Quentin Tarantino’s latest masterpiece Django Unchained has stirred up quite the controversy, large enough now to rival any that he has created before with his repertoire of line stepping films.
Tarantino has taken it upon himself with his last two films to investigate areas of history that many would prefer not revisit. Inglorious Basterds took us to the trenches of World War II in Nazi occupied France, and his most recent Django Unchained explores the antebellum American South. Tarantino’s stories within these settings are ultra-violent, visceral and ultimately triumphant. Even with some blatant historical rewrites, they are both fantastic films which work to force audiences to view the state of humanity in particularly bleak eras. Django, a slave in transport, is sought out by a bounty hunter who needs his help in finding a loose cash cow. The two make a good team, and when Django reveals that his wife Broomhilda is enslaved in one of the most brutal plantations they set out to retrieve her. What unfolds alternates between heart wrenching, hilarious and horrendous as it grips your attention so hard it’s near impossible to look away.
Django Unchained has managed to cause an uproar as some are claiming he went to far; he played around too much with a topic that should be left alone. Spike Lee, a long time detractor of Tarantino’s work, tweeted: “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It was a holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them.” And with the n-word used over 100 times — oh and not to mention the action figures which have many up in arms that a “slave” action figure should never have even been imagined into existence — a public divide has been born. Tarantino’s action packed, often comedic but more often violent take on the institution of slavery achieved his goal of holding a mirror up to society, but did he go too far in doing so?
Some levity in the midst of the heavy conversation
There is always value in being forced to look at and discuss touchy subjects. To understand how it could ever come to be and realize the major societal leaps and bounds that eradicated it is positive. Dialogue is positive. Now, like Spike Lee has argued, it could be said that the context of this discussion is inappropriate. Silly spaghetti Western combined with a serious racial commentary could come across disrespectful. But the way that Tarantino has presented the issue allows for a broader audience; the high quality entertainment factor allows this message to reach people that a dry, hyper historical docu-film could never manage. And to watch a black protagonist triumph over certain death odds with current day hip hop blasting as horses beat dusty paths is electrifying. If you have a chance to see this movie then do it, because even if you disagree you’ll be throughly entertained and then brought into this much wider cultural discussion. And isn’t that what art is all about?