From the Wire: 'Django Unchained' and Race

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by Matt Singer
June 8, 2012 12:02 PM
4 Comments
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"Django Unchained."
That weird, guttural sound you heard emanating from the Internet on Wednesday evening was the collective voice of a million film geeks rising up in one enormous, simultaneous nerdgasm over the first trailer of Quentin Tarantino's upcoming movie "Django Unchained." While the trailer is certainly news, it's not necessarily something worth covering on Criticwire since, after all, most of the level of discourse about the "Django" preview consisted of a few contented moans and the letters o, m, and g. 

At least one writer, though, wasn't buying the hype. At The Atlantic, senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a reaction to the trailer that explains why the film is "not really" for him.  

"The revenge conceit doesn't really move me much, nor does freedom achieved simply through the benevolence of white people. Leaving that aside, what scares me most is the portrayal of black women in this testoronic revenge fantasy. I really loath the 'Union soldiers raped and killed my wife, now I'm out for revenge' motif. It is a lie on several levels, ranging from history to humanism. But reversing that history only makes it slightly more true, while leaving some of the biggest lies in place."

Coates says it's also "really dangerous to get caught up" in a narrative about a black man taking revenge on the white men who had enslaved him ("It is wrong because such a focus says that the only thing important about war are those who carry the guns."). Coates has done his research and knows what he's talking about. I'm sure that what he is saying is true.

What I'm not so sure about is whether Tarantino should be held accountable for his "inaccurate" portrayal of this period, since, if "Inglourious Basterds" is any indication, he's not only unconcerned with historical accuracy, he's downright oblivious of it. Some chafed at the idea that "Basterds" rewrote the end of World War II to glorify its Jewish heroes, but most seemed okay with Tarantino telling his story the way he wanted, with the understanding that it was a piece of fiction, not history. It'll be interesting to see whether he gets the same latitude here.

"My thoughts, as offered here" Coates concludes, "are not entirely fair to Tarantino." True; especially since they're based on a two and a half minute trailer, not the actual movie. Coates' concerns could be 100% valid, but they could also be off the mark. Another thing "Inglourious Basterds" taught us: expect the unexpected from a Tarantino movie. The trailer for "Basterds" made it look like QT's version of "The Dirty Dozen" -- but the reality was far more complicated. The same might end up being true of "Django." At this point, this essay is more like a trailer itself, for the potential controversies coming soon to a theater near you.

Read more of "Thoughts on Slavery, Black Women, and 'Django Unchained.'"

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4 Comments

  • Donella | June 25, 2012 2:32 PMReply

    Tahnesi Coates also says "...The fact is that is that very few enslaved black women had the luxury of waiting on freedom via black men. In so many cases, they had to make their own way..." THIS fact Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Ida B. Wells know very well. Not damsels in distress. Not rape victims. Not torture porn bait. Not voiceless pathetic creatures. They fought for their own escape, those of others, took active parts in the Civil War, Women's Suffrage, and anti-lynch movements. Tarantino sees the world his way. The rest see it as it actually was/is.

  • Rohan | June 8, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    If one decides to think a bit deeper racism is not the factor whenever a film releases based on such subject. Now, this might put your mind to think for a minute. A film comes out in the theatre near you starring a well-known actor, as an audience member you will participate, and walk out satisfied or unsatisfied. This film that we are talking about has a black man going after white men. Or white man going after black men. Or Mexican. If not mexican, maybe someone from middle east. My point is that if you, as an audience member decide to think about the differences between these men, then that means my friend that you are thinking about racial issues. I think it is time for everyone to drop such mindset, and watch a film with an open mind. I've read 'Django Unchained' script, and I am not in agreement with 'The Atlantic' senior editor, Coates. Coates isn't aware yet where the film's story is going to take the audiences. 'Django Unchained' is a love story, and 'Django Unchained' is one of Tarantino's most daring scripts; set in an era of darkness that some men are still bothered just knowing about such dark reality once existed in the land of the Free. What Tarantino brings here is a love story, a man going for rescue of his wife. With an open mind, we can watch this film without concerns, for art is allowed to portray creativity and reality at the same time.

  • Donella | June 25, 2012 2:26 PM

    "What Tarantino brings here is a love story..." Or rather a desperate piece of marketing spin in anticipation of the competition and well-deserved inferior comparisons to 12 Years a Slave.

  • georgieboy | June 8, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    word

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