django unchained: classic tarantino or just kind of racist?
This article was first published on PortWhine.com.
So, we all know what’s up with Django Unchained (and if you don’t, read this). Tarantino has another hit on his hands: the reviews are good, the best actor/script/picture nominations are in, and the internet is abuzz with cool film cats singing the praises of the film’s “awesome gunfights” and “hilarious dialogue”. If my time at film school has taught me one thing, it’s that you don’t diss Tarantino. It’s an easy way to lose friends, but here we are, and I’m about to argue that Django Unchained is a lot closer to racist than people seem to want to admit.
Django‘s racial issues have definitely been getting some media attention (mostly in the form of ‘why did you use the n-word so much?’), but the conclusions that have been drawn have mostly been supportive of Tarantino and his portrayal of slavery. The big event was that Spike Lee publicly announced that he wasn’t going to watch it because ‘slavery was not a Spaghetti Western’. When the U.S.’ foremost African-American director calls you out over racial issues, you have a problem. Or so you’d think. Lee has been dismissed and even disparaged by the public and media for his comments. Why? It sounds awfully close to someone who makes a racist joke and then gets offended when someone tells them it was offensive. ‘Can’t you take a joke?!’
Lee hasn’t even seen the film, how can he condemn it? Well, I guess he reckons the premise of the film itself is offensive. And while it’s ridiculous to say that no white filmmaker has the right to tell the story of any minority groups, if they are going to do so, they have a degree of responsibility. If you’re going to talk about serious subjects, then your film should treat them seriously. What Tarantino has done is make a film whose basic message is ‘look at how horrible violence and subjugation is’, and uses several graphically violent depictions of slavery to convince us how bad it is. Then, in the same breath, he tells us, ‘hey, violence is actually entertaining and fun, and totally justified when used against bad people!’. That’s not treating the subject matter with the gravity it deserves. That’s like making a movie about paedophilia and then sticking in scenes from American Pie. Or making a movie about the holocaust that ends in a hilariously violent action massacre – oh, wait.
We have to ask ourselves, what is Tarantino saying here? He’s putting us through horrible things in his movie, which we accept as okay because he’s eventually going to tell us something important and useful, right? Well his message is: ‘SLAVERY WAS BAD’. Yes, Quentin. Well observed. You know what’s also bad? Institutionally entrenched racism that still exists today and is much more complex and insidious, and is still being used to oppress non-white populations in America (and everywhere). It’s just hard to depict that kind of racism being solved by violence, and Tarantino – and others – like to shoot problems rather than discuss them.
Yes, Tarantino is a genre filmmaker, he makes movies that are designed to be entertaining and nothing more, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when you want to use extremely sensitive real-life events that happened to other people, and use them to make entertainment. I wouldn’t say that Django is racist, but I’d definitely say it’s insensitive.
By Zac Millner-Cretney
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