Written and Directed by Q. Tarantino – starring Jamie Foxx -
Django Unchained is to my mind sure to become a “standard,” a “classic” of American/Hollywood movie making. And if Spike Lee has problems with it of a political/moral nature that’s fine, and changes nothing in my opinion about what Tarantino has accomplished in this movie about the brutality of slavery and Tarantino’s “revenge”/rescue fantasy that the plot is built upon. As Tarantino himself said, his intention in making the movie - at least in part - was to do a movie that dealt “with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to."
And slavery is absolutely the “central character” of the movie, the subject of the movie, and the movie’s primary focus, even more so than the Django character, as mythologized and glorified as he is. And the brutality of the slavery depicted is immensely raw, painful, embarassing, sickening, although neither over stated or over dramatized. The characters and the plot, on the other hand, are very “stylized,” which permits a certain depiction of brutality that might not be bearable in another, more “realistic” style. And objection to use of the word ‘nigger’ is really a red herring in a period piece set two years before the civil war. The acting is amazing … as is the writing, the directing, and the music. Plus it is a good western … and think how hard a good western would be to make these days. (Witness “The Lone Ranger.”).
Maybe the excess bloodshed in Django is gratuitous, but the entire presentation is a self-mocking charade that goes on to rip your guts out, notwithstanding extremely violent classic gun fights showing more blood and bullet-exploded in your face flesh than anyone needs or can openly bear. And some of the scenes of the torture and degradation of the slaves were so - i want to say "inhumane," but it is regrettably all too human - beyond any currently "civilized" human's ability to take in on a soul level - and the cruelty in ways was even worse than the violence, the rapes, the whipping, the branding, the torture ... horrible … but precisely part of the greatness of Tarantino's courage. And to my knowledge no one has ever shown this range of slave characters in one Hollywood epic ... also awesomely courageous to depict. and, especially, of course, because white people are currently generally enjoined from depicting Black Americans in a negative way ... other than as gangsters ... or druggies ... or poor ... or uppity ... but so much has and IS in fact changing, notwithstanding how very much more still must - and will – change, particularly perceptually, corporately, and environmentally.
The historical depiction of slave reality reminded me that the healing work is not over, even with a Black president, a fact we can genuinely be proud of as a nation - especially given where we were 50 and 150 years ago ... but the healing work is not over. There were decades when i could not take a shower, not once, without my thinking of the Nazi holocaust of WWII, and that was "just" six million people over the course of a decade ... the African holocaust lasted over 300 years and caused over 100 million African deaths before the slave ships reached the "new world" and has impacted African American mental, political, spiritual, and economic well being in stressful ways we cannot begin to fathom, but bear witness to the consequences of, ever since.
And Mother Africa herself is still traumatized, brutalized, and exploited, as she has been for more than 500 years. Indeed, for me, it is always the health and good humor of the survivors that amazes me ... how can they be as healthy as they are - look at many of our surviving indigenous native brothers and sisters, or the Palestinians, who in my experience manifest a mind blowing dignity, good will, and willingness to forgive - as seems true among our brothers and sisters in the African diaspora.
So, while I don’t think anyone who is upset by graphic visual depictions of violence should view Django, you will miss phenomenal acting, great scenery and visual presentations, and music, all quite wonderfully over the top in a "camp" sort of way. And besides which, there is Samuel L. Jackson.