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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.

If you found this even slightly interesting, there are a bunch of much more intelligent and eloquent people discussing it over here. And as a final cheap point, this.

By Zac Millner-Cretney

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What did you think of Django Unchained? Comment and let us know!

2 thoughts on “django unchained: classic tarantino or just kind of racist?

  1. Institutionally entrenched racism may still be around but so is institutionally entrenched sexism. Unfortunately no matter how it gets made or put it’s going to take a long time to die out.

    I haven’t seen the movie but have seen a lot of previews and interviews about it. Some people seem to be in denial about how blacks were treated and don’t want it to ever see the light of day, others say, hey, this is how it happened and Tarantino’s made a film of it.

    There’s no point denying bad shit happened to black people back then. Bad shit happens to people now. For those saying no one’s entitled to do a movie, they need to get into the real world and understand it happened, we’ve all come a long way, and there will always be issues as long as humans are alive. There’s no point hiding it or wanting to rewrite history like so many seem to want to. Admit it happened, we’ve all moved on and get your future sorted out instead of living in the past, like so many seem to.

  2. I have to say, I was rather curious about Django Unchained before it came out. I wasn’t sure whether I would like it at all, considering that it was a touchy subject, and I haven’t liked some of his recent work, including Inglourious Basterds, the first scene of which was too slowly paced for me to get past.

    Django Unchained has since skyrocketed to become one of my favourite films (top 20, for sure, though it may be the top ten as well), with one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. With Django Unchained, he created an homage to a film he absolutely loved (Django – 1966).

    More importantly, however, he made a modern, enjoyable spaghetti western which wasn’t a low quality B-movie. He addressed a serious issue, but at it’s core, he remembered that people go to the movies for entertainment.

    Not a single white character in the film could be identified with truly, except for the German. That’s the opposite of most big budget films. He gave a somewhat accurate portrayal of the relationship between white people and black people at that time (maybe the events were exaggerated; I’m referring to the owner/property dynamic which was the undercurrent of the film.

    Thanks to internet communities like Tumblr which carry the message “check your privilege at the door”, it’s hard to be white these days without being made to feel guilty about something, which to me is ridiculous and unnecessary in these days.

    Black people inherited their current struggles, and white people inherited their current guilt. There’s no real reason for the struggle or the guilt to even exist any more. I think that’s the important part of the “over”-use of the word “nigger” in Django Unchained. It almost loses a bit of its meaning. By the end of the film, it lacks most of its offensive capabilities. It becomes a sound on the wind, like any other word.

    I don’t think Tarantino made a film with the basic message of “look how horrible violence and subjugation is”. I think he made a film with the basic message of “look how great it is when someone overcomes adversity in their environment”. He gave us a heroic story which was entertaining, but made us hate the things about the past which were wrong.

    I think that’s a worthy topic for a film.

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