Find us here:

Django Unchained Goes Too Far

Reginald Hudlin, left, and Kerry Washington, right, answer questions during a reception which included honoring Kevin Fields with the Lifetime Achievement award as well as a showing of a few clips of D’Jango Unchained on Thursday. (Brent Lewis/NABJ Monitor)

By Regina Graham
NABJ Monitor

Regina F. Graham

Quentin Tarantino has directed many great films over the years, including “Kill Bill” and “Pulp Fiction,” two of my favorites. But I’m conflicted about “Django Unchained,” his latest film, scheduled for release on Christmas. Django, played by Jamie Foxx, is a slave turned bounty hunter who goes on a rampage, killing white people in an effort to be reunited with his wife.

I’m left with two major questions: When did it become okay to turn a slave into a hit man, and why was this movie created?
An extended version of the trailer was screened Thursday night during the National Association of Black Journalists convention in New Orleans. But I had seen the trailer long before it had come to NABJ.

When I first saw the trailer online, confusion set in. In the opening scene of the movie’s trailer, Foxx is walking in a line of slaves chained together. Screen shots of their brutally scarred backs are woven into scenes from the movie. The chains are clinging as the movie builds anticipation of what is to come, and then “Payback” by James Brown drops in the background. Then the movie goes from bad to worse as Django begins killing.

It’s not realistic. It is absurd.

“Django Unchained” takes a taboo and sensitive topic to use as a base for an action movie that’s fused with some comedy, similar to “Inglourious Basterds.”

“Inglourious Basterds” was a Tarantino film that met with controversy because of its portrayal of Jewish American soldiers during the Holocaust. The movie was nominated for numerous awards, including eight Academy Award nominations. Regardless of the recognition it received, it didn’t work for me, largely because Tarantino exploited such a sensitive topic in history. There’s a lot of hurtful memories tied to the Holocaust.

The bottom line is this: Some things shouldn’t be mocked.

Slavery, violence and a smidge of comedy leave a bitter taste in my mouth. But the reality is, “Django Unchained” will likely earn millions because it boasts big name actors like Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, and it’s a Tarantino film. It doesn’t matter whether it has slaves in it.

Tarantino’s earlier works made millions because of his stylistic influences. “Kill Bill” was a hardcore movie that made me appreciate Uma Thurman’s abilities as an actress. She stretched herself because you never expected to see her performing kung fu. It was packed with action and the scenes were suspenseful. It left you on the edge of your seat.

That ability to capture an audience is what has placed Tarantino in a different category as a director.

But just because Tarantino is in that class, doesn’t justify his use of slavery as just another film prop.

3 Responses to Django Unchained Goes Too Far

  1. Donella Reply

    June 30, 2012 at 11:37 am

    The Weinstein Company has spent millions attempting to market Django Unchained as a love and freedom story to Black audiences then doing an underhanded pivot to market this movie as a rape and revenge story to White fanboys.

    What I noticed is that neither The Weinstein Company nor Quentin Tarantino saw the need to use their Italian and Jewish women as rape objects in Inglorious Basterds. But these White men took extreme glee in the promise of multiple rape scenes for Black women in Django Unchained, renaming those rape victims “ponies” and “prostitutes,” promising White fanboys “sex up the wazoo.” in their write-up chose to ignore and/or smooth over quite a few concerns Black audiences have already expressed with Tarantino’s script, including the fact that Jamie Foxx’s character of Django remains submissive to his white rescuer throughout the film. Tarantino wrote inferior dialogue for Django and virtually no dialogue for Kerry Washington’s character Broomhilda, saving the best lines for Christopher Waltz and Leonardo diCaprio.

    I do believe that growing awareness and excitement surrounding Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave movie (true story based upon the life of an African American, screenplay written by an African American, directed by an Afro British descendant of Caribbean slaves, starring an Afro British) has forced Quentin Tarantino and The Weinstein Company to attempt to clean up their sleazy, vulgar, degenerate acts.

    Modifying the script to empower Foxx and Washington will appeal to the Black audience. But a move such as that will likely alienate the White fanboys who have already anointed Waltz and diCaprio as Oscar winners. Rape and bloody racial violence may sell at Christmastime, but you can only sell $hit and call it sugar so many times before word spreads about the foul odor.

    Overall, I predict that 12 Years a Slave will be to Django Unchained what Roots was to Mandingo–a much-needed, epic, historical correction of exploitive, sleazy, degenerate, sociopathic so-called cinema.

  2. Brian Lightfoot Reply

    December 27, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    I only read your first few paragraphs…I got stuck at, “When did it become okay to turn a slave into a hit man, and why was this movie created?” Wasn’t Nat Turner a “hitman” of slave owners. And why not make a movie about this time period (300 years of this country’s history) that isn’t just a historical film such as Lincoln?

  3. Anthony Walker Reply

    December 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I wanted to leave after 15 mins into the movie, I did not do my homework prior to going. I knew Quentin Tarantino would be a problem, but having Fox, Washington and Jackson in the movie led me to believe it would be a film with certain principles. It was a joke, glorifed story for Tarantino to continue to use his language, violence, and glorified killing. I really wanted to like this, just feel as though we were exploited and mocked.

Leave a Reply