Is Django Unchained A Blaxploitation Film?
[Beware of spoilers.]
In addition to being curious about Spike Lee’s comments on not going to see Django because it would be “disrespectful to his ancestors,” I was especially interested in what the woman standing behind me in line had to say.
While we were in line at the movie theatre on Christmas morning about to buy our tickets, a woman behind us was shifting her weight, wobbling with anticipation. “It’s worth standing in line at 10 am to see this,” she said. After engaging her in conversation, she said that people are already being sensitive about this movie, but that they just needed to get over it. People were “crying racism,” she said because of how the black characters are portrayed in addition to Tarantino, a white man, directing this film about slavery.
“Enjoy!” she said as we walked away from her. I got nervous. What mess am I about to get myself into on Christmas day?, I thought.
All I knew from the trailer was that Django (Jamie Foxx), slave turned bounty hunter, was on a mission to save his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from enslavement from her ruthless slave master Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The plot seemed simple enough, only it wasn’t. See, although Lee’s comments were clearly presumptuous, I figured that if he said it, he might be on to something. And no, not because there is an excessive use of the “N-word.” Set in the South, two years before the Civil War, I’m sure no one thought saying the word was inappropriate.
Tarantino said in an interview with The Root:
“No, I don’t want [the movie] to be easy to digest. I want it to be a big, gigantic boulder, a jagged pill and you have no water.”
Well, he delivered because though compelling, Django is easily the hardest film I’ve ever watched.
A writer from Slate said it best,
“Racial solidarity is noticeably absent from Django Unchained. Django (Jamie Foxx) possesses a focused drive to find and free his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). He takes out a few slavers along the way, but his efforts to save his wife often run counter to the interests of the blacks around him.”
The film is about revenge, but it illustrates one man’s redemption rather than the slaves as a collective whole. This, is seems, makes it difficult to wholly relate to Django. In once scene, he interrupted his bounty hunter mentor from buying a slave who was about to be punished and instead watched as the slave was torn apart and eaten alive by wild dogs. There was also a scene where Django serenely had a drink on Candie’s plantation while two slaves engaged in “Mandingo fighting.” The stronger slave was handed a hammer at the end of the fight—to put his weaker counterpart out of his misery.
But there was an abundance of lighthearted parts in this movie. Stephen, the fast talking house-Negro akin to The Boondock’s Uncle Ruckus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, will make you hate him, but he also evokes laughter, and plenty of it. Not all parts were decidedly funny, but this story, in the telling of a black history, was told through a comical lens. I could have sworn that the crowd (of mixed race) howled with laughter at parts that were uncomfortable for me.
Tarantino’s film is (thankfully) no Tyler Perry movie. Instead, it’s unpredictable and complex, but does Django do justice to the black experience as it relates to the institution of slavery? I can’t say that it does, or if that was even Tarantino’s intent, but Django does display an obscene part of American history while being wildly entertaining (especially that satire bit about the KKK).
How do you feel about Django Unchained? Let us know in the comment section below.
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