Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

“Django Unchained”: A Film, Not a History

Warning: This piece contains numerous “Django Unchained” spoilers.

In the media’s portrayal of racial issues, context is key. In a column titled “‘Django’ Warps Racial History,” the author, Zenen Jaimes Pérez, outlines an argument that attacks the movie’s historic inaccuracy regarding its supposed misrepresentation of racial relations in the antebellum south. The argument he lays out is internally inconsistent and objectively false. According to Perez, “Directors have a certain amount of responsibility to set a high bar for historical accuracy when making movies about slavery because few such movies exist to begin with.” What Perez forgets is that film is a medium for art. The film’s director and producer Quentin Tarantino’s easel is the big screen, and he has as little responsibility to depict historical events accurately as Picasso had to paint people with symmetrical facial features. In the film “Inglorious Basterds,” Tarantino depicted the death of Hitler in a fiery explosion ignited by a gang of Nazi hunters led by Brad Pitt. I can assure Perez that this was not “accepted as fact by millions of moviegoers.” I have far more faith than that in the abilities of members of the audience.

Diverging from his point about historic inaccuracy, Perez criticizes the movie for its “gratuitous usage of the n-word” and depiction of the inhumane treatment of the lead female character, a black slave. Were American slaves — male and female — not often the victims of brutal torture and sexual assault? At this time in history was the “n-word” not as commonplace to hear as words like “church,” “school” or “supper”? I shudder at the thought of that period of American history, and I despise the use of that word today when used in a number of movies, rap lyrics or just daily life. But while offensive and demeaning, it is an unfortunate but historically accurate way to depict the vernacular of the time period and region of the film. Perez’s criticism of “Django” sounds eerily similar to criticism of Mark Twain’s novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which, although a clever satire on the culture of slavery, is seen by some as racist for the same reasons.

He goes on to suggest that violence in Hollywood “would not be portrayed similarly with a white actress.” While repulsed by violence toward women in general and in movies, I acknowledge that there are many well-known films depicting even worse violence to women of all races. Tarantino himself has produced scenes of violence including other races of women: Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill” and Jessica Alba in “Sin City” are two such examples. Perez complains that he and other critics of the movie “are told to shut up and not make it a “race thing.” Many forms of social injustice and racial prejudice persist, so I personally would never make such a request. Until we reach a society that is not troubled by discrimination, we will always need advocates like Perez to speak out for those who do not or cannot. I do request, however, that such advocates pick their battles prudently, for inciting anger over this movie will lessen complaints about real injustice.

Perez’s final criticism of the movie is that “the movie removes any agency from enslaved peoples in their own liberation.” While Christoph Waltz’s white character, Dr. Schultz, was technically the one to remove the shackles from Jamie Foxx’s Django, I interpret Schultz’s actions as a catalyst to Django’s liberation rather than the primary force. This point is further evidenced by the fact that the “liberating” character was German and therefore an outsider as well. Schultz enables Django to kill dozens of white slave owners in a signature Tarantino final shootout, one for which Schultz was no longer even alive. If Perez wants to focus solely on the first five minutes of the film to decide who the hero was supposed to be, fine, but I found a very different answer in the following 160.

While I liked “Django,” I understand that Tarantino’s films are certainly not for everyone. Many moviegoers are upset by what they and Perez see as “gratuitous violence,” but I believe that in Tarantino’s films — especially in “Django” — violence always has a purpose. Perez failed to convince me that Tarantino owed it to moviegoers to write or direct this film any differently.

Craig Melcher is a senior in the McDonough School of Business.

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