscegeny Heaven. This is just one of the funniest, most exciting pieces of film I have ever seen. If I had to be a cotton-pickin slave, I'd prefer Don Johnson's farm over DiCaprio's Candieland, since it most resembles the world we live in, where folks can live pretty harmoniously so long as there's ample distraction from routine cruelty and injustice. From Hal Ashby to Aaron MacGruder, I can't think of too many exchanges of comic dialogue between races as mercilessly true as the one between Big Daddy and Bettina about how to treat Django. Oh, the many times in my life I have been treated "like Jerry."

The Jim Croce montage that affected you was maybe the fourth or fifth swoon for me, but it struck me only on a second viewing. It's always nice and sweet to see effortless brotherhood between black and white set to music. I think this one has more sincerity and replay value than any of Paul McCartney's 80's negro collabos, despite being just as ridiculously on-the-nose.

Odie sez:

"Yet, Tarantino knows that, as a White man, he processes his rage against the institution of slavery differently than Blacks. I can make this statement based on the mini-arc he crafts for Dr. King Schultz."

Agreed. The schism of perception between Django and ultra-cultivated European Schultz reminds me of hood rat Diana Sands' line to blueblood Beau Bridges in The Landlord about "growing up casual." Yet we see, just by the way QT lingers on Foxx's face when the atrocities are happening, that Django is only playing the ice cold role expected of him. His conscience and morality bleed just like Schultz's. It's too bad that he didn't get at least one traumatized flashback related to somebody who wasn't him or his wife. What a lot of terribly ignorant, hostile people out there need to see are more images of black men experiencing what in American film history has largely been a white phenomenon: compassion. (That's why can't nobody say nothing bad bout The Color Purple to me. Danny Glover's Mister is a glowering black villain for much of it, sure. But the hints at his torment along the way, and the shot of him watching Celie and Nettie's reunion at the end showed more of a fully human arc than 99% of Magical/Villainous/Utilitarian Negro roles offered by white filmmakers.)

Django on a horse: That ain't nothing but a Black Man in a Cadillac, a searing eyesore for a certain segment of this society, even today.

Tell me some stuff about Corbucci and that snowy flick he made that Django UC seems to be so smitten with. Influences? So many, from everywhere. At one point Django looked like Sammy Davis Jr. in his episode of The Rifleman.

QT is one of us. By "us" I mean, of course, an obsessive film critic.

Round 5: Odie

I too love the "like Jerry" dialogue. It plays as such a great "in the know" moment, like the one in Jackie Brown where Sam Jackson is surprised to find Robert Forster likes The Delfonics. I was surprised at the laser accuracy of Big Daddy's comparison. Wow, I thought, QT knows about this? As I said in my Song of the South piece, these rich ass landowners had both race AND class problems. The only reason that poor, redneck cracka Jerry isn't picking cotton for Big Daddy is that Jerry's not Black. He exists in some kind of classist limbo--too good to be a Nigra but not good enough for much else. The same holds true today; I truly believe that if working class Whites realized that "redneck" is the same as "ghetto," that is, to the rich politicians who use race to scare them into voting, they're just as broke and niggerish as we are, there would be a true class revolution in this country. A Tale of Two Cities would have nothing on the moment poor Blacks and Whites tuned out the noise and found this common bond. Bill O'Reilly can get all Calvin Candie with his "brown people want something" speech subbing for Candie's "Nigras are built for servitude" monologue, but his viewers are only going to believe that shit for so long.

Regarding Corbucci:

The title Django Unchained pays tribute to the numerous "sequels" to Sergio Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti western, movies with titles like "Django Kill!" But I saw more influence from Corbucci's masterful 1968 classic, The Great Silence. Corbucci's movies are amoral affairs, bleak as hell and equally as violent. Django Unchained's blood-spattered cotton has an older brother in the blood-stained snowy landscape of Silence's Utah setting. Silence also has a plot dealing with Black vengeance, here embodied by Vonetta McGee's hire of the mute outlaw Jean-Louis Trintignant. Trintignant's job is to kill the man who shot McGee's husband. Klaus Kinski is the target of McGee's revenge, and you know NOTHING good comes from irritating Klaus Kinski. The hired gunslinger cares not what color McGee or her husband is, despite the fact it's 1899. Kinski didn't either; he gunned him down for the money.

Silence is notorious for its downer ending, which is truly stunning and shocking. Tarantino decides to go a different route, one that our mutual friend Kevin B. Lee and I discussed in a recent chat. Lee thought QT let viewers off the hook by drawing his lines of good and evil too broadly. I countered that two scenes could be used to dispute this:

1. The aforementioned dog-attack scene, where Foxx's Django, in playing his role, basically signs the runaway slave's death certificate. There's both a Corbucci-esque amoral coldness to that scene, and it adds some complexity to Django's character. We know he's playing a role to save his ass, much like Jackson's house nigger, Stephen. In that moment, Stephen and Django have something in common--survival at any costs. Stephen is far more reprehensible, as he's in a position of power of sorts by having Massa's ear, but his actions, like Django's, serve selfish purposes. For Django, it's to save Broomhilda; for Stephen it's the old Simon and Garfunkel line: I'd rather be a hammer than a nail. After witnessing the dog scene, I thought of Sam Fuller's White Dog, where Paul Winfield hides a murder for the selfish reason he believes he can change White Dog's racist conditioning.

2. I thought it clever that the last showdown in Django Unchained is between Stephen and Django. Stephen is suspicious of Django from the get-go, and to save his ass, he rats Django out. Django's revenge segues into the film's explosive "happy ending," but Jackson's last lines of dialogue lend our catharsis a troubling uncertainty. Our heroes ride off into the sunset, but what awaits them at the dawn? "They'll hunt you down!" Stephen yells, and I'm sure they will. So I don't think we're let off the hook. This is just a momentary moment of joy for the reunited couple. It lacks the explicitness of The Great Silence's downbeat ending, but under the surface it doesn't promise a happily ever after in any regard.

Since I'm dragging our mutual friends into this conversation, I'll mention Bilge Ebiri's tweet from December 30th:

"Would King Schultz in DJANGO UNCHAINED count as a Magical Whitey?"

Boone Sez:

"The fact that Schultz's ruse ultimately serves to turn a slave into an avenging outlaw is fucking thrilling to my black eyes."

So I guess the answer is yes! I love King Schultz because of his use of language as a tool of empowerment. English is his second language, yet he speaks it better than anybody he encounters. More than once, a White person asks him what the fuck he's talking about. Schultz uses his SAT words in as vengeful a way as he uses his guns. In both instances, the targets don't know what hit them. Broomhilda's German fluency is Tarantino's not so subtle way of linking her to his brilliant stand-in (I think QT sees himself as Schultz). He's saying "see! We can speak the same language, therefore we're not so different." The German bond is also yet another way for Django Unchained to use language as a weapon to bludgeon the ignorant. Nobody else at Candieland knows what those two are chattering about, but I like the fact that only Stephen is concerned. Unlike his Massa, he knows that Black folks can be conniving and crafty. The thought never crosses these racist asshole's minds, from Candie on down to Purlie Victorious' Cap'n Cotchipee.

To close out, thank you for bringing up colored compassion in Hollywood cinema, and more specifically, The Color Purple. I too roll my eyes and say "fuck you" to anybody who comes at me with the standard issue criticism of that movie. It's our true epic, such a rich emotional cinematic experience that I can forgive any and all of its sins. Spielberg allows Glover to play those conflicted notes, just as Tarantino trusts Foxx enough to signal his feelings to the audience. Unlike most Spaghetti Western heroes, there is something going on behind Django's steely mask, which is more than can be said for any Negro in a Black and White buddy movie. Except Running Scared, of course.

You get the last word, my brother!

Round 6: Boone

I read the ending of Django Unchained the same way I read the last shot of Taxi Driver (another film referenced here, not just for the gun-up-the-sleeve contraption), as a possible delusion of the doomed protagonist. Everything that happens after Django's final killing spree has the quality of a revenge dream. I almost expected him to wake up still hanging upside down in the barn, the way Mr. Tuttle found himself still bound in a torture chamber after his escape fantasy in the movie Brazil. The plantation explosion happens so Looney Tunes-style close to Django, and Broomhilda's reaction is that of a winning game show contestant, not a 19th Century slave who has spent her life being raped and tortured. It's a demented kind of happiness that reminded me of Andre 3000's green casket sitting in the middle of his teenybopper-giddy "Hey Ya!" video (to carry a Wesley Morris observation that much further). Whatever Tarantino's feeling about this ending, it chilled my blood worse than anything in Ken Burns's The Central Park Five.

Sticking to the supposition that what happens after Django's killing spree is pure hallucination and/or Tony Kushner-style theater, I'll say that Stephen's speech to upside-down Django is a theatrically lit "Message to the Black Man in America." Instead of Elijah Muhammad delivering it, the ultimate Uncle Tom tells us, by implication, what young black men like Django are to expect from their new homeland for the next 154 years. Damn. Notice how he looks straight into the camera during this monologue, eyes wider and sadder than you'd expect of this venal sellout. My friend  Soledad Socorro went further, telling me that Stephen's describing a lifetime of chopping "big rocks into little rocks" is a nod to the modern day prison industry (and maybe even the crack game!); that his phrase "everyday, all day" sounds suspiciously like the self-diminishing boast of 'hood knuckleheads everywhere. 

I gotta go watch The Great Silence with your Corbucci thoughts in mind. Juicy, juicy.

Your analysis of Django's and Stephen's motives feels right on. They are only maneuvering to save themselves, which is enough to carry the drama and establish the horrors of slavery in the context of their struggles, but it leaves us something much more beautiful and restorative to look forward to in the future of American cinema: true epics about the real men and women who did much more than just save their own asses. From abolitionists to civil rights activists, the to-do list is longer than the road to Candieland. We'll need a filmmaker with as much lust for (onscreen) life and light as Tarantino to make it pop the way it needs to pop.

But I'm afraid we'll also need a filmmaker who has actually lived in unremovable black skin to make it sing the way it needs to sing.

It would be just as much of a thrill to have a white filmmaker prove me wrong on that last point as it would be to have a black filmmaker meet the "lust for life" challenge in ways that so many technically proficient Ho'wood nigroes have proven too cynical and calculating to pull off. I hope that makes a lick of sense. I mean, so much of the product that Bankable Black Directors (BBD's (TM)) have put out since the so-called African-American New Wave makes me wonder if the Django line, "Keep fightin', niggers!" is lifted from a development exec's memo:
"Y'all want this script for Soul Plane 5: Belly's Revenge or not?"

One great thing about exchanges like ours is that we get to demonstrate how two brothers can agree or disagree without it becoming either boring (I hope)  or a Mandingo fight (you'd win). We may or may not be as tough as Django, but that's no controversial call, either way. The notion that brothers like us can hang with the wily, unpredictable intelligence of a Schultz is still outrageous, judging by the movies we get. Schultz may be Magical in Django Unchained, but in the history of Ho'wood, he's just your average white Superfly.
"I know you knows dem jimmies that wrote this piece!"


Sam said...

Excellent read on a movie worth taking a closer look at. I think QT's greatest trick here is how he deftly has his cake and eats it too. Whereas most movies that create conflict out of racial inequality deliver a solution with kids gloves (making it all the result of one side's efforts or the other's), QT cleverly makes the actions of Blacks and Whites equally important. Django and Shultz are mirrors of Stevens and Candy, and the two former each killing a vile and twisted reflection of their own race underscores QT's thoughts on how slavery ended. Schultz kills Candy out of frustration over how his verbal flexibilty and more enlightened views become meaningless in this part of the world. Slavery was entrenched in the south, and law wouldn't make a difference. What would, is violence. In the same vein, Django killing Stevens is a powerful moment, because we're seeing a man violently act out against his self-serving doppleganger, putting himself and his goal (Broomhilda, and freedom in general) at risk by choosing action. The two arcs incapsulate the developing willingness of Blacks and Whites to end slavery by force, and the film's hyper-violence plays like an appetizer for the Civil War.

QT loads the film with references to slavery throughout history. The Cleopatra Club brings to mind ancient Jews, the Mandingo fights in the Caesar room recall Roman gladiator combat, and as you mentioned, Stevens description of the mining company is very similar to 20th century prisons. Of the first two, either God or time/law lead to the eventual end of slavery in (biblical) egypt and much of Europe. In America though, the solution had to be violence, and the unsettling thing about the movie is how boldly it presents guns as the great equalizing factor in American history.

Also, great point about Lee. The idea of one man being the sole authority of an entire group of filmmakers and people is incredibly insulting.

odienator said...

Sam, thanks for your response, and for pointing out the references to slavery that went unnoticed by me. I also like your take on the doppelganger aspects of Stephen/Django and Candie/Schultz.

QT constantly shows how much slavery was part of regular society. He parodies it in the eye-holes in the hoods sequence, which is a misunderstood piece of comic joy, but in so many scenes he focuses on how "polite society" included the debasement and ownership of human beings. Schultz is eventually so disgusted by "society" he gets himself killed.

la.donna.pietra said...

Django has no observable, nor symbolic powers.

Except that he's a phenomenal rider. He isn't just a Black Man in a Cadillac--he's better than anyone else in the movie at one of the things that really mattered back when. (As you pointed out, plenty of that rodeo stuff was not invented by nice white Marlboro Men.) Jamie Foxx is not getting enough credit for being amazing on horseback.

Steven Boone said...

Sam, your point about the Civil War references jibes well with the opening credit "...two years before the Civil War." None of QT's graphics are superfluous. That one reverberates against everything that follows, as a kind of low drumbeat to war. And your comments about history make me see that ridiculously distracting sculpture of two wrestlers behind Candie's dinner table in a different light. I took it as a cheap but funny jab at Candie's pretensions, and his extreme "curiosity" about male grapplers.

Now it ties into your and Odie's notion that this movie is asking, What does "civilized" really mean if it doesn't include decency and compassion?

Odie: "...in so many scenes he focuses on how "polite society" included the debasement and ownership of human beings. Schultz is eventually so disgusted by "society" he gets himself killed."

-which relates to any era, but most sharply the times we live in, where a lot of Americans can live pretty comfortably with illegal wars, environmental abuses, suppression of gay rights, erosion of basic freedoms, etc. so long as political protocol is observed and their own comfort zones remain intact.

In that sense, I figure slavery is not DJANGO's main business, no more than Nazism was BASTERDS's. Both films might have a more practical aim of getting folks in "civilized" countries to think about their passive or active role in the history happening around them. There are sooo many closeups of ancillary characters standing by silently, haunted, guilty, terrified, while the men of violence or cunning (or both) do the deciding.

In QT's last two films, I sense an aging, wealthy fanboy waking up to the world and deciding to say something about it. There's something beautiful about that.

Julia Barton said...

Thanks for the great conversation. I'm white, and saw DU with a racially mixed crowd in Dallas, not far from Jamie Foxx's home turf, and my sense from the audience was a weird euphoria at seeing this usually-avoided topic taken head on.

But thinking back on it, I also felt like QT was serving up a fantasy that gives us all an historical out. It's better than Hollywood's usual silence on the issue (remember the scene in "Unforgiven" when the white characters struggle to ID Morgan Freeman but fail to mention that he's black, the ONLY thing that would've mattered in the day?). But the sad truth is that we (I'm talking about white folks) have barely started to come to terms with the reign of racial terror that everyone lived under in the Antebellum South. When I was researching this piece (http://www.texasobserver.org/troubled-times) on a wave of lynchings in Texas in 1860, I was surprised at how much paranoid "slave tampering" laws ruled the land by then. Freed blacks were simply illegal in Texas by then. Nor were whites supposed to talk with another man's slaves. In 1858, a "foreign" European riding about with an armed black man would not have been tolerated in a South on edge about riots in Kansas and incredibly insecure about the future of slavery. The Peculiar Institution was both "normal" part of the economy, but it was a normal supported by systemic violence even worse than the grotesquery QT makes of it. I don't begrudge him his M.O.--I just agree with you in hoping it's not the last word.

I'm really curious to see where the film adaptation of "Twelve Years a Slave" takes Hollywood's new abolitionism next. From this interview with Paul Giametti, it sounds encouraging:


Anonymous said...

Excellent reviews! You both touched on points I didn't even consider.

I think what sets Django Unchained apart from most Hollywood movies that deal with an ugly chapter of history is that the hero isn't a sympathetic member of the oppressive class (Shindler's List, Linclon..). Django is the hero.

Schultz might have taken the chains off, but in the end it was Django on his own. Schultz even admits that he's exploiting Django for his own needs. Jamie Foxx does a great job using subtle body language around Shultz. He's agreed to be Schultz's partner, and even grows to like the man, but he keeps his distance. He doesn't trust him 100%. He knows he's on his own.

Tarantino deserves a little more credit than just making an ode to spaghetti westerns. I think he dealt with racism in America more honestly than most mainstream movie makers would dare to. In Lincoln, what happens after slavery is abolished? White men cheer and the movie is over. They don't mention that Black people are still in hell. With Django, his freedom is just the beginning, and it's more like 'out of the frying pan into the fire'.

Desiree said...

Thank you for this post. I loved and hated this movie. Loved because I'm glad people bought tickets and are at least slightly forced to face their hidden racism. (although a couple of people did walk out of the theater when Django was hung upside down) And hated because it was so violent. Almost to the point of ludicrous and laughabilty (as I realize it's supposed to be) but in light of recent history (kind of like watching the opening Stock Market scene in Dark Knight Rises so soon after the Colorado murders.)
I'm surprised no one has mentioned(maybe I missed it?) how Inglorious Basterds and Django are fairy tales? Django is a natural at shooting, he chooses the silk blue outfit, he saves his princess etc.. I wonder how that idea meshes with how people are saying it's such a powerful telling of facing what slaver was like. Is a fairy tale the only way we can "handle" viewing my white ancestors committing such atrocities? People don't really sugar coat the WW2 Holocaust but they do when it comes to slavery? I just don't get it. Maybe that's another reason I'm unsure about actually "liking" this film. Anyway, that's my 2 cents as far as I can type it. I'd never heard of this blog until today but I did read the piece that Boone wrote on another site recently. Glad I found this blog. You've got another follower.

Jana J. Monji said...

Hey, how could I not read this? I wrote my own review on this movie and I'm glad you liked it as much as I did. I was almost hoping that QT might take on Asians in America (cheap labor and lynchings in the West). Schultz doesn't tell the full story of Brunnhilde of The Ring Cycle as related to Broomhilda von Shaft. That would seem an effort to spare Django and give him a happy ending. One could suggest that QT is foreshadowing the total destruction of Candyland and the plantation way of life. Because it was the reunion of Siegfried and Brunnhilde (in death) that signaled the end of Valhalla and the gods.

Frances said...

I really enjoyed this post. Thank you. I spent the first day or two after seeing Django unable to decide if I liked it or not because I found it so disturbing. With Inglourious Basterds, the good guys -- us -- fought the bad guys -- them -- seeking revenge on behalf of a population. In Django, on the other hand, the good guy was involved in a very personal fight against, well, us. OK, not you and not me personally, or my ancestors for that matter, but I found the movie relentless and brutal. I was like King Schulz, turning green while the runaway slave was ripped apart by dogs. Knowing the shameful history is one thing, watching it on the screen (however fictionalized) was harsh.

As an aside, my 15 year old daughter read your post to me while I drove. I had to explain who Spike Lee and Chuck D are. (Embarrassing. She knows perfectly well who Public Enemy is.) This led to a general discussion about race in America in the 80s and 90s. So your post was thought-provoking on many levels.

tpapp said...

I've seen this criticism directed quite a few times at Django Unchained and even Inglorious Basterds but the fact is that the violence (and especially how bloody and brutal and even laughable it is) is one of the cornerstones of this film. QT is using it as a tool to draw very strong parallels between our modern society and a society which no one alive has any real connection to. Ultimately, what he's driving at is the permanence of human nature. He's showing us that we (people alive today) are exactly the same as them (people living hundreds of years ago).

How can we be appalled at the mandingo fight and consider Candie to be scum for enjoying it and then turn around thirty minutes later and cheer and laugh with glee as Django massacres a few dozen people with copious blood, gore, and explosions? We cheer on Django in the exact same way that Candie cheers on his mandingo fighter and in the exact same way that ancient Romans cheered on their fighters to kill as depicted by the gladiatorial statue behind Candie. In fact, QT is setting us up for the fall and even suggests that we're even more reprehensible than Candie in our own way. The mandingo fight is depicted in a very realistic and undramatic manner. We're almost not even aware that two men are trying to kill each other in the corner as the main characters carry on their sly dialogue over fancy drinks. We don't see most of the fight and more poignantly we don't even see the losing slave get killed and yet as an audience and a society we're appalled (the scene where the slave is killed by dogs is shot in a similar way with similar results). Flash forward thirty minutes and we're bombarded with scenes of wild and untamed violence where blood is literally flying all over the screen (enough to paint a white house red) and people are being blown apart and we can't get enough. We cheer, we laugh, we applaud, and we want more. The two slaves are forced to kill but Django returns to the plantation not because he has to, not because he needs to, and certainly not for revenge. He and his wife could have easily escaped into the night without a trace but instead he lies in ambush and shoots all those people down because he wants to, because he enjoys killing. He even tortures two men before killing them for the sheer pleasure of it in a complete reversal of roles from the scene not long before when he was hanging upside down. Although it's not exactly a reversal because Django was never actually tortured in that scene so who's worse? At best this places Django on par morally with the people he's fighting but we cheer him on and applaud his motives even though he does the exact same things for the exact same reasons as all the 'bad guys' in the film. "Kill white people and get paid for it. What's not to like?" Django quips in one of the more quotable and unsettling lines in the movie.

QT lays the exact same trap for us in Inglorious Basterds and like sheep to the slaughter we blunder straight into it because he knows we will. We can't not. We're shocked and appalled when the German movie audience laughs and cheers as the Nazi soldier shoots down hundreds of American soldiers. Yet in an exact mirror to that scene we laugh and cheer as the basterds torture and gun down Nazis in fairly gruesome ways and then proceed to mutilate their corpses. We even enjoy watching as that German movie audience gets massacred in cold blood and then burnt alive. QT is using the film screen as a giant mirror and showing us ourselves. We are Candie, and Django, and Schultz, and Stephen, and Big Daddy, and they are all each other because we are all human and humans oppress and kill each other for no other reason than because we enjoy it.

Very interesting blog by the way.

Anonymous said...

I think there was nothing profoundly contributing to historical relevance of slavery in this movie. It only seemed edgy cus it was during slavery times but it wasn't about slavery. It was about Hollywoods usual putting a white man in a Jesus figure role(Shultz sacrificing himself thinkin about the poor slave that was mangled by dogs by the greenlighting of Django to "keep his cover"). Django was not empowering, it was pathetic and he was nothing more than an attack dog a horse. Thoughtless. Conscienceless. Schultz got all the meaningful kills and Django got none(Schultz got to kill Calvin and the guy with the eye patch that was whipping his wife. And Django got to kill the guy he was begging to stop the other guy from whipping his wife, oh and Django got to kill another black man....real heroic as people in the audience clapped at the black on black violence) its funny how Django kept almost drawing his gun and not doing shit. After a while I didn't take him seriously. By the time he actually did it was only because white Jesus got killed and he was I survival mode. Funny how Calvin Candie placed more value on her than QT as she was silence throughout the film and relegated to a peaceful figment of Djangos imagination throughout the film. I should've done the right thing' and listened to spike lee. Spike lee should not be criticitized for not making a slavery movie theres a lot of red tape in Hollywood. They always want your white hero or white Jesus figure. Nevertheless, Django was a great side kick they should've named the movie Schultz Unchaining. That movie was great for white folk cus it makes slavery seem like it was our fault. Mandingo fights, dog attacks, killing uncle toms, looking down on other black men from a horse. Classic deference of blame shit. This movie made me sick and pissed me off for reasons that don't begin with the letter N, that's another issue.

Anonymous said...

Great article. I'd disagree with the point about Taxi Driver though, I only ever hear the "it was all a dream" malarkey on the internet. There's nothing in the text of that film to support that theory, it's just smart people overthinking things, trying to make a serious movie more serious by having a downbeat ending. But the ending in Taxi Driver is incredibly cynical.

As for Django, it doesn't matter if he's pursued by ten thousand bounty hunters after that ending. The movie posits that he's a superhero now, and will have no trouble taking care of them.

Alex said...

I love films that give us more than just "big picture stuff" on touchy areas like slavery; ones that don't make Blacks all one meek and homogeneous victim class, uniformly all sympathetic so as to avoid even the slightest hint of victim-blaming, or causing the audience to feel as if they somehow deserved their fates. Although I, too, would have loved a more compassionate bent to Django, one needn't have that active an imagination to suppose why he didn't; it really made me wonder about the raw, everyday reality of relationships outside of family during the slavery era -- if the nature of a slave's existence was so transitory that forming friendships was a liability (if he or his friend were apt to be resold or moved around; if one were to attempt to flee; or if, heaven forbid, one was killed), or feeling sorry for his plight and that of his brothers around him ran the risk of courting insurmountable despair (you essentially said that very thing when you said, "that anger is both stoked and tempered by a sad familiarity, a "been there, seen that" stoicism stitched into our DNA by the experiences of both our ancestors and our contemporaries").

DU truly exhausted my brain by giving me so much to want to talk about, and this conversation both relieved much of that pressure, and yet filled my brain back up again. I LOVE IT.

Warren Peace said...

Brothers Odie and Boone:
Your insights and comments are, as always, enlightening and entertaining. As a 46 year old black man that's lived in Texas for the last 20 years, it's been my casual observation that the only time I see white folks on horses is during rodeo season. Otherwise it's the blacks and Mexicans that do the majority of the raising, training, breeding, etc. of our equestrian friends. The business of buying and selling them, well, the good ol boys still got a corner on that market. By the way, if you need a movie to truly inflame you over the subject of slavery, I suggest you get a copy of "Goodbye Uncle Tom" if you can stand it.

odienator said...

Wsrren, I've seen Goodbye, Uncle Tom. Boone has been trying to get me to cover it for my Black History Mumf series, but I can't sit through it again.

Interesting observation about who rides the horses in the Lone Star State. I don't like horses at all, except at the racetrack, so more power to 'em. If I ever hit the lottery, I'm going to buy a few horses just to piss people off. I'm going to name one Shenequa and give its hair a jHeri Curl too.

odienator said...

Alex, thanks for your comment.

Boone and I had a prior conversation before we decided to do this, and he said something about how our ancestors had to have one hell of a sense of humor. How else could one survive all this without it? Hell, I havne't suffered one iota as much as my great-great-grandfather, yet I feel compelled to channel my depression and aggravation at the world into a dark sense of humor. One laughs to keep from crying. I'll bet my enslaved kin had a killer sense of humor despite their lot in life. Like Missy says in Purlie Victorious "being colored can be so much fun when ain't nobody lookin'."

odienator said...

The movie posits that he's a superhero now, and will have no trouble taking care of them.

I dunno about that. I like Boone's take on the ending, though I disagree as well with it. I want to keep my momentary bliss at the film's end. I'm not completely sure there's a happily ever after for these two, but I like your thinking.

odienator said...

Frances, dear God! Had I known that 15 year olds would be reading this piece out loud to their Moms, I would have cussed less! Most of the places I write for won't let me cuss, so Big Media Vandalism is my "cussin' place." That sounds a little too much like Uncle Remus' "laughing place." Well, Zip-a-dee-effin-doo-dah!!

Seriously, though: Thank you for sharing your commment and I'm glad our piece stimulatd conversation.

odienator said...

^^stimulated, I meant!

Alex said...


Heh, if life weren't so hilarious in all its absurdity and sometimes even in its atrocity, my ass would've been out a *long* time ago.

I can't say thanks enough; so many other spaces I frequent seem to think I should feel guilty for having loved DU that it feels great to have someone articulate so many of the same unformed points swirling around in my brain-ether.

Anonymous said...

I was really conflicted after I saw DU - it provided a lot of food for thought but at the same time left me wondering if it actually had any deep meaning beyond the gory violence and the fulfillment of a revenge fantasy. After brooding on it for a while and reading some reviews of it, I'm convinced it's a movie worth seeing, but I'm really troubled by many of the reactions to it.

I think that tpapp and Desiree's comments provide a different insight ignored by a lot of people who saw this movie. The explicit violence, the fantastic nature of the plot and settings, and especially the effect it produces on the audience - these are points well worth considering. I'm not sure if Tarantino had the exact goal in mind that tpapp was hinting at (i.e. inciting a kind of blood-lust in the audience against the slave-owners and other antagonists, in the hope of getting people to think about their own reactions) but if he is then that makes QT even more brilliant than people give him credit for. My hunch is that QT is concerned, above all, with aesthetics, as commentators have pointed out. He's paying homage to many of his favorite old films and he's doing it in great style. There's no denying that his cinematography, his storytelling, and especially the tension he creates in his movies are all masterful. But when it comes to substance, I'm not sure if QT is prepared to deal properly with the moral themes he evokes.

The legacy of slavery and racism in the US is a horrific and ugly one, and there's no denying that many people retain vestiges of a deep-rooted racism that they need to re-examine in themselves. But I don't think revenge fantasies like this are the way to overcome that. Even if QT wanted people to question their thirst for violence and revenge, the fact remains that many people enjoyed the movie precisely because it allowed them to indulge in that tendency. I didn't see a whole lot of self-questioning going on as the audience cheered for one of the movie's most provocative scenes:
"Tell miss Laura goodbye"
"Bye miss Laura"
and BOOM, she's blown away.

My question is, why does the audience enjoy seeing miss Laura get blown away like that? As a minor character, she was only complicit in her brother's immorality insofar as she occupied the same household. Of course this is not to excuse her or anyone else's complicity in slavery, but we have to ask ourselves, is killing everyone who participated in it the real answer? Do we simply want to reduce the whole thing to "kill whitey" and pretend that's not problematic? I think tpapp is dead right when he says:

"At best this places Django on par morally with the people he's fighting but we cheer him on and applaud his motives even though he does the exact same things for the exact same reasons as all the 'bad guys' in the film"

I think it would be better to deal with the ugly past and the ongoing ignorance of racists from a more mature, moral point of view, not just to indulge in the movie's aesthetic pleasures. I completely appreciate Odie and Steve's interesting discussion, but it would be great to see you guys respond to this challenge, which is one of the movie's more serious points.

Jason McGensy said...

Ya'll negroes went 6 rounds and not one word about Candie's girl Sheba? I am disappoint.

Steven Boone said...

Damn, this comments section is a feast. I know not where to begin. So I'll start by working backward.

Jason, you got us. Sheba was a powerful statement in a slinky dress. How could we let her slo-mo sashay pass unremarked?

Sheba is basically a black beauty whose sexuality buys her a certain kind of illusory freedom, a roomier cage. In QT's mind maybe she wields real power, but we know better. Her influence has an expiration date, and her future is not bright.

She's part of a gallery of characters in this film who were comfortable with a horrible status quo only because their cup was full presently. Django let her and the heavyset female house slave live because maybe they'd learned something from his actions. There was no saving Stephen, for whom white supremacy was a religion.

Interesting that Sheba is brown-skinned and not high yellow. Odie or Jason, do you think that was a deliberate choice, and, if so, how would a redbone Sheba code her presence in the film differently?

Jason McGensy said...

While googling the actress I came across an interview in Ebony(naturally) where she says, "I play Sheba Candie, the de facto wife of Calvin Candie in the film, and it was important to Quentin that this girl be dark-skinned, which I thought was just beautiful." So there is that.

Steven Boone said...

Anonymous said: My question is, why does the audience enjoy seeing miss Laura get blown away like that? As a minor character, she was only complicit in her brother's immorality insofar as she occupied the same household. Of course this is not to excuse her or anyone else's complicity in slavery, but we have to ask ourselves, is killing everyone who participated in it the real answer?

The audience laughs at the swift and unreal way Miss Laura is dispatched. "She flies back like a rag, as weightless as her convictions" is how I put it in my Press Play essay. I think we laugh at the Looney Tunes unreality of it but also cringe at the fact that she wasn't as demonstrably evil as her brother. But don't forget that she played an active role in Candie's slave trading business. Remember that he got her to leave the dining room when he wanted to threaten Django and Schultz in private by sending her off to do some slaver P.R. Still, she showed something like humanity by covering up Broomhilda's scars at the dinner table, so we are torn when she gets killed. I think this is no accident. As in Inglourious Basterds, I think Tarantino is getting us to wonder about who deserves to die, who deserves to suffer. The Basterds and Django are as relentless as Apaches resisting U.S. slaughter or Mau Maus fighting colonialists. They are giving as good as they get, with a smile.

We are Miss Laura. We're creeping backward out of a ten year war waged upon lies and costing thousands of innocent civilian lives. Do we deserve to live anymore than the people who were wiped out just to settle our stomachs (and, of course, stuff defense contractor coffers) after 9/11? More relevantly, many of our longstanding, thriving financial institutions, like JP Morgan Chase and Wachovia, participated in the slave trade. Does the relative tranquility of our lives in the West mark us as civilized, any more than the harp music in Candie's parlor made him a gentleman?

It's as if eternally juvenile Tarantino was wondering about these things as he wrote Basterds and Django in his Ho'wood mansion, like some kind of exploitation flick Siddhartha discovering the world beyond his palace.

Anonymous said...

You guys should do a podcast!

Steven Boone said...

Hey, Anon, we will get around to an Odie-Boone podcast one day, but in the meantime, there are some great Odie podcasts out there. Here is the most recent one, a must-listen with our Southern bruva, Uncle Crizzle.

Anonymous said...

Or u can cut shenequa's hair and stitch another horses mane on hers.

Coldblooded said...

Tarantino uses the institution of Slavery as a backdrop so that he does not have to make excuses for the violence and brutality in his movies, unfortunately at the expense of the African American community. Slavery is used as product placement to push foreword his revenge narrative, for his "Noble Savage" character Django.

lynel said...

Tarantino is akin to a drug dealer, his movies sell like crack cocaine, to crack heads who can't get enough.

lynel said...

Django is basically the story of "KING KONG"getting pulled out of the jungle by his white safari hunter and coming to New York and becoming Unchained and wreaking havoc on the populace in order to get the white woman played by the "OREO" actress Kerry Washington.

lynel said...

Tarantino says that Alex Haley the author of "ROOTS" let the "WHITE MAN" off the hook, because when the slave has a chance to kill his slave master he decides not too. Now mind you Tarantino is white, and he has yet to forgive his own father but Tarantino also let's his white audience off the hook and that includes himself by creating the white bountyhunter. The white dentist helps Django to assimilate into cultured society, basically making him more white and therefore more civilized. This is basically the old myth that the Dark Continent of Africa needed to be illuminated by the European. This plot point made his white audience feel good about themselves because here was this poor helpless defenseless negroe who needed to be liberated. But it was because of the civilizing and whitening of Django that made it possible for him to turn into the black "SUPERMAN". Without the Dr. character in the movie, Tarantino would have been forced to face the shame of slavery as they walked out of the theater.

Unknown said...

ive already seen those movies via internet for free! thanks for giving them a tribute blog post!

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mike said...

I love how you both lost me 62.5 times in your narration. I thought there were 3 'P's in suppposition. GREAT read men..

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece as usual, guys.

My own take on Django is that, despite Tarantino's undeniable skill for remixing old genres and putting his own spin on them, what we have here is another self-flattering Hollywood look at a mythically selfless White Hero who comes down from his perch of privilege to make a difference in the life of some Poor Knee-grow. And I don't see how anyone who's taking a really hard, objective look at the film can disagree.

Tarantino exhibits no interest in the actual lives of his black characters. There's not one hint of a sense of the culture that existed among slaves, not one hint of any kind of internal life to Django. He exists as pure spaghetti western archetype, a blank slate who's given agency and on-the-job training by a kindhearted white soul who takes mercy on the "poor devil." It's white-liberal wish fulfillment and it's a bit shocking to see a writer-director who supposedly has such facility for black characters and black culture show almost zero ability to give any life to his black characters outside of their interaction with whites.

DiCaprio and Sam Jackson stole the show for me, however. I see you guys loved the "keep fightin', niggers" bit as well. Both of them made me laugh so loud during my initial viewing of the film that I think I caught a dirty look from some Obama bumper sticker-sporting type who must have automatically assumed that I was an insensitive prick laughing at the institution of slavery itself. (Humorless bastard. I pity his girlfriend.)

In case anyone's interested, I've got my own take on the film here:

Keep breakin' off the funk, gentlemen.

Harikesh Chauhan said...

i read this blog, very nice article and content..i like this page.

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