Django, Django… why I loved this controversial movie

I finally got round to watching the acclaimed Django Unchained last night. And I have to admit that I loved it. I found it to be an excellent, very well thought out, sensitive, thought provoking, entertaining and victorious movie. Tarantino did a great job, a job that only he could have done.

Django’s character was one that I don’t recall ever having seen before in a movie. This is a black man who is angry, who is on a mission, who has an agenda and will do what he needs to do to get what he wants. Yet, he is not a hood rat. He is not a ghetto thug. This is not the black homicidal rebel-without-a-cause that we see in many other movies that features aggressive black men. Django’s aggression is portrayed as just and, more importantly, valiant as Tarantino shows Django to be a man who has values (see his unwillingness to shoot the man in front of his son) and who loves his wife deeply.

There is also a regalness about Django, a strength, resilience and fortitude. He is likeable, sharp, sensitive and well rounded. He is dark skinned and rugged – the type of black man that I am sure some would be intimidated and afraid of. Tarantino didn’t go with a character that would be easy for the audience – he is complex and requires thought. In other words, Django is not a caricature, which he could very easily have been in a movie that addresses as difficult a topic as slavery and race in America.

Tarantino makes it clear that the white enslavers and their cohorts were wicked people, at times bordering on insane as they revelled in their sadistic behaviour. They are not all educated. On the contrary, some are ignorant and barely able to speak English – they are the ones I pitied and looked down on. I don’t recall seeing many, if any, movies in which black characters are seen as being, on the whole, more in touch with their humanity and more decent than white ones. Those black characters who are trying to get in with their white masters are portrayed as weak and lacking in character and moral fibre and are eventually killed themselves. For the first time in my life, where black and white are contrasted with one another in a movie, white is not always right. I wonder what effect this may have had on white moviegoers who may not previously have seen this aspect of their history shown on the big screen. Essentially, Tarantino has subverted stereotypes, making a very strong black male hero and revealing some inadequacies on the part of white people both of which are highly unusual to see.

It is also worth noting that the most decent white man in the movie was European. So not only is it a critical look at race but also of nationality. Tarantino appears to have been pointing the finger at a distinctly American ideology that others could see through. This may not be historically accurate but once again, Tarantino is challenging the notion of American exceptionalism as a positive. Here, he is saying: yes, Americans screw up too.

There is much more that can be said about Django Unchained, but I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it. It is a masterpiece and one that I will watch again.

2 Comments

  1. Lola: Stimulating, to read your comment on Django when so many people I know are saying the opposite. I’m wondering whether the growing number of younger critics who like the film are an indication of a PoV which even brilliant eminences like Ishmael Reed and Jelani Cobb might have missed. (Have you read their pieces on the film, BTW? I’d be curious to know what you thought.)

  2. I agree, Lola. I really liked Django as well. I think that many of the film’s detractors were unfamiliar with Tarantino’s style and that was part of the reason they disliked it so much.

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