Django Unchained: Whether You Should Be Totally Offended

Slavery gets the Tarantino treatment: Here's exactly what you should think of that

By Leslie Gornstein Dec 28, 2012 11:04 PMTags
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People are so divided over Django Unchained. Once and for all: Is this an offensive film or not?
—Angela, Denver, via Twitter

So far the score stands at about even, with Spike Lee clutching pearls on one end and star Jamie Foxx staunchly defending the film on the other.

Who's right? Well, allow this fine entertainment blog to tell you what to think.

Lee has said that the slavesploitation film is "disrespectful to my ancestors," adding that "American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western."

But at least some academics beg to differ, at least with some of Lee's views.

"His point does have merit," says Dr. Brenda Juarez of the Social Justice Education program at the University of Massachusetts. "But what a lot of people don't realize is that, at the time the film takes place, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana were the Western frontier.

"Some slaves who knew they were being sent to Alabama would commit suicide, because your life span was so short; the frontier was being built off the labor of black people, and the life span was not very long. So was this story a Western? In a way, it was."

As for whether other parts of the film are offensive, Juarez notes that Django has a big plus going for it, something that, say, The Help or The Blind Side don't have.

"What usually happens in movies on black-and-white relations is that they're written by and for white people," Juarez points out. "Black people are in the movie, but they're fairly passive. The people really making things happen are always white. But Django departs from that."

In other words, compared with Django, The Help and The Blind Side could be considered much more offensive for their condescending, sappy, white-people-solve-racism storylines.


That doesn't mean that Django is totally off the hook, however.

"Hollywood has historically done a poor job of telling stories about slavery," says Nsenga Burton, chair of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College. "So Tarantino venturing into that territory with a film that will reflect his style—comedy, extreme characters, exaggerated action and genre mixing—can be seen as offensive.

"If Hollywood hasn't done a great job telling the ‘real' story, then stories that take creative license like Django Unchained are problematic."