By Regina 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.