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Tarantino’s Candy (Slavery In The White Male Imagination)

Tarantino's Candy (Slavery In The White Male Imagination)


Yesterday, I took time out to see ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Django Unchained’, back to back. Yes, in that order. I needed to get a glimpse of what slavery was like in the imagination of white men.

As a black filmmaker, I find that I wrestle with thoughts of ‘responsibility’; ‘who will see it’, ‘what impact will it have on the discourse in America’, ‘what images will I be projecting to our youth/to the world’. I’ve often noted, even in film school, white filmmakers don’t have that burden. They were free to write, to be, to create without thinking about this stuff. I’m certain they thought about other things but, the burden of race was not in their baggage. There is such a thing as privileged Art, privileged filmmaking. We see it in the current slate of insipid films coming out of Hollywood. Films that are not responsible or accountable to anyone or anything.

There is so much response to ‘Django’ that I needed to see it. Spike Lee’s words were instructive. I respect Spike. He paid his dues. He is someone who pays attention to representation. Having had him as a Professor, I know that he is someone who gives an ear and a hand to black filmmakers, actors, even people behind the camera. Spike does not need to justify his commitment to black america AT ALL. So, I was disturbed by the awful things said about Spike. For many blacks in and out of the business, Spike Lee champions us, he is a hero. But, hey, we don’t really worship our heroes while they are alive. I saw this quote on Facebook, it was posted by someone that I, usually, find interesting. After he saw ‘Django’, he wrote, “Spike lost.” I will return to this later.

I experienced mixed emotions while watching ‘Lincoln’. Why is he focusing on this part of slavery? (Understanding, he did make ‘Amistad’.) Why does he feel the need to focus on ‘Lincoln’ or that moment in history? Why isn’t he showing what these white men were fighting over – the experience of the slave? But, I went with it, struggling every step of the way. Ultimately, I relaxed and trusted the storyteller. Yes, people are upset that there was no Frederick Douglass. The slaves appeared well dressed and weren’t showing the scars of slavery. I did find that problematic. He chose to focus on the passage of the Amendment and the end of the Civil War.

As an aside, Colman Domingo and Gloria Reuben were refreshing. They were layered, not one dimensional, not noble. I was excited by this as I do believe that black actors are bringing choices, a complexity when portraying historical figures, a fierceness that can’t be directed out of them. I’d like to think that Denzel’s performance in ‘Glory’ has a lot to do with this.

I appreciated the fact that I had to listen during ‘Lincoln’. Something we are short of in these times. I had to listen, follow, patiently, allow the story to breathe. And, it did. James Spader was a hoot. What a great character. He was akin to Falstaff. And, Tommy Lee Jones brought it. Casting that film must have been a dream. That moment in history was flawed, not noble, complicated, ugly, not how we view history. All of the characters were not one thing, did not think one way. There was back dealing, self-importance and arrogance. Lincoln, who seemed to only utter words that were dripping with poetic brilliance (he must have been annoying), was even flawed. This film was not about the noble white man. It is about white men who were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the future.

So, ultimately, I dug it. There was something earnest about the frailty of humanity. How people become impotent, intellectually and emotionally crippled in the face of a pure evil like slavery. Similar to the gun debate after the Newtown shootings. We create evil, we don’t want it, yet, we are wed to it- rendered powerless by it.

So, what is slavery in the white male imagination? If you were born and raised in America, slavery will have crossed your path. I imagine, if I were white, had black friends and was an Artist, I would have to ponder slavery. And, I believe that Spielberg and Tarantino did or do. Spielberg tried to create an earnest rendering of slavery with ‘Amistad’. However, like Tarantino, his imagination stops at a certain point. I would imagine that the horrors of slavery become too complicated after a certain point. One can’t go around feeling guilty and apologizing all of the time. So, what happens? What do white people do with slavery?

Quentin Tarantino… I am not one to run to a Tarantino film. Violence in film can be too much for me. After ‘Pulp Fiction’, where audience members were laughing at gratuitous violence, I couldn’t deal. So, I avoid Tarantino films if I think violence is the main staple. I did see ‘Inglorious Bastards’ and I liked that. I felt he gave respect to the survivors of the Holocaust. Yes, there was humor and it was playful, but, he respected the pain of the experience.

The black experience does not belong to black people. We wish it did but it doesn’t. And, the highest bidder gets to do with it as they see fit. Our stars are available to the highest bidder. The one who will deliver the audience, who will maximize their cred, who has a proven track record of getting people in seats. Tarantino is a high bidder. He gets butts in seats. He is the filmmaker for our time. He gives us that sweet, sugar, violent laced fantasy that masculinity seems to crave. And, we women get the drippings, a taste, we go along for the ride because the candy looks and sounds so sweet.

Samuel Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio were stunning. Their performances were phenomenal. And, there were moments in the film that may have felt ‘new’ to those who haven’t studied slavery. Things that we have not seen before on the big screen. There were moments, in the film, that were captivating. And, they were presented in interesting and playful packaging. Situating in the brutality of slavery would not make for a good film. I understand the need to divert, to fantasize, to create a new mythology around it, to distract us from the insanity that resides in this nation’s past.

But, if it was as easy to escape slavery, as Django did, we would be somewhere else at this point in history. We would not have the extreme black on black violence in Chicago. We would not have extreme unemployment amongst black men. We would not have the extreme school drop-out rates, high illiteracy rates, high domestic violence numbers, etc. You get it. If it was easy to get out of it, we would have. We are a creative people. We used our imaginations to escape the physical horror that was slavery. That’s why we could create something as complex and deep as Jazz, the blues, Jimi Hendrix. How advanced we were with music gives us some insight into how we disappeared into the imagination because we couldn’t escape the physical.

At some point in a film, especially films that are socially relevant, you get a strong sense of the filmmaker’s voice. There was a moment in ‘Django’ (that I will not reveal), where I got the sense that Tarantino believed if we weren’t so submissive that we wouldn’t be here. Django and his woman were the exception. The rest of the slaves accepted their lot, some happily. The slaves, other than Foxx, Jackson and Washington, were not believable. Tarantino’s slaves were the exact opposite of Spielberg’s slaves. They were not noble, they were caricatures/cartoonish.

The first female slave that Django encounters was so laughable, I wasn’t sure if Tarantino was joking or trying to sincerely portray a slave. Even Jamie Foxx phoned it in, at points. Django was the ‘super Nigger’, the one who was unique, smart, rebellious, different from the rest. None of the slaves conspired to help Django. He was a man on an island. He was the unique Negro.

The other slaves were in step with their master. Django was on the opposite side of that. Although, he was sidekick to a white man throughout the majority of the film. In Tarantino’s imagination, he could accept slavery if he thought of it as black people fighting back under the gaze of a white male. This works for a culture that does not want to confront the evils and system of slavery. We want to believe that it wasn’t all that bad. That it was endurable, escapable, provided opportunities for heroics. Black people were slaves because we didn’t fight back. Django was a character created by a privileged white male.

Perhaps Tarantino did consider our history. I’m certain that he is aware that President Barack Obama is a modern day hero to many of us. Perhaps he did see that our heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., who preached non-violence, was murdered. Perhaps he is aware that Malcolm X, who loved us with all of his might, was murdered. Perhaps he did see that Medgar Evars was murdered. And, Fannie Lou Hamer suffered beyond comprehension. That Harriet Tubman survived and liberated others while carrying a weapon. And, that Nat Turner fought and died as our hero.

Perhaps he has born witness to our carnage, our suffering and determined that black people need a hero in a black man. That we, black women, need a hero black man who would risk everything and kill everything in his path in order to be with us. Maybe Tarantino speaks in the language of hyper masculinity, where the body count determines who wins because he feels that it will embolden black males beyond self-hatred to a self love and strength that reshapes their internal dialogue. Understanding that we do have black men, in our history, who stood up with guns and fought back but their story isn’t told. Perhaps Django represents them.

Tarantino is the perfect filmmaker for these times. We want our information fast, fun, presented in an interesting way and not too complicated. We want an ‘idea’ of something and not the whole truth. We want to know that there are soldiers fighting overseas but we don’t want to see the coffins. Nor do we want to see what’s in them. We want the ‘idea’ of the thing, not the thing. We want slavery but we want to escape from it. And, no, I don’t want to see two hours of humorless, long suffering, brutal slavery, either. It’s a difficult balancing act. There is a deeper, more interesting slave narrative to be told. One from the perspective of a talented Black filmmaker. Stories of slavery rival Shakespeare, they are worthy of a thoughtful approach. Stories that can teach us a lot about what it means to be a human being. I am anxiously awaiting Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’.

People will give the argument, “it’s the best that could be done with the subject matter”. That argument doesn’t hold. Think of ‘Schindler’s List’. Have you seen ‘A Soldier’s Story’? That wasn’t slavery but it was about the repercussions of slavery. It was written by a black man and directed by a white male. Something about these films deliver the experience, ground you in the truth of it but don’t leave you feeling defeated. And, yes, Reginald Hudlin and others were a part of the landscape but it was a Tarantino film. Tarantino’s voice spoke the loudest in ‘Django’.

Is the culture any worse because of ‘Django Unchained’? I don’t think we are better because of it. Will it deepen discussions around slavery? Probably not. Will it decrease violence in the ‘hood? Probably not, if anything, the gun received more glorification and worship. Not sure black males or anyone else needs that. But, he had a right to make it. It’s entertaining. It’s has a funky and thoughtless soundtrack. It has beautiful people in it. It is escapism. It is a work of Art. We have spent eons escaping into the white male hero, why not a black one? ‘Lincoln’ is pensive. ‘Django Unchained’ is active. And, we are still on the outside, looking in, as others write our history.

Spike Lee did not lose. There was nothing to win. He was sounding the alarm. That’s all. Keeping the flow of the river. Our heroes, while alive, hold up the flame as others bash them. They pass it on to the next generation, in spite of itself. Was this disrespectful to Spike’s (our) ancestors? He believed so. May we all be thoughtful and caring enough to ask ourselves this very question, of one another, more often.

**And, before people jump on the ‘how can Spike talk about the film if he hasn’t seen it’ bandwagon. There are several who read the screenplay and were offended by it. For some, that was enough**

Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at visit

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Pakistan Online Shop

Thanks a lot for this awesome post. Keep up the good work. I’ll be coming back lots. I agree with most of the points you make within this content.


A simple thought to consider. At one time or another throughout history, every nation went through some form of slavery. Regardless of color, plenty of people from many different nations experienced slavery and all the abuses, tortures, atrocities, and murder which came with it. To claim this as singularly a black, white, Hispanic, Jewish, or any other race specific issue is ridiculous. To say that it happened for a longer period of time for one group than another, and that this would be a defining factor, is ridiculous as well. The point can also soundly be made that every race has been guilty at some point in history of enslaving it's own or another race. Slavery is wrong regardless of who it has been perpetrated on, but to grandstand without actually knowing, living, and experiencing it firsthand is a far worse crime indeed.
Spike Lee has made a living, for good or for bad, on race related issues. In some cases informative, in some educative, and in others just out right grand standing and exploitative. But for him to put himself in the shoes of his ancestors on an opinion of a film he hasn't even seen is just plain preposterous. He has nothing but books to tell him of the things they experienced, and will never know what actually living it was like, much less what they would have thought given the chance to see the film. I don't fault the man for this, I just feel that his opinion is no more important on a given film than anyone else. There is also a fine line between keeping the subject relevant and attempting to become a cult of personality by defining yourself with something you didn't actually experience.
As for Django, this wasn't meant to be a historically factual or accurate film anymore than Inglourious Basterds was. Yet so many here want to pigeonhole it as a picture of what Quentin Tarantino thought those times were actually like, and for that you have to just be uneducated or just plain foolish. The film is a farce, a comedy, an action adventure, a spaghetti western, and first and foremost…. it's FICTION!!! Spike Lee weighing in on a fictional film and what his ancestors would have thought about it in modern times is about as ludicrous as a Jewish person weighing in on how their holocaust surviving ancestors would feel about half of the Mel Brooks' cannon. You may want to start asking yourself who the real racist is these days…. Who goes out of their way to make a point of interjecting race issues when it's just not necessary, and how doing just that impedes a quicker solution to any outstanding issues we currently still face.
Just a thought.


To the 2 guys Irish Born and Erik G Slavik, commenting on Irish/White oppression and slavery, I heard of the Irish being oppressed in early America, but how long did this oppression last? Were whites in chains , beaten, hung, castrated, have their families split up? Even after slavery , black people were not free because whites did not want to pay for prior slave labor. Blacks were jailed instead and rented out for labor. And we all know many were killed on sight, if whites felt like killing them. I really don't see the comparison. Do you know of any books on this subject? I would like to read them.

sarah elliott

i'm going with what spike lee said of the film.
when he spoke out, I listened.
my rental fee isn't going to make or break the film but…I won't be enabling what I feel is disrespectful to those who died for the freedom of others. I won't do it.
tarantino's paying a lot for his whistle.

emf protection

I really like the blog.I have shared your site with many friends and family. It is always a pleasure to read.
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Irish born

You know what would be nice if someone did a movie about white slavery in colonial America! Wait a minute no I don't if they did make a movie it would be so full of misinterpretations and lies it wouldn't be worth watching! Nobody cares about the suffering of WHITE slaves!


"We want an 'idea' of something and not the whole truth. " … Reading everyone you seem to all know the "truth" ….of how it was exactly … How people were speaking/behaving/thinking… Just like if you were there … I wasn't … But i know for sure that every movies we see … are only movies … Historical or not it stays a movie … Made from someone's imagination … So i won't debate for Tarantino's view about slavery … He made a great movie , and this is what it is ! A movie ! Now , about slavery … What is the truth ? Tell me how it was ? Precisely … Which movie reflects it the most ? What movie brings us back in time and make us feel the exact same way our ancestors felt ? Then we could pretend we KNOW the truth … And legitimately judge others for distorsing it … I don't have this pretention …


Thank you for writing this, Tanya. I totally agree with what you said. Unfortunately your words will fall on mostly deaf ears because these days people don't care. They would prefer to eat up stuff like this instead of question it. Black people's general apathy towards black pride and critical thinking in the media has been on the decline for decades, but it's always good to know there are people who maintain these values like yourself.


One thing that I have to address is that the "submissiveness of the black people" was a belief held by the film's villian, a fictional character, not the film's director. If you want the bad guy to "get his" you need a reason for the audience to hate him, that's all this was.


Actor Jesse Williams writes a great review of Django Unchainged that points out many of the things in the film that bothered me.


I went to watch a movie for pure entertainment, not to to critique it or find some subliminal messages in it or to be educated. I loved the movie, though the violence was a bit much for me. Who goes to the movies to critique a movie instead of enjoying it unless it is an educational movie.

Erik G Slavik

Loved the movie Django Unchained. Acting, directing, and production were on point. A great switch up from the normal slavery themed movie, and classic Tarantino.


the movie is primarily about control, the prison industrial complex in america (today) and fear vs. love. i honestly couldn't believe what i was watching when i was in the theater. Also, floored by the fact i see little discussion of this online, and know i was potentially one of the few, if not the only dude in theater who could see this.


It was to much and Spike Lee should of did his movie it would have been better.. It was just to watch and its not funy at all its a time when are ppl were treated like animals we black ppl have a long way to go..


totally agree, beautiful article. i think that any artist has the right to digress on any matter at all. the question of being worth it – there's the catch! and i must confess: i don't know if i'd take seriously a lesbian movie made by a heterosexual man (please forgive me my foolish comparison).

The T is silent

Django is creating a lot more discussion and in a positive way. Youre thinking so hard about some imaginary meta-argument that you've completely lost sight of the bigger picture.


I have to say that I enjoyed Django Unchained, but probably in a different way from most viewers apparently did. I read a review before seeing the film about how people laughed at some of the moments in the film. When the film approached many of those moments, I didn't laugh once. Sure I found some of those moments mildly amusing, but I didn't feel that they warranted the level of explosive laughter that many of the moviegoers gave them. Of course being a Tarantino film, there is going to be humor involved; but I just found it difficult to laugh at some of those said funny scenes. I guess because I went in with the mindset that this another film about slavery, and I was more interested in how the black characters were depicted. The film presented slavery in a way that was probably easier to digest for the mainstream American audience. Yes there was gratuitous violence, like in most Tarantino films; but somehow it didn't feel as gory to me, since the days of slavery were very violent times to begin with. Yes a lot of the characters were comical in their own right, but at the end of the day I just felt sorry for many of them. The slave owners were dehumanized in the sense that they became rabid sociopaths with complete disregard for the humanity of Black people. While Black people were dehumanized through the institution of slavery; being viewed as nothing more than livestock or property. All the moments where people laughed, I just felt relief; because many of the evil characters in the film got what was coming to them. When I watched this film, I caught myself examining many of the interactions between Django and the other slaves. It made me think about some of the remaining scars that slavery has left upon Black society in general. I think too many people were distracted by the violence of the film and the whole hero saves the girl while he gets his revenge part of the film to fully pay attention to parts of the film, that I thought were important in fully understanding the film. I have to applaud Tarantino for his efforts in this film. Though it was not as historically accurate as he thought it would be, it was still quite convincing. In this article the writer says that the Black experience isn't owned by Black people alone; but we sure as hell are the only ones who will truly understand it.


If black people where kept in slavery because they where so submissive, can we say the same for jews during the holocaust? did the jews go through the holocaust because they where so submissive? I dont think so. I think it is ignorant and misrepresentative of the fact that A minority of people where stolen from thier land and brought to a system that kept them in the most horific circumstance possible. Does a kid who is kidnaped and abused by a molester stay in captivity beacause he is submissive? Just a thought. best seller or not, I think this movie was disrespectful to the memories of the fallen slaves and the black race in general. thumps down.


"The black experience does not belong to black people. We wish it did but it doesn't." Really? You wish artistic creativity could be "owned" by only those who have direct life experience? So you could only write stories about black women? And Geoffrey Fletcher could only write stories about black men? Do you think any white person reviewed the 25th Hour and thought, "who is this guy thinking he can direct a movie about white people". I think it's cool to get new and diverse perspectives. I think that's why Kathryn Bigelow's vision on a typically male dominated genre is so unique.


Step right up Shadow and Act and get your Django slave doll. Django Unchained action figures on sale @

edward t.

disgraceful. how can any black person love this crap. shouldve listen to spike and saved my money. black man hanging upside down naked with a man fondling his genitalia. im willing to bet that he didnt make it out of mississippi on horse back alive. bet the plantation on that


Django was the only brave, non passive African American. He was the side kick of a white man who enabled him to be the big bad negro is was. This is historically inaccurate. Nat Turner, Demar Vessey, Gabriel Prosser just to name a few stood up strogn independently. Slave uprisings were a contant occurence.




Loved reading your article . " We want an 'idea' of something and not the whole truth" this is so true for much media output in the 21st century, especially now. Everything is so watered down and glossed. I think Hitler said something like, "you know what people want, they don't want truth, they want truth mixed with lies" (don't quote me) but this blur-fantasy-throwback-history-shot is what is offered to our generation and the simplistic history curriculum in many Western countries only serve vested interests who want young kids to look back with rose-tinted lenses.

Rant done.


Wonderful! Your review is articulate and thoughtful. I love reading your reviews. I plan on seeing Django this weekend and I hope I am entertained because that is truly the purpose of the film.

Patrick Coker

That was a very well thought out critique of both films and highly appreciated. Thanks Ms. Steele, I will be following.


Thank you for writing this brilliant review. I've been reading quite a bit about the film and I really appreciated your perspective.

Jack Armstead

Thanks Tanya… I am even more intrigued by your review and will now go see the movie. Excellent analysis about story-telling and issues our country must still acknowledge and face.

I will also go see "Lincoln" to get another perspective of slavery or of white men "who were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the future."

Thanks again Tanya; excellent observations/analysis and Happy New Year.

Carl E.

Interesting article. Something worth noting, there is an implication of a proper black male in this article. "Slavery in the white male imagination" suggests a typified version of the black experience during this period according to the white male director so the converse, typified version of the black experience during this period must also exist in the black male imagination. That being the case, one might ask what category the black male falls under who does not subscribe to this other, "proper version" of slavery. In other words, who is the black male without a proper conception of slavery according to the author of this article? Obviously, he is not a proper black male.

But if there are proper black males and those black males who are in some category of otherness, there may also be proper white males and those who are in some category of otherness. It is all an interesting conversation to have but at some point ethnicity, more to the point, color, simply fails to adequately represent let alone summurize individual characteristics. Who I am as an individual human being may or may not have anything to do with my ethnic background and speaking quite honestly, I hope my value as a human being is in no way attached to the extent to which I fulfill external expectations associated with my skin color.

And I loved Django. Revenge flicks are naturally against all odds. It wouldn't make much sense to write a revenge story about a character who could easily have prevented or escaped the conditions which compel him to seek revenge.

Carl L. Williams

I have seen both Lincoln and Django Unchained, in that order. Lincoln is a historical drama about an actual historical occurrence: The effort by President Lincoln and his party (Republicians, hard to imagine isn't it) and abolitionists to get the House of Representatives to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (the Senate having passed it the year before). The film is not about the institution of slavery or the Civil War battlefront (the military campaign had not ceased during the time of the movie's portrayal of the maneuvers and strategies to garner the necessary votes in the House of Representatives). Thus, Lincoln, in the words of renowned historian Sean Wilentz, "…is primarily a film about the American political process…" As a political junkie, I was enthralled with the strategic jockeying by the President, Secretary of State William Seward, Thaddeus Stevens, ; for me, the movie is to be enjoyed as a film of political drama, cinematic presentation of Abraham Lincoln the astute political tactician, and the American political process at work during a pivotal moment in the still evolving story of American democracy.

Django Unchained reminded me to some extent of the so-called "black exploitation" films of the "Shaft" genre; interestingly, my wife commented as we left the theater that it reminded her of film "Blazing Saddles." The movie was not intended–I'm certain–as a historically accurate depiction of the system of American chattel bondage any more than the "spaghetti westerns" accurately portray the American west. Slavery in America, like all of American history is complex, riddled with contradictions and paradox ( e.g. African Americans did own slaves); nonetheless it was, of course, a brutal and profoundly dehumanizing experience for African Americans, the consequences of which still resonate in our time. Our understanding and appreciation of this unique "peculiar institution" is neither diminished nor advanced by this film. It does, however, for me, elevate the acting skills of Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx-both performed magnificently.


This article was pathetic! Did you see the same film as me! "I got the sense that Tarantino believed if we weren't so submissive that we wouldn't be here." THAT IS THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING PRINTED ABOUT THIS FILM! You are taking some feelings from somewhere else and trying to portray QT as so kind of racist and the black actors as pure fools! I am black and from south Georgia where the plantations can still be seen and my great grandparents were born slaves. I KNOW RACISM and about SLAVERY in ways you can only hope to fathom someday. You started out with a great premise for a great article but you lost your way early. You did not have to like the film but you injected personal HATE that either blinded you or you do not understand the CONCEPT of FILM! Many of your statements were based on unknown assumptions that you turned into foolish leaps to justify you support of Lee. Django was not a historical drama and to address it as so was extremely foolish. Do comment on how the female slaves were not noble freedom fighters was even more foolish. If you actually knew anything about slavery you would know the slaves played their roles to avoid repercussions and yes uneducated people behaved in an uneducated manner. To compare the slaves in Lincoln to the ones in Django was also folly. Spike Lee is NOT a hero! Hero's don't Tweet innocent peoples address and claim that the murderer Zimmerman lives there! Spike had and incredible voice and made great films, yes made past tense! But he is but a mere caricature of himself. I defend him and his movies all the time but the SIMPLE truth is you can not condemn a film until you have seen it! That is the problem Spike has the majority of America assumes he is a racist but they have not seen his films. Anyone with knowledge of movies and especially QT movies knows that the script changes frequently. Your personal misguided beliefs made this article a terrible failure of journalism. You should have mentioned that this was an angry opinion piece in the beginning so we could have expected the lack of journalistic integrity! Your love of Lee no matter how much of a fool he makes out of himself has tainted you view and you wrote this hoping he would see this. You elevate him as if he is some hero but he is far from it. He has failed himself and us with his behavior and comments. You act as if he is the only black person that has ever spoken out for black or black cinema. You and Lee both need to learn to think before speaking. I hope he gave you that pat on your back that you were fishing for when you wrote this.


This article was pathetic! Did you see the same film as me! "I got the sense that Tarantino believed if we weren't so submissive that we wouldn't be here." THAT IS THE MOST RIDICULOUS THING PRINTED ABOUT THIS FILM! You are taking some feelings from somewhere else and trying to portray QT as so kind of racist and the black actors as pure fools! I am black and from south Georgia where the plantations can still be seen and my great grandparents were born slaves. I KNOW RACISM and about SLAVERY in ways you can only hope to fathom someday. You started out with a great premise for a great article but you lost your way early. You did not have to like the film but you injected personal HATE that either blinded you or you do not understand the CONCEPT of FILM! Many of your statements were based on unknown assumptions that you turned into foolish leaps to justify you support of Lee. Django was not a historical drama and to address it as so is foolish. Do comment on how the female slaves were no noble freedom fighters was even more foolish. If you actually knew anything about slavery you would know the slaves played their roles to avoid repercussions. To compare the slaves in Lincoln to the ones in Django was also folly. Spike Lee is NOT a hero! Hero's don't Tweet innocent people address and claim that the murderer Zimmerman lives there! Spike had and incredible voice and made great films, yes made past tense! But he is but a mere caricature of himself. I defend him and his movies all the time but the SIMPLE truth is you can not condemn a film until you have seen it! That is the problem Spike has the majority of America assumes he is a racist but they have not seen his films. Any with knowledge of movie and especially QT movies knows that the script changes frequently. Your personal misguided beliefs made this article a terrible failure of journalism. You should have mentioned that this was an angry period piece in the beginning so we could have expected the lack of journalistic integrity! Your love of Lee no matter how much of a fool he makes out of himself has tainted you view and you wrote this hoping he would see this. You elevate him as if he is some hero but he is far from it. He has failed himself and us with his behavior and comments. You act as if he is the only black person that has ever spoken out for black or black cinema. You and Lee both need to learn to think before speaking.


I am a african-american male with an MFA in film. I work in the industry. Spike Lee was and is my inspiration to start making film and Tarantino is my inspiration to continue. So I'm a bit disturbed by his comments- because to me after seeing this film and having been fortunate enough to have met and shake hands with both of these talented gentlemen ( and Reggie Hudlin- for whatever that's worth) there has to be a certain kinship amongst artists that I believe Spike is guilty of betraying.

A couple years ago ; I saw Dave Chappelle do a standup bit live in Hollywood at the same club that Michael Richards had performed his now infamous, off-the-cuff- "N-word" routine. Chappelle said he was torn, as a black man he was offended but as a comic he felt kinship with a performer who losing the audience and becoming frustrated and running out of ideas. Over the course of his career Spike has had to fight to get the mainstream to pay attention to him. So many of his films were being criticized without being seen… Why do this to a fellow filmmaker- The script is only half of the process.

Once again I'm reminded that Spike pre-read the script to Goodfellas and asked Martin Scorsese, "why do you want to make this, there's nothing here." Then he saw the movie and after viewing said, "I'll never question your choices again."

This film (Django) is as historically accurate as Blazing Saddles (which was really a film about prejudice)- but equally as entertaining. Maybe time is better spent analyzing the writings of a scribe who makes the poor attempt comparing "A Soldier's Story," and "Django" – Couldn't they also waste their time comparing "Soul Plane" and "Flight" because both movies have black pilots in them.

Its unfair for any artist's work to be criticized without being viewed, Spike's lived through this professionally. I have the same ancestors, and I'd like to think that my ancestors were open-minded and possibly had acquired a sense of humor- even during rough times (slavery included).


Django wasn't about slavery any more than The Good, The Bad & The Ugly was about the Civil War. Or perhaps more apropos, any more than Inglorious was about the Holocaust (and I must point out as others have your inconsistency here because you feel IB paid respect. DU is basically a companion piece – both are complete fantasies that feature imaginary heroes that take revenge on bad guys. I don't think anyone watching these films thinks "See, if only the historical participants had taken a stand against their oppressors"). That's just plain silly. Tarantino is a filmmaker that likes to pay homage to under recognized genres in a highly stylized way. He makes fun (if very violent) films. They are not meant to be treatises on their subjects.

Just an observer

Have we all forgotten that Tarantino made the white racists like the kkk look like idiots that couldn't be understood and the slaves were actually well spoken??? He wanted the black slaves to be the heroes in this film! The white people portrayed other than django's partner, were all villains!!!! Sooooo that means the Black ppl were all heroes. It's a movie not a portrait of real life. I would like to think that not every white person of that era believed and stood for slavery! But as a white man I'm not offended, it makes me look evil if I took it as a literal portrait. Slavery is not something to take lightly it was a horrendous act that unfortunately has plagued all societies until the modern era, but few seem to know that slavery did not start in africa. plain and simple…it's a movie. Schindlers list was enjoyed by the author, does that mean its ok for white people to be slaves? I'm confused by this author….I say watch it if u like and don't if u don't want to, it's not meant to be a history lesson, it's meant to entertain….period.


It was just a movie. It was not meant to degrade or upgrade. It was a movie. It was not "Birth of a Nation" or "Shaft". Your review raised questions. So, I have one for you. Did you like the movie? Or, not? Do you agree with Spike Lee that we should boycott the movie?


inglorious basterds – you liked that. a exploitation film about the holocaust with laughs in it. from your perspective, thats okay. but with slavery it isnt? what is wrong with the girl writing this article?


This movies is not beneficial to black people. Not black produced or directed. No black in a break out role. Won't lead to more black movies being made. Won't garner awards or nominations for the black actors. Its typical exploitation no more no less. But the damages are enormous. The film trivializes the historical experience of slavery that has shaped the African diaspora. For a blog that tags itself as being "on cinema of the African diaspora" to give this film so much promotion is a travesty. But then I expected this. The blog's migration to was a clue.


"The black experience does not belong to black people. We wish it did but it doesn't." —
The worst thing that can happen is when you allow yourself to be defined by someone else's perception. And I believe this is something that has gone on for FAR too long. So what's the real problem here? Is it what we are seeing or what we aren't? Hollywood is a system that has flourished on white supremacy and patriarchy, they don't give a f*ck about Open Letters and petitions. THEY. ARE. WINNING. They don't care when you preach to your own choir about what you feel they are doing wrong. Because they don't care that you care. But when you DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT and SUPPORT others that do. That's how things change.
Happy New Year Everyone.


'Django Unchained' is simply a movie. Nothing more, nothing less. It was not meant to be a documentary or an accurate portrayal of slavery. It was meant to be a 70's style spaghetti western. I am a Black man and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was entertaining. That's what I wanted – entertainment. I really couldn't care less about the race of the person making the movie or their sensibilities about it. People are sensationalizing something that really isn't a big deal. It's a movie. You'll either see it or you won't.


Thank you, Ms. Steele, for a beautifully written, thoughtful piece. Your argument is valid and sound. And particularly refreshing critique since you are a filmmaker, and as a black woman, thus providing you with a very different sensibility, and lens, from which you view culture and movies. I have not seen either film and do not plan to. Nor have I read the scripts for either, but agree with you about Spike Lee sounding the alarm. One can make an informed decision about whether or not to invest in something based on prior knowledge and background. Spike, like most Americans, is discriminating in his taste. And his taste isn't QT. Those who went off on him are ignorant and should be ignored. I, too, am looking forward to Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave." … Again, thank you for elevating the conversation.


I don't agree with all of his choices with the the film, but I think some people criticizing the movie don't see things straight because of their race. The author said the slaves were caricatures. I'm not sure where the author is from, but for me, I see people like that all the time. To me many of the field slaves were too well spoken for slaves. The hillbillies in the film were hard to understand. There was one particular hillbillie in the film that noone in the audience could understand. I watched a documentary on HBO about blacks in Alabama and in the Mississippi delta in this decade, and you couldn't even understand a word of what they were saying. They needed subtitles. As a matter a fact, I caught a clip of Maury Povich the other day, and I heard a young man I couldn't understand. I had to come out of the kitchen to see who was talking. He made those white slave owners, the handlers, and the people in the KKK scenes look like TOTAL idiots with an IQ of 70. No one mentioned that. Were those caricatures also? I know the truth is hard to accept, but we really need to educate and examine ourselves. If you don't want to see us portrayed this way, do something to change our standards.

AllPeople (AP) Gifts [soaptalk AT hotmail DOT com]

There is actually no such thing as a so-called "Light-Skinned
Black" person … but rather … such individuals and groups
are actually people who are of a 'Multi-Generational
Multiracially-Mixed' (MGM-Mixed) Lineage that some may
have been pressured or encouraged to ignore or downplay.
People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT feel pressured to
'identify' according to any standards other than one's own.
The legal -application of the racist-'One-Drop Rule'
(ODR) was banned in the U.S. way back in 1967.
Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories
of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:
There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
as common entities — within the continental U.S.
It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) — [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'
(ROP)] — and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) — that was
used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.
This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") — but rather
— it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.
An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
same thing as a "Race" category:
Other Topics:

Edwanda E Brown

Your exposition of the film "Django…" helped so much in my organizing my thoughts about that movie and the many others that attempt to portray historical and/or contemporary African Americans. Thank you for the insight-& keep on inking!


Aint that a fantastic image at the top that tarantino and the lib hollywood brings us 10 days after a tragedy involving gun violence that killed 20 children.


Y'all seriously don't know what a monkey suit is? Nor do you know the definition of "coon." I'll give you a hint, it's not liking a movie made by a white man despite Deity Lee's reservations. And I think Malcolm deserves more credit for being a hero than Spike for making a movie about him. You act like Spike invented the man. So let me ask you this, is a hero not a hero until Hollywood deems him so? How simple minded is that?


Some of you Black Men should be ashamed of yourselves, really? I would be embarrassed to praise a white man for "giving you" a black hero.


I don't understand why you think the first woman slave Django encountered was a caricature. That was in 1858. I'm a black female English professor in Florida, and I've met black people in the South this decade in my classroom who are like that.


I don't understand why Spike constantly waist his energy criticizing movies starring other African Americans. He talked horribly and so disrespectfully about Tyler Perry. Tyler is a wonderful person who has given many African Americans jobs. Now a movie portraying an African or African American man willing to risk his life and kill anyone that gets in his way to rescue his beautiful African or African American wife doesn't meet Spike's approval. It seems the only time we hear from Spike these days is to voice negative comments about any show with African Americans. Some of his movies were very displeasing and negative in my opinion. I loved Spike Lee's Love and Basketball movie because it was a love story. I hated Do the Right Thing. What was the purpose of the fictional movie Miracle at St. Anna? I didn't find negative comments about his movies. I have always despised any movies, sitcoms or dramas that displays African Americans as thugs, drug dealers, burglars, robbers, etc. Even today, unfortunately most of the roles for African Americans are still these types of parts from white producers. If we had less of that crap, then perhaps there would be less black-on-black murders. More movies showing honorable African Americans, powerful highly intelligent African Americans (Scandal), wonderful historical movies, i.e. The Great Debaters and others that will hopefully be made in the future perhaps would impact the mentality of young African Americans and other nationalities. Throughout history it has been a known fact that not all black people like black people. Look at Adam West. He's a teabagger that hates President Obama. I wish powerful, wealthy, well known African Americans, such as Spike Lee and others would utilize their voice and complain about racist like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and the entire Fox racist Network. Complain about idiots like Geraldo Rivera saying the hoodie got Trayvon killed; complain about George Zimmerman. Dunn who murdered a 17 year old for playing his rap music; complain about the massive weapons that killed 20 elementary kids. FOCUS ON MAKING THIS COUNTRY BETTER FOR OUR FUTURE GENERATIONS. Slavery is America's Holocaust.

Richard Mellor

I'm in a bit of a rush and read this commentary quickly to return later but I wanted to mention one thing. I also dislike Tarantino and his violent films to be honest. Yes he is a white male, but there is not one mention of class or capitalism in this review. Is he a working class white male? he certainly is not so he sees society from his class point of view. I haven't seen the film but I will bet this and I think Ms Steel's comments confirm what I am about to say, I'll bet the collective is ignored and the individual is glorified. The slaves collectively are a passive mass while the individual is glorified. This is bourgeois art. This is a false view of history. White working class history is hidden. Black working class history is hidden. Black history month celebrates the success of the individual climbing in to the middle class, the academic, the inventor, the artist and we should applaud them especially those of color in this racist society. But the black workers and youth opened those doors in the face of the Klan and police dogs. But all art has a class base because consciousness is class based. It ignores the incredible struggles of black workers against racist cops, bosses and white workers who adopt these ideas. Malcolm X said that you can't have capitalism without racism, he is right about that I believe. I am not saying that racial oppression like gender oppression can be ignored by any means, just think that Emmett Till was hogtied and murdered in my lifetime, and his murderers got away with it. This is America and it's apartheid system. But class matters. Look at Obama, wiping tears from his eyes at this recent tragedy and murdering Pakistani and Muslim children in his defense of his class. It's not as simple as black and white is it?


Hello Tanya, as you know… I've been waiting for you. Many times I've said that I love you open and honest and unapologetic approach in your many article. Again, today, you have not failed me. After reading parts of Tambay's and Sergio's reviews (both of which had their own "flavor" and interesting points) I needed this to fill in the gaps. Listen, it's safe to say those who wanted to enjoy the movie… did just that. And those who, for whatever reasons, decided to find fault with it, would do exactly that. Anyway, because I've been so involved with my everyday life, I haven't had time to see Django nor Lincoln, but I had to drop by to again tell you that I love what you do. Btw, the only other person I really "listen" to in regards to movies is my daughter (We seem to be on the same page… I don't have to question her motives or her "politics"). And, she said she loved the movie.



When watching the film I was struck by the fact that the story, which is what the film is about, the "Brunhilda" story. Could've taken place in any time and place and still had the same impact. Set in another galaxy as a space opera, or in ancient Babylon, the story could've been told almost EXACTLY the same. So this movie is not about slavery. It's a action-adventure-revenge fairy tale.

The fact that the film's context actually happened is merely icing on the cake. It is icing in the context of this movie only. If one wished to make a movie ABOUT slavery then slavery would be a full meal, with its own challenges. For no one is going to want to eat their 'accuracy-vegetables' raw with no seasoning.


My favorite review so far. If only everyone allowed for deeper-level thinking.


Where do I begin? First, Steve Spielberg made Lincoln based upon the historical biography of the 16th President written by Goodwin. He focused on the passage of the 13th amendment because if he didn't you'd still be sitting in the theater waiting for the movie to end. Lincoln wasn't about slavery. It was about Lincoln. There's a big difference. Lincoln barely had contact with slaves, though his wife's father owned a plantation. He was not a slave owner per se and its safe to say he never really witnessed the every day brutality of slaves found common in the South. So historically it's not surprising that Spielberg's carnage, what little of it, focused on white dead Union soldiers rather than bruised and battered Africans. So as far as a "white man's" image of slavery I think the jury is still out on Spielberg. As far as I know QT never posited himself as the definitive creative force on slavery. His fetish is Westerners. His focus is revenge. He thrives on violence. Slavery was a compelling backdrop to let these three weapons in his cinematic arsenal play out. It was not meant to be QT's answer to Roots (though he did say he wanted to show the brutality of slavery in a way that Roots never did). You are right black people don't own slavery. It's been nearly 97 years since a Birth of a Nation and we have yet to answer it with our own telling of that era. I had an editor once and he said "Show don't tell." I think all these black filmmakers who are so good at telling everyone else what they should and should not be doing should be spending their time writing stories that they lament aren't there. Ever heard of an allegory? Geez, you can tell the story of slavery in any time. It doesn't have to be antebellum South. Why is it that we're so blindsided that all we do is complain to the very system that has since our inception in this country ignored, subjugated and oppressed us for some redemption? Why don't we show instead of tell? One answer to that question may be in a character QT created that is telling and revealing about slavery's legacy on blacks today. It's not Django or his lady love, nor the other strong yet silent slaves, but Stephen, the head house slave. So ingratiated he is to the master's table, to the subjugation that makes him rich and powerful that he bristles with hatred when he sees a free black man ride up to the doorstep. That one character has a lot more to say about blacks today than any depiction of nameless, faceless slaves brutal or otherwise. The same psychological terrorism that would force a black man to hate a free black man so much that he'd rather see them both dead than to gain his own freedom is the same powerful force that allow blacks to beg for acceptance for the very system that enslaved them killing each other in the process. If you think that Django is some senseless shoot them up Western that's your prerogative. But you'd be wrong. And Spike lost, not because he's disparaging QT. He lost because he is telling not showing. He is infuriating not illuminating. He is bloviating not blowing our mind. We can't keep crawling on our hands and knees asking master to tell our stories and then sitting back incredulous when our stories aren't told the way we want them to be. Enough is enough.


It is funny to see all of those with a race torture porn fetish come out to defend this dreck by saying it's just a movie.

I've seen roundtable discussions by artists, producers, directors, and others in the hollyweird industry come out and say that tv, movies, and music implant values and ideas that influence people's behaviour, beliefs, and actions.

Jamie Foxx himself even said it after the shooting in Newtown.

I've seen countless psychiatric professionals also say that the depravity in entertainment influences the minds of the mental midgets that eagerly consume it.

No it is not just a movie. It is race sadism that normal people stay away from.


Believe me, nobody outside the United States (the majority of movie viewers now, even for Hollywood) once thought that American history had anything noble in it, aside from ending WWII. In particular, nobody outside the US thinks of Lincoln as noble or the Civil War as noble.


The story goes that my grandfather told his children that his mother had been a slave at Sudley Manner, and that she'd run away from there and made her way to Washington, DC when Lincoln had announced the end of slavery, before the start of the Civil War. She was 7 months pregnant when she escaped. She said she wanted her child to be born free. Many years later I asked my mother who was that little dark-skinned older lady in the photograph of my grandfather and his wife and children. She told me that little dark-skinned lady was my great-grandmother. I was surprised. I didn't know what happened to slave women on the plantation. My grandfather had the skin color that we used to call "light, bright, damn near white". Later I was telling a friend about my great-grandmother being a slave at Sudley Manner. I told her I'd looked up the information about Sudley Manner in the library (before the Internet) and it still existed. She asked me wasn't I going to visit. I told her..only if I could get enough money to buy it and burn it down.

Vicente Lozano

At the end of the day, it’s a “cake and eat it too” movie. As was “Inglorious Basterds”. Not to say that both are not entertaining, or that they can’t be wrestled into some context where they offer throught provoking commentary. But it is that very wrestling, that mental game of Twister, that is the signature Watusi of a white critical world. I accept this, and watch it with the fascination that I did the dancers on “American Bandstand” trying their darndest to approximate funk.

Thanks for a thoughtful post.


Yall gotta listen to Tariq Nasheed's review of the film.. On the money!


Even with Django's love story as a backdrop, this movie just helped to brainwash Black male youth further into believing the lie that the Black women in slavery were a bunch of willing whores for white slaveowner men. Thus further inflaming hatred of Black women by Black men, and further endangering Black women among Black men who will hate Black women based upon this falsification of an aspect of slavery.

The perception of Black women as being happy, willing slave playthings and sex toys to white slaveowners – a very common, yet false and unfortunate, belief among man African American men – only bodes poorly for Black women in relation to Black men in America, who already have much stored up hatred towards Black women.

The Hollywood propaganda against Black relations continues…


Hi Tanya,
Thanks for your perspective. I disagree with some of what you're saying but I get it. I won't explain why I like the movie any more than I have, because I'm Django-Unchain-discussioned out and tired of explaining why I liked it. However, just to provide a little push back, I think I know what scene you're talking about (the phrenology scene) when you said you believe that Tarantino really thinks "if we weren't so submissive that we wouldn't that we wouldn't be here." It's something I've pondered throughout my years in life…and I have studied slavery, I think more than the average American student due to receiving an Afrocentric education (in tandem with the Westernized education) during my upbringing. However, I don't think Tarantino believes this. I think it's something that he ponders probably like a lot of us. We'll never get an answer but the psychology behind this is fascinating…what did keep the slaves so submissive considering that they did outnumber white men on most if not all plantations? It's obviously not because there are three dimples in the black brain that encourage submissiveness as that character suggested based on erroneous information, so what is it? Plus, think about it, the same person who said this about the "exceptional negroes" got outsmarted by a slave. Remember, it was that particular slave who alerted him to the scam that was going on and master's reluctance to believe this was rooted in his white privilege so I think in that scenario, Tarantino was trying to show the ridiculousness or the curiousness in the psychological thinking on both sides of the spectrum.

That's my two cents. But anyway, good piece, again.


In regards to the "happy" slaves, is Stockholm syndrome only for white people ? Hollywood will NEVER green light a major motion picture by a black filmmaker that in epic proportions ,shows the brutality , cruelty and history of slavery. Where are our trilogies , sequel after sequel, million dollar budgets, and world wide premiers. I enjoyed Django for what it is.
I am tired of all the top black filmmakers arguing about the movies they make and wish they would combine forces to make THAT movie which represents US well regardless of what other folks say.
Tarentino is wrong about Roots and Lee is wrong about Django.


I don't agree with this article or the one Tamblay wrote – which I stopped reading a page in. This is a Tarantino film, not Steve McQueen. In Inglorious Basterds, Hitler was killed in a movie theater and there were comic bits interwoven throughout the film. Bear Jew anyone? Yet I don't recall Jewish groups up in arms because, dare I say, they recognize the film for what it was a movie and not a historical account of the Holocaust. The main story was one of Django and his wife Broomhilda. The writers are ignoring the fairy tale bit of this because they are too dead set on disliking anything Tarantino. Django saved his wife from the dragon. THAT was the crux of the tale as told by Christoph Waltz's character.

I've never been more disappointed and a bit disgusted by this blog.


QT was able to deliver an educational, entertaining and thought provoking epic tale. He made it easier in an artistic way for whites to watch the ills of slavery. Slavery is a heavy handed subject hard for whites to admit as those two pages are stuck together. Spike on the other hand is entitled to his on opinion however its beginning to not matter when he has not produced a hit in so long…his last best serious movie being Malcom X. He needs to discover that magic again be consistent and then speak. He does himself no justice when he makes these claims…


Tarantino said:

“When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” said Tarantino. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wa


In an interview with The Daily Beast, Tarantino said that when he watched “Roots” he felt that it was an inauthentic, watered down version of slavery in the U.S.
Q is making a FOOL out if some of you. He can slam roots, but Spike can't say anything? SMH. I see a lot more Stephens than Djangos on shadow act.

Forever was Roots or was not , it tried to give enslaved African life and love,humanity .


First, I want to say that Tanya Steele is a talented writer she should definitely consider writing articles for magazines or other publications? I agree with Tanya about white privilege which obviously Speilberg and Tarantino have in spades. I think Tanya is being a bit too critical of Tarantino, I really think Tarantino tried to make a balance here he can't make a 3 hour film that's depressing without some levity. Django Unchained does not ignore the brutality of slavery in fact it does a better job than Lincoln in showing the brutality to the audience. Another important issue Tarantino does not ignore is the hypocrisy of slavery of the white male slave master having mixed race children and a black mistress. Dicaprio's mistress is in the film. I also like Sam Jackson's character the house slave because it shows that black people during slavery were also involved in keeping other blacks down. The house slave character the uncle tom is very important people need to know this part of American history.

But I think Tanya has a bias she admits she is a former student of Spike Lee. Has Tanya ever considered the fact Spike Lee is a bit bitter? Lee hasn't had a hit movie since 2006, he's lost the black audience people just aren't interested in his films anymore. Red Hook Summer was a huge flop.

The article clearly demonstrates Tanya's depth of knowledge about film. I also liked that Tanya compared and contrasted Lincoln and Django Unchained because both films deal with slavery. One thing Tanya forgot to mention, I am certain that Lincoln is going to win a lot of Oscars and probably a best picture Oscar. I disagree with Tanya about Django Unchained, Tarantino's film isn't perfect but at least the movie is reaching a younger audience that might not have seen roots. Django Unchained, does explore the brutality of slavery and Tarantino I applaud him for doing something Lincoln did not. Even Tanya admitted the black characters in Lincoln were noble, but how can she say the black slaves were cartoons? The slaves were not just physically enslaved they were mentally enslaved and this is very important. I think Django Unchained is important because it shows the black male being the hero saving his woman and they are in love. Haven't people complained about black men not getting to be powerful in films?


Interesting article and equally interesting comments. I also saw both films, though I went to screenings so saw them a while ago. I thought they were both good films, and it's clear that they were done by completely different teams (I use the word 'teams' because Hollywood films are never done by one person–there is a huge team of folks that have input in what we ultimately see on the screen). I have also been totally engrossed in Roots on television this week. All three films are dealing with the same time period for the most part, but from very different perspectives. This is a rare occurrance, usually reserved for February. That being said, I disagree that the bulk of the slaves were docile creatures; I didn't see them as cartoonish, as much as I saw them as having been kept in ignorance by their owners; and I really disagree with the notion that Django was simply living in the shadow of the white bounty hunter. Django had a plan and that bounty hunter fit into HIS agenda, not the other way around. I will agree, however, with your comments about Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader (Lincoln). And I, too, could appreciate that the film dispelled the myth that there was an overwhelming sense of nobility that led to the Emancipation Proclamation. It was just as you surmised–white folks were dragged, kicking and screaming, into the future. I was entertained by both films, which is the purpose of narrative film. I don't agree with the person who said that Spike lost. Spike voiced his opinion, as he always does, and should not be vilified for it. However, until black people can find a way to tell our own stories, these debates will continue to swarm around every black film that makes its way into wide distribution. I appreciate that there are conversations and discussions around this topic in December and I am also anxiously awaiting 12 Years A Slave. I have long had my own opinions about Django Unchained and hope to see many films dealing with our history in years to come.


"Spike Lee did not lose. There was nothing to win." Preach it. Nice article.


I understand your respect for Spike Lee. I share respect for him also, but, if you aren't a Tarantino fan, you would probably come in expecting the WRONG thing. Spike set up a false sense of what this movie was about. This was not a period piece. This film was not based on factual representations, slavery was merely the backdrop. Spike may have read the script but he missed the intent entirely and that's OK. There were a few people that didn't get the intent of his movies as well. I do think that he should see the movie because what's written does not always get translated into the final product. Plus, it seems a little ignorant to criticize something without seeing it for yourself.

Charles Judson

Dear Steve McQueen, We of the Colored Perspective and Racial Reevaluation Society humbly apologize in advance that your film must now carry the burden of 100 years of cinema. Our people have not always fared well in the cinematic arts over the last century plus. So it is understandable that we find ourselves at this junction. That being said, we had hoped it would not come to this and your film would be seen only as a piece of a larger puzzle that it is still being continuously filled in. Alas, against the advice of this storied institution, it appears that you've been deemed our last hope by many–some would even say Last Great Black Hope, if you would allow us to be so sardonically adroit. May your film's back be strong enough to sustain the great amount of emotional and psychological baggage already being heaped upon it. We regretfully have watched this scenario continue to repeat itself and we already fear for your work. However, we as always will hope for the best and lend what support we can. Sincerely, The CP&RRS


Why complain? Did u really expect a White Man to make this perfect representation of the ills of slavery? That's not his job.. he made a good film where lots of evil slave owners got sent to a bloody grave. Good enough..


I get that there isn't much media on slavery, but I'm tired of these so-called reviews criticizing Django for not being the film they would rather see, asserting plot lines that would completely alter the story. It was a simple story. It's not meant to solve modern-day racial problems or educate the masses on the horrors of slavery. And to expect that just because it's a Hollywood film to me is buying even more into the BS that Hollywood sells. We get so excited to see our story on the screen, and then we're disappointed that said story doesn't contain all the intricacies that make up the black experience. Django Unchained is not that significant. And it's arrogant for anybody to assert that a black person will have a deeper understanding of slavery– an event we are 150 years removed from. We may have insight into the prejudice that resulted from slavery. But let's face it– most black filmmakers are middle class, college educated, privileged people whose idea of oppression is a white woman asking to touch her natural hair. I know, I'm one of them. So in regards to slavery, I can only imagine it with an artistic sense in the same way Tarantino did. And I'm not downplaying modern-day racism, but I do believe the lower classes here and in the third world are the ones who truly experience racial oppression. Money and education shields you from the true degradation. But getting back to my point, you're right Django isn't very complex because it's not a pensive analysis of the psychological effects of slavery. But he's not that type of filmmaker, and why anyone would expect that is beyond me. Spike Lee isn't that kind of artist either. That's not a discredit to them. I am looking forward to "12 years a slave" because there's room for many perspectives on slavery, and McQueen IS a cerebral storyteller.


Is it possible to give this story a decent Facebook link since it is the best review of Dango that I have read? When you try to post the story, it just looks like a bunch of anemic words.


"In Tarantino's imagination, he could accept slavery if he thought of it as black people fighting back under the gaze of a white male. This works for a culture that does not want to confront the evils and system of slavery. We want to believe that it wasn't all that bad. That it was endurable, escapable, provided opportunities for heroics. Black people were slaves because we didn't fight back" <<<Yes, yes, and yes. Some people actually do think this way…..the doors of the church are now open.


I don't know if I agree with all your criticisms of Django (haven't seen it yet, plan to this weekend) but two sentences, in particular, stood out to me: "The black experience does not belong to black people" and "Django was a character created by a privileged white man". In interviews QT has said that in his mind he envisions the character of John Shaft to be a direct descendant of Django and Broomhilda von Shaft. And of course, Shaft was created by Ernest Tidyman, a white pulp novelist.


Worship our heroes? Get out of here with that mess. Nobody should be worshipping any human being. Spike ain't above our criticism.


One review played it safe. One review was somewhat fawning. Of the three reviews on Django Unchained posted to S&A, I believe this one rings most insightful. Thanks Tanya.


Thank you Tanya!!


This film was a White man's fantasy of slavery. As long as i remember that, I don't get enraged. See how else could he depict its atrocity without implicating white folks? Fantasy. How can he depict the forefathers of slavery without making White people feel 'bad' or 'guilty' about it? Hype. Gore. Explosions. Laughs. This was a fantasy. Otherwise Django would have not just been out to rescue his woman, he'd be out to take down his oppressor…meaning ANY of the plantation owners…INSTEAD he takes out…(drumroll) the house negro, who in the film is built up to be his greatest kill and his 'biggest, baddest and worst' enemy. LOL. that's all i can do. LOL. Keep dreaming QT.


All I can say is that all of this Django mess really makes me eager to see Steve McQueen's film. But I will say this: Django has done one good thing that maybe QT didn't expect: it has gotten black Americans talking about our history and about taking ownership of that history. For that, I am reluctantly grateful for this film. Films (no matter how much we hate or love the film) that spark these sorts of cultural and philosophical conversations are the important films that give meaning to cinema. And we should not let the issues brought up in this conversation die any time soon.

Madison Paige

Excellent write up, thanks Tanya. I think some things are more suited for television, frankly. After all, 90 minutes is not enough tine for the nuance that I know I'd like to see given to these types of subjects. Serialized television is much better suited for exploration into the depths. Thanks again for this wonderful article. I look forward to more.

Berbice Market

Having not seen Lincoln, I will not comment on that film. I did see Django on Christmas and thought it entertaining, funny, violent and sad. The conclusion I arrived at after it ended was this: American slavery may only be understood via cinema if its presented as a horror story, much like the HOSTEL and SAW
franchises. I think only then our culture will appreciate the sufferings of our ancestors who were kidnapped and tortured in a foreign environment and sold for gain. Its simplistic but these are the times: audience drool over torture porn, its pulp fiction. Also, as much as it has been documented via receipts, diaries and novels, slavery is unimaginable.

I imagine the author of the above and Spike Lee want white Americans to throb with the black pain of slavery, want them to empathize with us, see us as humans; thus their reactions to Django, which was made by a guy who, I think, is making commercial avant garde films, pulling material from world culture and remixing them to his liking. Its cinematic hip hop at best, Tarantino films.

I think its crazy that Spike didn't even see the film and he's concluding that it makes us look bad. That's like not voting and then trying to talk about the outcome of an election. Sorry, Spike: you can't enter the discussion. To say Spike may have read the script is also silly because I understand that scenes and dialogs were being written on set while Django was being filmed.

I can't believe the author of the above because she seems unaware of what Tarantino's Art is. Django is, I think, true to his art. I don't expect documentaries from Tarantino, I expect entertainment and inclusion. He's done this with women as well as with blacks in all his films. All types of people inhabits his films and I think the gatekeepers of blackness fail to see that. There are all types of slaves in the Django film, too, including slaves with privileges.

Django is, of course, historically inaccurate, but the goal of an artist is to create, question and inform reality. There's lots in Django that was accurate; it outweighs the fallacies tho. But even those fallacies, the Mandingo fighting for example, informs the viewer how cruel and inhumane slavery and slave masters were.

Is Django a Supernigger or Harriet Tubman? No, if he was he would have freed every slave in the South and we would have had a different film. Instead what we have is a love story and a revenge fantasy that includes black people in the canon of Hollywood Studio Westerns. That's not a bad thing. Blazing Saddles has a companion now.

Also: we will see a different Django when the DVD comes out. ANYONE can tell its incomplete.

Django is not a documentary.

Gavin Tabb

If you were as much a student of Tarantino as you are of Spike Lee, you'd realize that despite a number of prescient thoughts, your analysis of Tarantino's intent is flawed. When it comes to writing dialogue and understanding culture, there is no other director who does it better. All of his films preceding "Inglourious Basterds" and "Django Unchained" work up to these two masterpieces.


Great write-up.
Thank you for this.


"Why isn't he showing what these white men were fighting over – the experience of the slave?" They weren't. This is a romanticized notion of the Civil War.
I haven't seen Django yet, but since the author did see Inglorious Basterds, she might have noticed that Tarantino takes liberties with history? As in, he reworked the ending of World War 2? Does this trivialize what he's saying? Perhaps, to some. To others, they might not have even thought about these topics without a strange take on the material such as this. Anyone can rent ROOTS on Netflix, but they aren't. That's hardly Tarantino's fault. If Spike Lee wants to take on slavery for the modern audience, he's more than able to do so. If Spike was unable to get funding for a competing project due to racism, that might be a story, but this petty sniping at Tarantino doesn't impress everyone. Go do better.


So in summation, the author was a former student of Spike Lee that's not well versed in Quentin Tarantino or his influences thus was completely oblivious to the fact this film was an homage to several other known Spaghetti Western & Blaxploitation films thus attempted to apply history to "Django Unchained" as if it were a biopic. That's an odd perspective to take. Given that the author shies away from films based in violence it's clear she hasn't seen ANY of the films that inspired "Django Unchained" so it pretty much flew over her head. That it, unless she went into the film with prejudice and trepidation to begin with (with Tanya Steele has all but inferred throughout the piece). It's interesting to read your take, though…


Thank you for this very thoughtful response to "Django." I look forward to your female tale of aspects of African American heritage and thus to heightened respect for our common humanity.
I avoid violent films, but Tarantino uses it effectively to show how truly ugly slavery was– and thus how remarkable the survival of those who have a endured brutality.


Black people get your mind right…

'Django Unchained' Mandingo Fighting: Real Or Not?

'No slavery historian we spoke with had ever come across anything that closely resembled this human version of cockfighting"

"One expert tells Slate (which says that "no slavery historian we spoke with had ever come across anything that closely resembled this human version of cockfighting") that the very notion that Southerners would send off their slaves to die is logically flawed. Given the entire structure of slavery was based on economic expedience, it just doesn't make much sense that a slaveowner would be willing to lose one of his strongest and healthiest men to death for sport".


many thoughtful points to consider. that is the delight of film and internet: they bring about such opportunities for discourse. i did not see the films, but appreciate the insights they inspired in the author to share.


I love this bring up some awesome points and have made me reconsider my stance on Lincoln.

However, I have to disagree with you on the other slaves. Not all of the slaves seemed happy to be slaves in the film or unwilling to fight back. (Spoiler alert) From the fellow slaves trudging along in the desert, to the defiance in the eyes of one of the 'Mandingo' fighters and the act of escape by the one who ran away, and the those who were in the wagon when Django outwitted the Aussies, like Django, once given the option to help themselves, they did.

Yes, there were characters who reveled in their 'house negro' position..but to imply they were all happy to be slaves is an unfair interpretation IMO.

Having that kind of representation is kind of realistic to me. Not all slaves were heroes. Not all of them had the courage to escape. Even if there was a movie portraying the heroes you mentioned, you will find slaves who had to be convinced to leave with them.


Well I am happy nobody listens to Spike and made Django a huge boxoffice. This was a great film.


Ha!! Look how she capitalized "Professor"; like that gives Spike's vitriol some sort of validity.


I'm so glad a review finally brought up how contently the other slaves were portrayed in the film esp. the women. Nearly all of them were lounging happily (the scenes in which we first meet Calvin Candie come to mind), consuming candy and alcohol freely, adding to my main gripe with this film — all the slave women, aside from Broomhilda, seemed to love being slaves.

Bohemian princess

*slap clapping giving way to thunderous applause* what a thoughtful, compelling, and brilliantly written article Tanya.

Thank you

The best and most comprehensive review I have seen of this movie yet. Unfortunately we are brainwashed so well most of us still won't get it. Thank you for also acknowledging the original script and the alarm it sounded within hollywood about what was to come. The same black folks that mercilessly tear apart and refuse to support black filmmakers will unfortunately rush to support a marginalized white version of our story such as this one. We have a long way to go still…


An entire essay for something most would have summarized in 1 sentence?
I wish S&A would be as diligent and eloquent and unbiased in its critique of OUR films.


but it's Quentin Taratino…so…

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