Liking Django Unchained, director Quentin Tarantino’s slavery era Western, has become the ilk of race traitors. Seeing it, according to some, was bad enough. But enjoying the bloody, hyperbolic film? Out of the question. Tarantino has envisioned a fantasy slavery, that’s true and some viewers take issue with that. Yet, the movie isn’t really about slavery. No one will leave the theater with a clear, historical perspective on the Antebellum south, but the lack of it being about SLAVERY and instead being set during slavery is actually part of why I enjoyed it. It’s a revenge western starring a black man rescuing a black woman, a scenario which feels rare in cinema. Kerry Washington, Broomhilda and the love of Django (Jamie Foxx), is laying alone after she believes she will never see Django again and when he opens the door to find her, he says, “It’s me, baby.” It felt like it had been an eternity since I had heard such sweet words spoken between a black man and a black woman. That Tarantino was the one to get them to the screen might be an issue for another day.
Of course, Django being set in the midst of slavery, even Tarantino’s satirized version of it, does mean that it actually must be discussed. Movies about slavery, or anything that is difficult and troubling to deal with, often end up didactic and therefore static in the thinking and response to it. Spike set color consciousness, intra-racial racism in the black community with its roots in slavery, to music! Why can’t Tarantino have a bold, satirical take on an institution so brutal, an era so painful that it’s rarely spoken of, much less dealt with? Nazi is in our every day lexicon, someone openly acknowledged as evil. But when was the last time, someone was called a slaver? Black people might joke and indict with some of the language of slavery: overseer, y’assuh massuh, but if as a culture we don’t accept and acknowledge, universally, that those labels of slavery are evil, how are we ever assured that the oppression that fed slavery and kept it fat and satisfied for centuries, can one day be no more? Jamie Foxx shooting whites willing to enslave other humans–to buy and sell and demand handshakes over dessert to seal the deal–felt like reparations to me. Payback never looked so twisted and messy and imperfect: kind of the way race relations still looks in this country.