Django Unchained: A Brief Word

Credit: Tom Edwards

Credit: Tom Edwards

I think Django Unchained is one of the ballsiest, most badass flicks I’ve seen in ages — significantly more mature, artful, and honest than Tarantino’s own Inglorious Basterds, I’d argue. Its unflinching portrayal of the acts committed against an entire culture for centuries, exposing the ugliness beneath America’s blood-soaked rug, is beyond commendable.

Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz is dazzling, sure, and Samuel L. Jackson is rightfully known as one of America’s most beloved performers . . . but in my mind, it’s Foxx who steals the show, hands down.

His delivery of every line, each avenging gunshot, every angry glance marks him as a criminally underappreciated actor whose career includes roles like Max in Collateral, one of my all-time favorites by the incomparable Michael Mann, and a host of others, like his Oscar-winning portrayal of Ray Charles in the aptly-titled Ray.

Credit: The Independent

Credit: The Independent

Don’t let me get carried away with my naive, young, white-privilege-havin’ self; I’m not gonna pretend to know what this film means to an African-American in the twenty-first century. If it angers people of color, so be it. Slavery was this country’s greatest sin. Tempers are bound to flare up in the face of such blatant injustice.

But I have to say, I think Quentin Tarantino is a master storyteller with guts, craft, and a filmgoer’s eye like nobody’s business.

Let them call the film historically inaccurate; let them call it overblown. Maybe there’s a touch of misogyny at play? Maybe. But nobody can rightfully call it a half-assed film without passion behind its message. Sure, maybe gunfights aren’t what this country needs to get to the answers, but if it catches people’s attention at the movie-theater doors, let Tarantino have his fun with the great American mythos at the heart of the Spaghetti Western. I think the real takeaway is clear: We’re all loving, passionate human beings with complicated pasts and aspirations for the future, and slavery was the antithesis of human existence.

It was a war against the unarmed. A coward’s mad scheme played out across history like a scar on the face of the world. An institutional hell on earth.

So, let’s never forget it. If we’re gonna deal with vengeance, murder, and casual violence in our art until the end of time, as seems certain, we might as well couple that ugliness — the ugliness of the bloodthirsty present — with the abysmal crimes of our past. Ain’t no harm in education.

If this film angers people, then Tarantino’s probably pointing us in the right direction.

Alex Kane is an author, blogger, and critic whose work has appeared in Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction, Digital Science Fiction, and Foundation, among other places. He lives in the small college town of Monmouth, Illinois, where he earned a B.A. in English, and was recently named a finalist in the international Writers of the Future contest. Visit him online at alexkanefiction.com.

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