It's long overdue, owing mostly to rigorous Confederate apologists and a general squeamishness in regards to the whole owning-other-human-beings thing. It takes someone as fearless and well-established as Tarantino to present an honest picture of Antebellum culture with all its entrenched racism and other warts - which he does surprisingly well even while consciously making the whole thing a gruesome Spaghetti Western with liberal cribbing from Sam Peckinpah's double-bloodpack phase.
The film starts with a clutch of black men, in chains, and marched barefoot through the credits. Christolph Waltz soon shows up as a whacky gunslinging dentist to collect the title character and commence the mayhem, but the film never once shys away from it's depiction of slavery. Mostly that it was hideous.
Every black person onscreen - with the exception of Samuel L. Jackson's brilliantly vile Uncle Ruckus - sports at least a back-full of whipping scars and Django himself has a lowercase "r" branded on his cheek for "runaway." See, trying to escape bondage and forced labor was considered a bad thing in those days. Also, there are plenty of these things -
|Seriously - what the fuck, South!?|
But the horrors of slavery aren't just in such common mortifications of the flesh. No siree - whenever an overseer or plantation owner appears onscreen, we get to see just what happens when you have a designated subhuman class. If their brutality shocks you, you haven't been paying attention to the world for the past ten years.
And there is a sort of class division going on here. The overseers are beholden to the plantation owners and get to work out their frustrations on he slaves, leaving the owners to preen around in loudly white suits pretending to be civilized. They're not of course and no one character better demolishes the myth of the Genteel South than Calvin Candie as played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Candie doesn't just own slaves but deals in "Mandingo Fights." Slaves forced to fight to the death for the entertainment of rich white men. It's brutal and disgusting and such a stark contrast to Candie's pretensions of upper class culture - he notably adores all things French without speaking a word of the language - that it's hard not to assume the whole film is thumbing its nose at the notion there was ever anything civilized about the Antebellum South.
|"Ah am delightfully eevul!"|
And most important of all, Django Unchained kicks ass! Because of all that context Tarantino builds. So when Django starts fanning his revolver at hordes of southern boys and the Rza kicks in on the soundtrack, you understand why the crackers deserve to bleed. It has a cheering effect, especially if you go see it in a predominantly black DC theater. I just about high-fived the lady sitting next to me.
We're gonna need that sense of solidarity. Already, Django Unchained is sparking a conservative freakout to rival the one generated by Machete two years ago. Noel Sheppard cluelessly wrote, “Imagine the uproar if a white actor joked about killing all the black people in a new film he was starring in.” We had that aleady, it was called Death Wish.
So there's still loads of people still in denial about the Calvin Candies who made an abattoir of American history and if said history has taught us anything it's that ya can't really reason with 'em...
|Not pictured - reasoning.|
But in the meantime, go see Django Unchained. It's the best action movie of 2012, the best western since Unforgiven, and the only history lesson that'll also give you that righteous violence fix like Punisher: War Zone.