I've seen surprisingly few diaries on DU here, so I thought I'd write one, partially also because I'm trying to work through my own thoughts. It's worthy of reflection simply because it will probably be the most popular film about slavery of all time. But it's doubly worthy of reflection because, as I think most people will realize, it's one of the most thoughtless films about slavery of all time. What does it mean about us that we, as a culture, are only able to encounter slavery through a film like this--that purifies us of our sins through a massacre that never can happen; and that leaves the audience without any awareness of their own contemporary participation in the effects of slavery? Anyway, I have three thoughts, I'd love to hear everyone else's too:
1. I'm realizing that I can't critique Django Unchained without sounding highbrow, which I try not to do. But that's what's interesting. It's more fun than I've seen in awhile, and yet as one of the few movies that tackles slavery, it obviously contributes nothing to thinking about it, questioning it, "coming to grips with it." As a historical film it's a massive failure, as a pop film it's a massive success--and maybe that's the essence of pop art, that it hovers gleefully, though terrifyingly autonomous, outside of any reflection on history, actuality, etc. So any criticism of Django Unchained would have to begin by denying what it is--pop art, which is unfair. The fact that the comprehension of slavery and its effects is so impoverished--by whites and blacks--really can't be blamed on a movie like this; it's more a failure of non-pop-art culture.
2. On the other hand, maybe pop-art and its relation to history/actuality can be critiqued. Thinking about seeing the film, I found something terrifying and exhilarating: that here we had, blacks and whites, together, the purest satisfaction, intensely, radically, cathartic, of acquitting ourselves of the sins of the past--of doing justice to the past--practically a holy rite; and yet the substance of that acquittal couldn't have been more empty, more inconsequential. It is premised on forgetting and ignoring our current complicity in slavery, and our current suffering from slavery--the film simply does not implicate the audience as villains or victims, which any "responsible"/non-pop-art film would have to do. So here we have the vibrant reality of a kind of holy, always-wished-for moral purification; and yet it's totally empty: it will be pure illusion, it will change nothing. Perhaps this is pop-art's relationship to history and actuality?
3. For whites, this isn't per se a problem unless one thinks that there is a kind of transcendent guilt that needs to be purified; for blacks this is an enormous issue. I can really only understand this / empathize or have solidarity with this by thinking about my reaction to Inglorious Basterds: there is something beyond sickening in being led to believe, so fabulously and fantastically, that the historical crimes of the holocaust have been repaid. The person who suggests that is showing you absolute contempt; by believing it, you are ceding every bit of mental maturity you have; it is total regression. I wonder whether the black audience, orgasmically cheering at the bloodbath at the end of Django Unchained, is aware of that. I wasn't cheering at the end of Inglorious Basterds.