Before I discuss what I think Tarantino did well and what he didn't do so well, I'd like to address his use of the N-word. You know, nigger! If your only reference to movies about slavery is the made-for-television Root series, then it's no wonder you thought his use of the word was over the top. If you've seen Mandingo or Goodbye, Uncle Tom, then you would realize its use was appropriate. Furthermore, history supports its usage, and this was one of the few historical accuracies in the movie. It was the most common term used to address our people, used by both the free and the enslaved. If a black producer-director had made this movie and left out the word, he'd be guilty of sugarcoating our history. Yes, nigger is an ugly word but it was the word of choice then. And it has made a comeback! I don’t like hearing the word, but if it offends you, then you better not listen to hip-hop or eavesdrop on a typical conversation of young people.
Tarantino shows the stark contrast between the southern Bourbons and poor white trash. We see some trashy white folks too, especially that hilarious character Mr. Stonesipher, who simply mangles the English language. Tarantino extends this class contrast into slave society, offering a glimpse of house slavery and field slavery. And didn't he give us a head-nigger-in-charge Uncle Tom "house slave" par excellence in the character of Stephen! (I'll have more to say about him later.) Through this character and others we are given a small window into the mores of the enslaved. Though Tarantino displays the depravity, even the sexual depravity of slavery, for example the common practice of castrating or disfiguring the Afrikan male's genitalia, or the slave prostitution of Big Daddy's plantation, to his credit there is not one rape scene, which is often a staple in movies about slavery, even a Roots. Additionally absent from the movie was the usual sexual titillation or sexual undercurrent that's commonplace in the cinema.
Aside from the brief whipping flashbacks, the movie does not show Afrikan women being brutalized. Which bring me to the question of the brutality of slavery, and how well was it presented. The level of brutality varied from plantation to plantation during slavery, nevertheless, it was endemic to the system. Brutality and dehumanization were the necessary evils needed to maintain the system. Tarantino is actually moderate in his display of slavery's brutality. He gives us the whipping flashbacks, the dogs attacking the Mandingo, the Mandingo fight, and the near castration of Django—that's basically it. If you want to see the dark side of slavery, see Goodbye, Uncle Tom. Or just read some history.
There was little or poor character development of Broomhilda. She reminded me more of a European damsel in distress, than a strong or even resilient enslaved Afrikan woman, albeit she was a house slave. She seemed frail, and this was reflected in her fainting. The couple embracing, a silent cry, or maybe even an “Oh, Jesus” would have been more dignified. Instead we get a weak, almost contrived faint. I also think Tarantino failed to be believable at a crucial point in the movie. The story is fantasy, as many movies are, so that's not the problem. But there are still points of credulity needed no matter how unrealistic a film might be. For me, when Django surrendered, that should have been the end of the movie because, pardon my language, but they should have shot that nigger right then! I would have. You can't be that badass and I let you live to do some more fantastic, miraculous shooting, stupendous feats, and who knows what other shat he had up his sleeve. That nigger has got to die now. And then, rather than publicly torture him in front of the entire nation if possible, especially for such an egregious taking of white life, it was decided to let him live so he dies of hard labor in a mining camp. Though known for its brutality, we didn't know the mine was headed by more imbeciles. Django escapes, and now we see Django on steroids. Another area I felt Tarantino kind of missed his mark, was the music. It was good but perhaps too eclectic a blend. At one moment you are listening to a spaghetti Western tune, then gangster rap. I enjoyed it, I'm just saying, spaghetti Western music followed by hip-hop?
The Other Movie
From the movie's trailer, I thought it was going to be a blend between Django and Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye, Uncle Tom), the Italian pseudo-documentary about Afrikan enslavement in antebellum America. Seeing the film confirmed my initial assessment, to which now I would add Blazing Saddles, Mandingo, and Rosewood to the mix. Tarantino, the movie buff turned successful producer-director, has the ability to take bits and pieces from movies, add a new story line and come up with a masterpiece. Django Unchained is no masterpiece, but it is a very entertaining movie with a special twist: it has an avenging and triumphant fugitive slave protagonist, an unfathomable combination in the cinema. Django Unchained is also a love story, one based on revenge no less. It is truly uncommon to see a “slave” love story. The movie gave us some memorable characters and performances. But most important, like Rosewood—we saw a black hero. We saw a people, always the victim, being victorious, and we love and need more of that. But hold it a second. Every movie is actually two movies—the one you see and the one you don't see--the exoteric movie and the esoteric (subliminal) one.
On the surface the movie is quite benign: it is entertaining, well-acted, has eclectic music, good cinematography, and a number of other noteworthy elements; but subliminally, the movie is sinister: it offers an entirely different message, a message that absolves white responsibility and even blame for Afrikan enslavement. (Those black slavers and house niggers did us in, and by extension Afrikan kings.) It offers us a Jewish sacrificial victim, a master who's controlled by his clever darky, and a violent blood lusting nigger with a gun, and who knows how to use it. Damn. I’m scared of him just writing this. So, which movie did you see?
PS: Oh, and to respond to Spike Lee's comments, no, the movie did not dishonor our ancestors, no movies can. We dishonor our ancestors when we trivialize them, and most of all when we forget them.