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From the Wire: ‘Django Unchained’ and Race

From the Wire: 'Django Unchained' and Race

That weird, guttural sound you heard emanating from the Internet on Wednesday evening was the collective voice of a million film geeks rising up in one enormous, simultaneous nerdgasm over the first trailer of Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming movie “Django Unchained.” While the trailer is certainly news, it’s not necessarily something worth covering on Criticwire since, after all, most of the level of discourse about the “Django” preview consisted of a few contented moans and the letters o, m, and g. 

At least one writer, though, wasn’t buying the hype. At The Atlantic, senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates posted a reaction to the trailer that explains why the film is “not really” for him.  

“The revenge conceit doesn’t really move me much, nor does freedom achieved simply through the benevolence of white people. Leaving that aside, what scares me most is the portrayal of black women in this testoronic revenge fantasy. I really loath the ‘Union soldiers raped and killed my wife, now I’m out for revenge’ motif. It is a lie on several levels, ranging from history to humanism. But reversing that history only makes it slightly more true, while leaving some of the biggest lies in place.”

Coates says it’s also “really dangerous to get caught up” in a narrative about a black man taking revenge on the white men who had enslaved him (“It is wrong because such a focus says that the only thing important about war are those who carry the guns.”). Coates has done his research and knows what he’s talking about. I’m sure that what he is saying is true.

What I’m not so sure about is whether Tarantino should be held accountable for his “inaccurate” portrayal of this period, since, if “Inglourious Basterds” is any indication, he’s not only unconcerned with historical accuracy, he’s downright oblivious of it. Some chafed at the idea that “Basterds” rewrote the end of World War II to glorify its Jewish heroes, but most seemed okay with Tarantino telling his story the way he wanted, with the understanding that it was a piece of fiction, not history. It’ll be interesting to see whether he gets the same latitude here.

“My thoughts, as offered here” Coates concludes, “are not entirely fair to Tarantino.” True; especially since they’re based on a two and a half minute trailer, not the actual movie. Coates’ concerns could be 100% valid, but they could also be off the mark. Another thing “Inglourious Basterds” taught us: expect the unexpected from a Tarantino movie. The trailer for “Basterds” made it look like QT’s version of “The Dirty Dozen” — but the reality was far more complicated. The same might end up being true of “Django.” At this point, this essay is more like a trailer itself, for the potential controversies coming soon to a theater near you.

Read more of “Thoughts on Slavery, Black Women, and ‘Django Unchained.’

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