In short, I really enjoyed the movie. I love Quentin Tarantino’s screenwriting, directing, and overall approach to filmmaking. I own Natural Born Killers, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill (I & II), Jackie Brown, and the soundtrack to Four Rooms. I was not concerned with the “debate in the Black community” regarding the film (check out thewrap.com for a great summary) and more importantly, one should not debate the content of a film without seeing it.
For me, Django is offensive to Black folks if Tarantino was trying to make a historically accurate movie about slavery, a contemporary opus that will define the experience of slavery for generations to come. But I don’t think that is what he is doing. Tarantino is using the backdrop of slavery to tell a story, a fairy tale, about a man who climbs mountains, battles dragons, and walks through hellfire to save his princess (the inspiration of Seigfried in the film is pretty overt, and the references to The Boondocks story of Catcher Freeman were blatant, including Hildy’s yellow dress). He is not trying to redefine slavery or provide an important historical document. Tarantino is making The Color Purple, not Roots (both of which are also in my collection). Although Tarantino has dogged Roots for cleaning up the brutality of slavery, Roots was a quintessential piece regarding the history of Black Americans and served as an educational tool for audiences at the time; Django is not.
However, Tarantino’s adoration for the spectacle of violence fits with the narrative of slavery. Black men were forced to fight to the death and ripped apart by dogs. The word “n!gger” was used in excess. Guns were ubiquitous, and many lives had no value. I think that Tarantino’s style of filmmaking presents a unique depiction of slavery, one that is not afraid of the inherent brutality of the time, or the subsequent outrage among today’s audiences. I think that much of the debate comes from a White filmmaker trying to tell a story of a time that is implicitly owned by Black Americans. Hey Spike Lee! Is Django offensive to your ancestorsbecause of the content, of which you know nothing because you refuse to see the movie, or is it because you didn’t make the film? Or is it because “Tarantino is the baddest black filmmaker working today”?
PS: Regarding Django in a post-Newtown America. I think that these conversations are futile. I am happy that Tarantino continued with the film despite social backlash. Violent films don’t make us violent, they remind us of the violent culture in which we live, and I think that this valuable conversation is dwarfed in comparison to the debates around gun control and mental health. We are a violent people; we turn to violent solutions for personal, community, and national problems (even our politicians use violent language to express their frustrations), but we don’t like being reminded that American culture is a violent culture. I think Tarantino sees it as his duty to shove this fact in our face at every given opportunity.
PPS: Watching it in 35mm was a bonus. In the conversations around my 48fps 3D Hobbit Experience, a friend mentioned the idea that the hyper realism of the technology was ruined by the CGI and prosthetics used in The Hobbit. I wondered about how such hyperrealism would affect a gritty film like Django Unchained, but I quickly learned that Quentin Tarantino is adamantly against changes in film technology. Seeing Django in 35mm seemed appropriate.