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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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  There Are A Couple Of Reviews Up At The Grio.com (6+ / 0-)

    Prof. Butler's review seems to pick up on your reference to popular "emptiness."
    http://thegrio.com/...

    Tarantino has a simple commentary about slavery embedded in this movie.  That message, spoken by Waltz’s character, a German dentist turned bounty hunter is “I know Americans.” Indeed. Americans won’t remember a story unless it is coated in violence and schmaltz.

    Knowing that Waltz also played a “Jew Hunter” in Inglorious Basterds helps to ingratiate the viewer in the space that Tarantino inhabits — playing with history to deconstruct history and the oppressors. Dr. Schultz is the trickster-teacher in the movie, the person who wants to use Django, but also respects his humanity. Using a German as Django’s sidekick is a sly aside to reinforce a point — no white American could get past their prejudice to assist blacks — even in the face of making money.

    What does the epic Django Unchained say? Even though it is a re-imagined history of slavery, one point remains true: slavery was an evil, violent business. Black bodies were maimed and destroyed. Life was cheap. Those who had money and power ruled over all, black and white alike. Violence was at time the only way to get out of it slavery, along with guile.

    The relentless violence on the screen of Django may be “amoral” as The Nation‘s Ari Melber points out, but it is an amorality that is in the warp and woof of our nations history.

    •  Ever heard of John Brown (3+ / 0-)

      (someone who would have made an enthusiastic sidekick for Django, although he would have eschewed the "nigger" epithet), or the Underground Railroad, or the radical abolitionists, or the not inconsiderable number of Union soldiers who fought expressly to end slavery?

      Using a German as Django’s sidekick is a sly aside to reinforce a point — no white American could get past their prejudice to assist blacks — even in the face of making money.
      Tarantino likely hasn't heard of them - Sergio Leone never made a movie about them - but surely the professor...



      Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. Rosa Luxemburg

      by chuckvw on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 12:30:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thank you. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cat Whisperer, chuckvw

        This health care system is a moral atrocity. Dr. Ralphdog

        by AllisonInSeattle on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 01:41:41 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  to be absolutely correct (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        annecros, chuckvw

        Brown could also be seen as a murderer as a result of his violent advocacy of abolition; I would be more comfortable invoking Henry Ward Beecher or JG Whittier or Harriet Beecher Stowe in this discussion or any number of other white abolitionists who did not advocate armed insurrection

        •  Not true. John Brown's story has been (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          chuckvw

          mythologized this way to fit with the feel-good American history where he is described as a violent nut to justify hanging him and silencing his opposition to slavery.  

          Speak softly and carry a big can of tuna.

          by Cat Whisperer on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 05:04:27 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Pottawatomie Massacre would argue against (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            ciganka
          •  Not true (0+ / 0-)

            John Brown traveled to the Kansas-Nebraska territory to kill slavers.  How much more violent can you get?

            His ludicrous raid on Harper's Ferry amounted to a suicide bombing.  Frederick Douglass personally warned him not to do something so foolish.  I hate to call Brown a "nut" since he was fighting a just cause, but the guy was definitely off his rocker.

            "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

            by Subterranean on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 07:21:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Brown was right that slavery could (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              a2nite

              only be ended with violence. He was a bit premature in his own actions. If he had waited a couple of years, he could have led a regiment at Gettysburg, but waiting to end the depravity of slavery wasn't in his nature.

              He was perhaps unhinged. In 1859 that got him hanged. In 1863 it would have earned him a medal or two.



              Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. Rosa Luxemburg

              by chuckvw on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 11:05:37 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  In a sense, he was a catalyst (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                chuckvw, a2nite

                It could be argued that Brown's raid brought the situtation to a head sooner than it would otherwise have and served to prevent any poisonous compromises with the slave power that could have delayed war for another generation.  Delays may have stengthened slavery's hold on America, and had it spread into more territories, the political balance could have tilted against the North, making the election of a stealth abolitionist like Lincoln utterly impossible.  

                Would industrialization have made slavery's demise inevitable?  It sure didn't seem to affect Jim Crow.  It's pretty amazing the way historical events contracted during the 1850s to the point where the actions of one person could determine the future for a hundred years or more.

                "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

                by Subterranean on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 11:27:18 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  In the context of the film... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          a2nite

          Beecher or Whittier would have made lousy revenge sidekicks!

          Seriously though, in the end Brown was right. Only violence could destroy the institution of slavery... and a long and bloody civil war it was.



          Those who do not move, do not notice their chains. Rosa Luxemburg

          by chuckvw on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 10:55:07 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  but think of the film that could have been (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            chuckvw

            I would love to direct a film along these lines with Beecher and Whittier as revenge sidekicks but then I also like French underground films so the gods know what such a product would look like

    •  Wow. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      urnumbersix
      What does the epic Django Unchained say? Even though it is a re-imagined history of slavery, one point remains true: slavery was an evil, violent business. Black bodies were maimed and destroyed. Life was cheap. Those who had money and power ruled over all, black and white alike. Violence was at time the only way to get out of it slavery, along with guile.
      Got it.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 08:25:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  there will be many more films (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chuckvw, Chi

    about slavery, eventually.
    and there'll be some great ones, too.

    quentino is pure exploitation, period. that's what any of his skills add up to. for the ignorant slugs among the populating of our country, they won't know, notice.

    amoral, he's not. don't wanta give a damn, he don't.
    sick tool full of loathing, even for his limited self.

    cartoon cardboard cariciatures

    clime parches on. terms: ocean rise, weather re-patterning, storm pathology, drout-famine, acceptance of nature.

    by renzo capetti on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 12:26:32 AM PST

    •  of course each director has his own style (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, Subterranean, bumbi

      some are more artistic while others are more commercial and others combine elements of both.  Today's hot director may be unknown in a decade while relatively obscure directors rise to fame following their demise.

      It seems in this case the subject matter is too large for the director.  Anyone care to suggest who should have made this film?

      •  I'm troubled by the notion (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        a2nite

        that such violence could have been perpetrated by a black slave in the antebellum South.  It's absurd.  The entire local (white) populace would have risen to slay Django along with every black connected to him, regardless of how tenuous the connection.  The only bloodbath would have been the butchery of slaves.

        One implicit message of the film - unintentional - is that all slaves need have done to rise up was to grab guns and slay their masters.  In a sense it demeans the actual historical slaves as lacking in ambition.  That's just sick and wrong.  

        "When I was an alien, cultures weren't opinions" ~ Kurt Cobain, Territorial Pissings

        by Subterranean on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 07:27:52 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  You had me at 'ignorant slugs" among... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      renzo capetti

      ...'populating' of our country. I like that you attempt to write in haiku.

  •  I couldn't disagree on this with diarist and (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mumtaznepal, terrybuck

    other commenters more.

    Guess I'll have to write my own diary and review.

  •  My opinion (6+ / 0-)

    Best movie I've seen all year. And I've seen Lincoln, Flight, Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, and a few others.

    If you are looking for a thoughtful and 100% accurate film about slavery you are looking in the wrong place. Same can be said for Inglourious Basterds and WWII.  Quentin Tarantino is a film maker, not a historical scholar or novelist.

  •  Nah (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chuckvw

    If I want to watch porn, I'll watch it in the privacy of my own home.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 02:31:13 AM PST

  •  This film is not about slavery. It's a western (6+ / 0-)

    with a twist as to whom the "good guy" is.

    People get so deep into analyzing this slavery thing.  Tarantino treats it with humor and brutal reality.  Just go with his flow, and don't overthink it.

    I thought it terrific.

    "Privatize to Profitize" explains every single Republican economic, social and governing philosophy. Take every taxpayer dollar from defense, education, health care, public lands, retirement - privatize it, and profit from it.

    by mumtaznepal on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 02:59:52 AM PST

    •  I forgot to add this comment: my favorite (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, bumbi, urnumbersix, a2nite

      part of Django was when Dick Armey's Freedom Works members showed up as extras in the horseback/sack scene with Jonah Hill.

      Thank you, here all week ... tip your waitress!

      "Privatize to Profitize" explains every single Republican economic, social and governing philosophy. Take every taxpayer dollar from defense, education, health care, public lands, retirement - privatize it, and profit from it.

      by mumtaznepal on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 03:42:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I would characterize it as Blaxplotation (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chi, annecros, koNko, mumtaznepal

      a genre very popular in the 70s
      http://en.wikipedia.org/...

      •  You could say that about half his films. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mumtaznepal

        As I recall, Spike Lee kind of busted him on that after Jackie Brown and Tarantino went all ballistic about his moral right to use the N word. Pretty funny, actually.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 08:20:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  wonder how Spike would have made this film? (0+ / 0-)

          Heck I really want to see Spike do a film on Nat Turner's revolt if truth be told

          •  I guess the answer would be (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            a2nite

            He would make another film:

            Over the weekend, director Spike Lee told VibeTV that he refuses to see Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” the violent slavery-era Western that came out on Tuesday. “I cant speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it,” he said. “All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.” Lee also 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 the New York Times notes that “Django” makes use of a particularly offensive racial epithet at least 100 times over the course of the film — a point Lee has taken issue with before. The Hollywood Reporter notes that in 1997, following the release of Tarantino’s “Jackie Brown,” Lee said, “I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word. And let the record state that I never said that he cannot use that word — I’ve used that word in many of my films — but I think something is wrong with him.”

            Your idea is interesting. Maybe he should do a Nate Turner pic and give us his take on this bit of history.

            What about my Daughter's future?

            by koNko on Sun Dec 30, 2012 at 06:38:57 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  there were a fair number of slave revolts (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              a2nite, koNko

              many of which were purged from the historical record because it might give other slaves ideas.  This was also another reason that it was illegal to teach a slave to read.
              If you read various writings 1800-1860 or so, you will find that slave owners lived in mortal fear of their slaves in many cases and took draconian measures to keep them in line

  •  I have found a number of contemporary books on (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chi, koNko

    slavery and the African American experience which are a fascination snapshot of American life.  The most interesting volume I have found recently, though a bit off topic is an 1858 book on "White Slavery in England" (those with Irish history might recognize this.

    For those interested on antiquarian books, here are a few up for auction
    These have sold but gives the gavel prices:
    http://www.liveauctioneers.com/...
    and currently for sale
    http://www.liveauctioneers.com/...
    https://www.proxibid.com/...
    http://www.auctionzip.com/...
    http://www.the-saleroom.com/...

    http://www.icollector.com/...

  •  I hope no one goes to a Quentin Tarantino flick (5+ / 0-)

    expecting historical accuracy. That's not his schtick. That's not what he does. He's not a historian and he's never claimed to be one.

    Read books for your history, don't watch movies. Movies exist to entertain and make a profit. Go to your library and visit the American History section for education on what slavery was really like. There are plenty of books with first-hand accounts from freed slaves. Be warned- you won't be as comfortable reading it as you would be watching a movie about it.

    Watch movies for entertainment and don't pretend, or let anyone else pretend, that they are there to educate or "make people think." They are there to get you to drop $10 bucks to sit in a seat for two hours.

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:03:20 AM PST

  •  I think this diarist is wrong to... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BoiseBlue, bumbi, koNko, urnumbersix, a2nite

    ...criticize this film on its merits as an 'historical film.' I really didn't use "Reservoir Dogs" or "Pulp Fiction" to further my understanding of southern California. Maybe Django is just an escapist revenge fantasy.

    •  History/escape (0+ / 0-)

      Of course it's a "historical" film--take away the history of slavery, the types of people and situations that slavery gave rise to, and you have no movie.

      But it's a film that only engages history fantastically. My question was about what this means--what this means today that slavery only really impacts popular consciousness in a movie which, from the perspective of taking responsibility for the past and its very real contemporary power, does nothing. Slavery appears to all our minds but its reduced to nothing.

      Imagine if a known racist film-maker made this. He/she'd be criticized; but could claim (as many of DU's defenders are doing here) that it's "escapist". Well, yes, we'd reply--but that's the whole problem. One can't/shouldn't escape! And your racism is precisely a kind of escape--so your movie is an extension of escapism.

      No one says that about Tarantino, and that's because it's assumed he and all the film-makers are innocent of slavery, so they're allowed (and we are allowed) this escapism. I think this should be reflected on--that we can enjoy this movie just so long as we take ourselves absolutely innocent. Are we? And should a film about slavery, of all things, promote the idea of, today, a general American innocence?

  •  Actually, there have been some diaries (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BoiseBlue, beauview, terrybuck

    I haven't seen it but from the reviews and discussions I get the  idea it exploits the subject matter with the usual Tarantino gore bracketed by some amusing characters and dialogue.

    And I wouldn't expect more from Tarantino, who's more of an entertainer than social critic.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 08:12:21 AM PST

  •  American "Exceptionalism" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, urnumbersix, adirtywar

    America is indeed "exceptional" in one sense-- it is the only nation in which slave-owners resorted to large-scale civil war to try to preserve slavery.

    The persistence of the Confederate world-view in US politics 150 years after the civil war suggests this exceptional condition left a permanent destructive effect on us.

    In other words, America was exceptional in the degree to which it clung to slavery; and it has remained cursed (not blessed) by God for continuing to cling to it.  

  •  Somebody should make a miniseries and... (0+ / 0-)

    ...call it "Roots," that would be a popular film 'about slavery.' There have been no other films pertinent to slavery in the history of motion pictures...or something.

  •  I find (0+ / 0-)

    it interesting that this film is talking shots from both the right and left. Some on the left believe it trivializes slavery while some on the right believe it's an attack on white people.

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