(Do Not Continue to read if you haven’t seen the film)
Firstly, its important that we make a clear distinction between a “good film” and a “liked film”. In this particular instance, the words “good” and “liked” aren’t synonymous, and through out this proposal you will see arguments addressing both.
I would like to make the argument that an overarching theme in Quentin Tarantino’s movies, (especially Django unchained) is SHAME. The definition of shame is as follows;
shame (shm) n.1.a. A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.
Yes SHAME is a theme; whether deserved or undeserved SHAME is an important element in all of his films. I consider that to be his genius, because masked in cheesy soundtracks, unrealistic characters, and unnecessary scenes of blood and gore, the truthful resonance of the audience lies in SHAME.
To continue on with my written discussion, I would like to focus on two elements of the definition which are “guilt” and “unworthiness”. In Django the movie , and its reactions, “guilt” would be more associated with whites and “unworthiness” would be most associated with blacks.
Regardless of whether or not you liked the film, I believe that Quentin Tarantino has delivered on his purpose of making everyone feel shame (black and white)and this is why it is continuously debated.
Spike Lee has made a reference to the debatable question of the appropriateness of masking a Slave Story in a classic Hollywood Western. Of this debate, he says, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”
Naturally, I agreed with Spike Lee, so much so that I went to see the film for the purpose of this discussion; however, after seeing the film, my reaction was unexpected. I, a self declared pro-black feminist, decided it was a good film to see.
In the beginning of the film, you see Django and several other slaves shackled by foot, marching through a forest. Instead of a Negro Spiritual playing in the background, it is a Spanish conquest-type music playing in the background, which disguises the seriousness of the situation. It made me a bit uncomfortable and I could see where Spike Lee would take this as a mockery of his ancestors. Some would argue that Tarantino is known to lighten the mood before “things get ugly”.
While in the forest, Django’s owner is approached by a dentist, Dr. Shultz, who wants to purchase Django. At the end of the scene, the slaves that were once shackled, picked up a gun and killed their owner. The first white man in the film to be shot, was accompanied by an applause from the 70% African-American audience at the theater I sat in. The other 30% of the audience cringed in observance of their counterparts reaction; some even left the theater. What does this experience say about black people? What does it say about white people? I bet that some how the answers to these questions rely in some form of shame.
Throughout the film, Django is continuously ridiculed by the pronunciation and spelling of his name. Although most slaves at the time were illiterate, Django (a slave) corrects them and emphasizes that the “D” is silent. Question: Should Django be ashamed of his uncommon name or should his inquisitors be ashamed that in an attempt to make him seem ignorant, they’ve made themselves look ignorant? Why is this particular instance so relevant to todays’ interactions between blacks and whites in modern day America? Was this put in the film on purpose?
It has been argued that the use of the word “nigger” in DJANGO UNCHAINED was over abundant. Though I’m sure not many people actually counted the appearances of this word, I can say that many can attest to a discomfort in it’s amount. This discomfort was spread equally throughout the theater. That word brings about SHAME! Whites ashamed of their ancestral bigotry and blacks feeling shame for an undeserved past. Again I ask, was this on purpose?
It is also argued in modern academia, whether or not slavery was based upon economics or racism. This film attempts to answer that it was indeed both, and no one seemed more conflicted of that fact than Candy Land owner Monsieur Calvin Candy played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
1.) He trains his “niggers” to fight till the death like dogs.
2.) His trusted and loyal companion (Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson) is black; though self-hating, it does not erase the color of his skin nor Candy’s reliance upon Stephen’s opinions.
According to an article about Steven’s character on MTV.com, in an interview with Jackson, it was said
“Ultimately, it’s the relationship between Stephen and Calvin that proves to be the greatest enemy for Django, so establishing a strong rapport between Jackson and DiCaprio became a high priority.”
The most confusing scene is Candy’s display of a skull used to describe a slave that use to watch over his father. He even brings about a reference to a “loyalty bone”. He often wondered why this slave, as mistreated as he was, never killed his father and equated that to the slave’s stupidity and that loyalty bone. I’m not sure if Candy’s reaction was that of pity or of revelation, but I’m willing to argue that it was both. It became a revelation when he attempted to smash Broomhilda’s head.
In another instance, Candy and Stephen, decided to show off Broomhilda’s scarred back as if she were an animal. Ashamed, she tried to hold back tears as they continue to undress her. Candy continues by making comments claiming that her forced rendevous (rape) with mandango fighters has made her into the sex-pot she is today which was accompanied by Stephen’s cackling. It was then that everyone in the room begin to feel ashamed, even Calvin’s sister, who insisted that they quit and redress her.
That scene for me was the most shameful. I felt shamed, as if it were me, who was undressed. It was undeserved shame, but shame none the less.
…. And then another group of people exited the theater.
Again arises the question. Was this a “liked” film or a “good” film?
I could go on and on with other instances that prove my theory, but at this moment, I would like to keep this note short to leave room for commentary.
What do you think about the film and what do you think about the film’s director? Are those feelings synonymous?
If you haven’t seen Django, I encourage you to do so. If you have already seen the movie, please chime in with opinions. If I tagged you in this note, it is because I’m more than curious about your opinion.