I admit, Quentin Tarantino's slavery revenge flick Django Unchained sounds awesome: escaped slave-turned-bounty hunter avenges his wife's honor by heading down south to put the hurtin' on his former/her present slave owner and rescue her from forced prostitution; perhaps leaving a trail of black-and-blue on white in his wake. The cast ain't too bad either with Jamie Fox, Kerry Washington, RZA from Wu-Tang, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio...
As seductive and fresh the film sounds -- I mean how often do we get to see movies about slavery that don't depict black people as victims; powerless to take matters into their own hands? -- I am still very skeptical of how Django will turn out. Will it lend itself to the same 'ol, same ol' racial tropes that traditionally plague white-directed cinema about black experiences, or will it serve as an opportunity for movie-goers to see blacks transgress beyond rote (mis)representations of blackness? If one analyzes plot alone, it's easy to assume Django may be offensive to those who despise
white paternalism; Django has a white mentor who shows him how to get back at his wife's slaveowner Candie--somehow we're always receiving some instruction from a white counter-part (Blood Diamond, Finding Forrester, Last King of Scotland,Gran Torino, Invictus...)
the objectification and brutalization of black female bodies; rumors are that Kerry Washington who plays Broomhilda, Django's wife, will be raped and/or nude in most of the scenes she's in. Rape and nudity... nuff said. The plot also seems to suggest that Broomhilda will play damsel to her Django, who in turn plays mentee to his mentor -- reinforcing hierarchies of white male supremacy.
stereotypical representations of black men; Django...he violent ain't he?
These possible misrepresentations of black men and women may or may not crop up in Django, but we won't know until we see the film... what does seem clear is Tarantino's very different approach to the white representation in Civil War-era cinema.
From Jamelle Bouie, over @The American Prospect:
The thing about Nazis is that they're the usual sort of villains - few people sympathize with them, and even fewer people see their legacy as something worthwhile. No one likes them, and so it's easy to kill them en masse. The same isn't true of antebellum and Civil War-era America. With few exceptions, Confederates are glorified in Hollywood - either as the honorable losers of a war, or as vengence-seeking crusaders. It's a variation on the Lost Cause mythology - slavery plays only a bit part in most popular depictions of the Confederacy, and Confederates are almost always portrayed as tragic figures.
By focusing solely on how Tarantino may end up misrepresenting blacks in this film, one easily misses how he contributes to annihilating the overly sympathetic white characters we experience in other Civil War-era films (Gone with the Wind, Cold Mountain... ).
But I wonder does this "annihilation" come with a cost?
As much as I hate these "tragic figures" I won't be satisfied if we merely switched them out for an oversimplified "villain" -- Honestly it doesn't bother me that filmmakers and screenwriters continue to paint white Civil War-era "villains" in complex shades of gray; what does bother me is that their palate of understanding -- of how an individual's feelings, actions and motives are shaped by institutionalized injustices -- tends to be reserved for whites only It gets particularly infuriating when these well developed white characters in Civil War-era are contrasted with the haphazardly sketched misrepresentations of blacks (and that's only when we get included in these period pieces).
Also, not too sure Tarantino's reputation of dealing with issues of sex and race in media makes him the most appropriate director to do a slave revenge film...
An oldie, but a goodie from bell hooks' Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies
Tarantino has the real nihilism of our times down. He represents the ultimate in 'white cool': a hardcore, cynical vision that would have everyone see racism, sexism, homophobia but behave as though none of that shit really matters, or if it does means nothing 'cause none of it's gonna change, 'cause the real deal is that domination is here to stay--going nowhere, and everybody is in on the act. Mind you, domination is always only patriarchal--a dick thing.
Tarantino's films are the ultimate in sexy cover-ups of very unsexy mind-fuck. They titillate with subversive possibility, but then everything kinda comes right back to normal. And normal is finally a multicultural world with white supremacy intact.
So what are your predictions for Tarantino's Django Unchained?
*Below, A mock trailer for Django created by a Tarantino fan: