With the 2013 Oscars red carpet just now starting, I'd like to address the many grumblings about Django Unchained being a racist film, as I hope it triumphs as an Academy Award-winning film at the end of the evening.
Firstly, and it is likely a symptom of the Internet granting the right for everyone to be a critic and bear arms, but it seems that we've forgotten what it is to watch a film. It's the same idea that made fiction a genre in the first place, and it's called a willing suspension of disbelief. To be a Tarantino fan takes a certain disposition, and this idea is the crux of that disposition. You're the kind of person who dreams that the hooker with a heart of gold is really just a phone call away, or that the guy who works at your local comic book store will save you from yourself. At the very least you should have the self awareness to realize that if that sword hacking off the top of Lucy Liu's scalp just made you vomit in your popcorn, well no one but you made you go see this instead of the Princess Diaries.
Just as many found Inglorious Bastards to be anti-Semitic when it was in theaters, people are not recognizing the difference between something being racist, and portraying the past in which racism was a reality of the times. Horrific things have happened in the past at the hands of one human being to another; that is a sad fact. But do we really live in a world where we're not allowed to talk about it, and even more importantly, make art about it? Putting crimes against humanity on film is not a crime against humanity.
Is Django Unchained an elegant and tasteful film? Of course not. What Tarantino film is (but I will argue that he has an elegance with violence)? What Django does do though is provide a satire of the predominately white spaghetti westerns of yesteryear. The film also helps to muse away from the too often finessed telling of history in which slavery was ended because of benevolent white people, and African Americans themselves did not play an immense role in acquiring their own freedom.
Yes, the film does uses the N-word 100 plus times. That was a choice that Tarantino made, and you can feel about it as you will. But if we’re talking facts, and we’re watching a movie about the antebellum south, that word was used, and used often. It’s kind of like how movies about other countries pander to American audiences by portraying them all to speak English in a British accent; and Tarantino chose not to pander to anyone.
Portraying things in that American-friendly way is a choice that filmmakers make though, because American audiences don’t want to watch a movie where the characters speak Latin and you have to read subtitles. In a much more proactive way, Tarantino chose to make us sit though the metaphorical Latin; he wanted us to hear that word, over and over again. Whether it was for the sake of poignancy or irreverence is not for me to say, but we have to stop thinking it’s racist to acknowledge that people used to use that word.
Onto the matter of Samuel Jackson playing an opportunistic house slave, which so many were so sickened about. My only retort to that is: you must have been really checked out when your high school English class read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. That role was a real part of American slavery, albeit a contentious one, but a real one nonetheless. That is why it is a part of this film, and that’s really all that even needs to be said of that.
In conclusion (because I don’t even want to go into my last point of Tarantino’s insertion of Das Nibelungenlied ((google it)), and how it is a medieval German love story, and to retell it with African American characters instead of their Aryan originals is maybe anti-racist), Django Unchained is not historically correct. It is also a work of fiction, which is another thing that the propagation of ignorance has made everyone forget. And that brings me to my last point about what really scares me about this whole debate. It's not an obsession with being politically correct that I think is driving this, it is actually the pure, unadulterated American idiocracy that is running more and more rampant by the day. It is your mom having a facebook. It is teenagers putting videos online of themselves snorting condoms. It is people being so ill informed and desperate for another comment war that they start this asinine argument in the first place.
Now, to the red carpet of the 2013 Academy Awards. I’ll be looking for nip slips, live drunkenness and any reason to make fun of Lena Dunham. Stay here for live updates, and I promise no more rants. Let the fun begin!