Before I go on, some alternate points of view.
Tambay Obenson on Shadow and Act:
I remember Spike Lee and Denzel Washington sharing their realization of the weight of the task at hand, when they set out to make Malcolm X in the 90s – telling themselves and each other that they simply could not “fuck it up” . . . After I watched Django, I asked myself that question of QT; as a white man with white man’s privilege – even though he’s also extremely well-informed and aware – was it evident in Django that he had a similar kind of reverence for the subject matter, the gravity and weight of it all, and its contributions to the black American experience today, and black people all over the world generally? As a white man with privilege, did he have his own, “I can’t fuck this up” moment, because of the story he sets out to tell in the film, and the institution he depicts? I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I’m not in his head (although some might even question whether, as a white man, it’s his burden to bear).
If I may be blunt, however, I do not believe the risks Tarantino takes in Django are his to negotiate. In “post-racial” America—where Black bodies are disproportionally targeted by hate crimes, police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, dishonest housing and banking practices, and numerous other institutional forms of violence—there is nothing novel about a white director choosing to regale audiences with the coordinated murder of Black people.
Furthermore, the idea that Tarantino is some kind of revolutionary, artistic genius performing an ingenuous, ironic, hipster racial experiment with Django Unchained (rather than just creating racism porn with an artistic veneer that does nothing more than perpetuate hierarchical, hegemonic, masturbatory, and patriarchal racial paradigms steered by the white racial imagination for nonblacks who would like to think of themselves as liberal, contemporary, hip & cool [read: honorary black, but with none of the burdens], and colorblind) is laughable on its face.
It would be disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film.
What did I think? I thought the movie showed us a strong, majestic, intensely heroic black male character wreaking a sustained rampage of righteous revenge (h/t the Bride), and that’s an amazing thing for an American audience to see. I felt thirsty to see it. I did not think the movie was any kind of statement on slavery or racism. I did think it enables white audiences (and the audience I was in was overwhelmingly white) to dismiss racism as an obsolete evil, and to say, “We’re not racist! Just look at us sitting here thinking how awesome Jamie Foxx is. Racism is dead.” On the other hand, I thought of the name of the old Mike Wallace documentary on the Nation of Islam, which serves as the title of this post, and how those words describe exactly why Django is the way he is.
I also thought that Christoph Waltz and Foxx were both radiant onscreen, and that no one does long, showy scenes of actor’s-choice dialogue better than Tarantino. And I thought it was disappointingly sexist. I expected more from the man who made “Kill Bill,” but in the end Tarantino answers only to his own obsessions. As Conrad says in Heart of Darkness, “It was written I should be loyal to the nightmare of my choice.”