Django Unchained isn’t one of Tarantino’s best films – it’s not even close. That’s not to say that it is a bad film – it’s a very good film.
Django suffers from the same problems Inglorious Basterds – it’s simply far too long. It’s at least 45 minutes too long. This long running time isn’t at all justified as it takes what starts off as a funny, snappy and gut-wrenching movie, into a stale and almost boring affair. This problem isn’t just a Tarantino problem, over indulgence and the lack of editing has been creeping into Hollywood lately (Dark Knight Rises, anyone?).
For my money, Django Unchained is Tarantino’s most important film. I’d go further than that, for me, it’s the most important black film since Boyz n the Hood. It has started a debate about race without the usual violence that proceeds such a debate. I have seen people start off talking about Django and the conversation divert to deeper darker questions about race and the legacy of the slave trade, which, to my mind, is a fantastic achievement.
Both Django and Boyz speak to an anger that I personally feel about the subject of race and the slave trade that most films on the subject don’t even touch.
Although Django has the same Tarantino humour, beneath it's skin, this film is uncompromisingly angry. While I was watching it, I had to remind myself that this blisteringly angry film was written and directed by the painfully white Tarantino.
When I was in junior school, I got called a nigger in the playground by a white kid. The only reason I paid it any mind is because of the “ohhs” that followed the insult and the laughter that rose up afterwards. I remember telling my dad about it and asking him what the word, nigger, means and he simply explained that it was a “naughty word for a black person”. This story keeps haunting me the older I get because I can never remember him reporting it to the teachers afterwards. That explanation is all I had.
The next time I heard that word was on a Puff Daddy and Mase single and in a totally different context. Through hiphop I quickly realised that nigger, or nigga, didn’t always have to be “naughty”, sometimes it was cool.
So, me and my best friend started a hiphop group and I personally tried to use that word in our songs as much as I could – I didn’t care if my rhymes didn’t make any sense. Funnily enough, we preformed these songs in school and no one but our parents batted an eyelid.
This did bite us though. It seemed like we were getting called niggers in every class and I lost count of how many times I got told to go back to my own country. I’m not saying that I was an angel, I wasn’t, I probably started many of these fights, but when the nigger bomb dropped that was it. It was a conversation stopper. It left a mushroom cloud of “ohhs” and laughter.
I think about this stuff because I didn’t realise how angry I was about it until I watched Django. I’m angry at my dad for not properly explaining to me what nigger meant. I’m angry at my teachers for not stopping me using the word. I’m angry at myself for using the word like I did and letting other black faces use it in front of me and while addressing me. Most of all, I am angry at every single white face that called me a blacky, gollywog, nigger and told me to go back to my own country.
I still get people asking me why we (I’m guessing they mean black people) have such a chip on our shoulders. And every single black history month I get asked why the month should even exist and why there isn’t a white history month.
What hurts the most is the fact that I am certain these experiences are not exclusive to me. I know so many other black friends and family members that have gone through similar and worse.
I don’t think my generation (white or black) fully understand the history behind the word nigger – I truly don’t. I don't think a single person who called me a nigger in school is a racist, I just think they were young, dumb and didn't fully understand what they were saying. I grew up thinking the word nigger was reclaimed in some way and how it was now an exclusive luxury, only to be used by black people. But I watch the way nigger is used in Django Unchained and realise what an idiot I’ve been. That word is a potent type of venom that can never be cleaned.
I laugh that in almost every review of Django, the number of times nigger is used is a debatable matter. Can anyone actually argue that no one in those times would have used the word that often? It’s not the amount it gets used but the way nigger gets used that trips me out. It’s an everyday word used so carefree but with a hint of disgust by the white characters in the movie. And the black characters use it to remind themselves of their place. Can anyone truly argue that this didn’t happen?
People complain that Django is a cartoon that pokes fun at a serious subject. Well, the only cartoonish violence in this film is when damage is being done to white characters (and they're all racist white folks). There is nothing cartoonish about watching a woman being dragged from a hole she spent days in; There is nothing Bugs Bunny-ish about watching two black men fight until one finishes the other with a hammer, all to amuse a rich white guy. What is cartoonish about watching dogs rip a runaway slave to pieces? What cartoon have you seen where a husband humiliates himself and pleads with his owner to save his wife from being savagely whipped? Can you actually argue that these things didn’t happen in America before the civil war?
Too much of the violence in this film felt too real to me. More real than any other Tarantino film I’ve seen. This is what happened to niggers.
And this film was made by the very white Tarantino. And people actually have the brass ones to call him racist.
Django reminded me of the reasons why I love and believe movies are so important. It’s one thing being able to read about something, it’s another seeing it with your own eyes. No matter how much I read about slavery and the horrific things that happened to Africans kidnapped from their home, none of them words had as much impact on me as watching this overly long and flawed movie.