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'Django Unchained,' Unleashed: New Trailer Inspires Debate About Race and Cinema

Photo of Jay A. Fernandez By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire June 6, 2012 at 9:3PM

From the very beginning, Quentin Tarantino’s films have drawn heated criticism — for their violence, for their rampant cribbing from other classic filmmakers, for their self-conscious pop culture references. But his treatment of race and unrepentant use of the word “nigger,” particularly in “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown,” brought some of the harshest heat from the African-American community, even as it applauded his unabashed celebration of black icons and music.
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'Django Unchained'

From the very beginning, Quentin Tarantino’s films have drawn heated criticism — for their violence, for their rampant cribbing from other classic filmmakers, for their self-conscious pop culture references. But his treatment of race and unrepentant use of the word “nigger,” particularly in “Pulp Fiction” and “Jackie Brown,” brought some of the harshest heat from the African-American community, even as it applauded his unabashed celebration of black icons and music.

Well, “Django Unchained” looks to make that kerfuffle a passing disagreement. With the release of the first teaser trailer for Tarantino’s pre-Civil War-era slave revenge flick today, the suspicions of fans and other observers curious about how the filmmaker would handle the whole black-white thing has started one hell of a debate. Which is precisely what Tarantino -- and the Weinstein Company -- are looking for.

As an oppressed people-triumphing-over-evildoers corollary to Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” revenge fantasy in which the Jews swiftly wiped out the entire Nazi leadership, “Django” should be something to cheer for, right? A slave rises up and kills a bunch of fancy-pants white racists to regain the love of his life. Who wouldn’t get behind that?

One look at the comments section beneath the trailer post on Indiewire blog network stalwart Shadow and Act gives us a pretty detailed snapshot of where those battle lines are drawn for those who see real meaning in the representation of blacks on film. Is this really about a slave rising up, or is it about another black man that needs a white savior to lead him to his destiny? Can you swallow a movie that takes great liberty to depict something ultimately whimsical without it denying or damaging the painful truth of history?

Should a white guy get to tell a story like this at all?

Here’s a sampling of some of the post-trailer debate, which is currently in full swing.

Rolo: Black people who see this and think "Django is off the chain" are as brainwashed as white folks want them to be. No self-respecting, conscious Black Man or Woman can look at this and be straight-out excited. I look at it and see a privileged White Man playing with the pain of our ancestors in pure fanboy fetish fashion. I guess the S/A crowd will be lining up to drink the kool-aid.

Sergio: This is the film I've been waiting for. A film with a black man with balls. Black man punishing and killing evil white men! I haven't seen this since 1974. And the trailer is only the tip of the iceberg. Tarantino is writing and shooting new scenes for the film making it even more intense and bloodier. Cannot wait to see this. I'm SOLD! Can it come out sooner?

Shawn Taylor: What is up with Tarantino and his addiction to black everything? From "dead nigger storage" to Dennis Hopper's Sicilian monologue in True Romance, to the fetish pastiche of Jackie Brown...Dude needs help. There is no doubt that he is a good filmmaker, but if you leave aside his perma-homage, 70s boner; there is something profoundly disturbing in his oeuvre. There has always been a certain level of hipster-racism in all of his stuff, but this seems to be more pathology laced than anything. It was if 'dead nigger storage' was foreplay, and now showing the enclaved and the brutal conditions they endured is the consummation. If there were equally weighted positive images (and black filmmakers) in the public sphere, this would (probably) not sting so much. My next essay: Quentin Tranatino--White Privilege/Black Image.

Nadine: "A film with a black man with balls"... is what I think is most POWERFUL. I haven't seen a film in the U.S. with a Black man who seemingly cares not for the opinions or thoughts of the "establishment", their aesthetic, their laws, and is just down for his "real man" thing. Forging his own path, yes, at some point with this man whom he partners with, but only as a means to Django's own end. He'll do what he has to take care/be responsible for his life and the lives of those whom he is man enough to openly cherish. Yes... I said it, and probably lost 10 I.Q. points. Again, I haven't seen the movie so my take could be completely off, but when have we seen anything like this representation (and yes I saw Red Tails)? A Black man with solid footing and a clear understanding of his value (therefore the value of others like him) without carrying the burden of shame (coveting the WM's life) . The rest of the storyline...? I don't know... but let's see what happens.

Mighty Mo Rodgers: Wow...another film about miscegenation and titilation using the muscularity of the "beauty people" of Hollywood, with James Brown screamin' his soul/blues. Please! Revenge! It never happened.....Black folks as a people were turned inside out. And the only thing we came through with is our...Holy Howl...Blues....which comes from God to deny the lie of our nothingness. Tarantino once again mines the black vernacular text......such silliness. Anyone who goes to see this crap....well, really ain't got a cue

What’s your take on “Django?”

This article is related to: Django Unchained