Django Unchained is a love-it-or-hate-it movie-going experience. Tarantino’s decision to make a spaghetti western/slave revenge fantasy seemed like a cynical move to generate controversy from the get-go. Now it’s in theaters everyone has an opinion, especially when it comes to the provocative depictions of race. There are those who celebrate the bold representation of Django, the freed slave who fights back against a particularly sadistic slaveowner, claiming what is rightfully his (Hildy, his wife), burning the pristine white columns of the mansion to the ground in the process, and riding off into the middle distance. There are others, notably Spike Lee, who have questioned the oversimplification of these images and the apparent trivialization of genocide.
The movie has also been criticized for its objectification of women, the cartoonish (and anachronistic) representation of the Ku Klux Klan as buffoons suffering a wardrobe malfunction, and Tarantino’s Australian accent. Some critics couldn’t stomach the blood spatter of the gunfights. Others thought Tarantino’s trademark violence, once so exciting, has become so normalized it seems tired. It’s a problematic film on many levels. However, Tarantino has to be commended for opening up discourse — and, potentially, opportunities for other filmmakers — about the slave era, two hundred years of history that American mainstream pop culture likes to pretend never happened. Other than grisly blaxploitation like Mandingo, or historical lamentation like Roots, slavery has been off-limits as context for a period drama. Until now. Continue reading