Quentin Tarantino is quite a character, am I right? If you have seen more than one Tarantino-directed film, you probably understand his style, at least somewhat. People love Tarantino. The internet loves Tarantino. His almost live-comic-book style is appealing. He certainly breaks from the typical film style, never shying away from blatant and, at times excessive, violence and bloodshed. Tarantino has directed some of the biggest cult classic films of my generation: penning and directing Pulp Fiction (a Best Picture contender, and winner of Original Screenplay), both Kill Bill films, Reservoir Dogs, and Inglorious Basterds. Upon Inglorious Basterds’ release in 2009, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the accusations that Tarantino must be accustomed to at this point in his career, specifically regarding his lack of attention to factual history.
Spike Lee, one of the most outspoken directors of all-time, has screamed and shouted about Tarantino’s newest film, Django Unchained, causing almost everyone to weigh in on the film itself. Whenever we are dealing with sensitive racial topics in America, it is expected for controversy to arise, however, the argument over Django is becoming more and more involved all the time. The National Entertainment Collectibles Association, Inc. (NECA) and the Weinstein Company paired together to create figurines of the characters from the movie, and it has left plenty of people with a bad taste in their mouths. The figurines, though billed as “collectibles,” seem insensitive, offering people the opportunity to view slaves as a toy.
Lee tweeted, in his characteristic style of writing, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust.My Ancestors Are Slaves.Stolen From Africa.I Will Honor Them.” Lee is also known for retweeting and tweeting in response to his followers, and there have been plenty of hours-long arguments concerning the movie (one in which I got involved in!), with the majority of Lee opposers accusing him of assumptions, due to the fact he refuses to see the movie. Lee has read the screenplay, which those in support of his argument believe is enough. In interviews, Lee has claimed that he believes it would be disrespectful to his ancestors to see the movie, and has taken public issue with the fact that the movie was released on Christmas Day and has earned as much money as it has to date. (20 million dollars in the American box office thus far.)
This is not the first time Lee and Tarantino have clashed. When Tarantino created Jackie Brown in 1997, Lee expressed his distaste over the excessive use of that word no one ever wants to hear: “the n-word.” In fact, Lee has been clear in his offense over Tarantino’s use of the word in all of his films. With previous sensitivity to Tarantino’s films, the fact that the n-word is used over 100 times in Django infuriated Lee. Tarantino claims that the use of the word in this particular film is justified, stating, “If someone was to make a case that I use the word more than it was used in the antebellum South that would be ludicrous. But as no one is making that case, they are asking me to lie or to soften it for modern-day consumption and I don’t do that.”
Though I believe this is a fair argument concerning his latest film, as an incredibly racially sensitive person, I agree with Lee about the past use of the word in Tarantino films. I am an avid listener of hip-hop and rap music, and I wish we would stop using the word entirely, however, in a film set during the era of slavery, historically accurate or not, it would be unbelievable for no one to utter it. 100 times may be cringe-worthy, but the antebellum South was just that.
Plenty of people of all different racial backgrounds have spoken up about the film. Tavis Smiley, talk show host and political commentator, has also spoken out against Django Unchained and Tarantino himself. Smiley, in an interview with Newsweek Magazine, explains that he finds Hollywood’s lack of seriousness concerning slavery troubling. Smiley explains, “it’s as if this spoof about slavery somehow makes slavery a bit easier to swallow.”
I saw Django Unchained after a few weeks of deciding whether or not I wanted to support Tarantino and his insanely financially successful blockbuster “about” slavery. I was torn as a gigantic Leonardo DiCaprio fan (I always see DiCaprio movies the day they are released), as an Oscar buff, and as a sensitive young woman of mixed race. I want to approach life as if everything is not about the Black vs. White fight that we still struggle through every day in our country, but to not acknowledge it is to turn a blind eye, which I simply do not do. When I finally decided to see Django, I found myself incredibly enthralled in the film. I became wholly invested in the characters, particularly Jamie Foxx’s perfectly portrayed title character, Django. (Talk about an Oscar snub!) By the end of the movie, I found myself celebrating the retribution and vengeance, but also feeling guilty for being so entertained by a film almost satirizing slavery. There have been other movies made over the past few decades depicting slavery in a much more serious light, but they always seem to be directed by white men. Two of the most well-known, Amistad, directed by Steven Spielberg, and Glory, directed by Edward Zwick, leave me wondering: if a Black man or woman wanted to make a movie about slavery, would it get the green light? The miniseries Roots, written, created, and based on Alex Haley’s novel was just that: a miniseries. A televised miniseries. How about Roots on the big screen, directed by Spike Lee? (In my dreams!)
Tarantino has recently spoken out about Roots, calling it inauthentic. Roots is almost entirely based off of a retelling of Haley’s own ancestors.
The Oscar nominations were just announced, and Tarantino did not receive a nomination for his directing. Part of me believes the snub was due to the racial controversy surrounding the film. Django itself received five nominations.
It is sad that we still have to have this conversation, but as long as these huge racial arguments are swarming around our entertainment industry, it needs to be talked about. Everyone’s voice matters. In an interview with BET, Samuel L. Jackson, a frequent collaborator with Tarantino said, “Here’s the deal: I want the conversation to start.”
What do you guys think? Is it okay to depict slavery in a light-hearted, anti-historical fashion, or is it too serious to satirize? Why is the Holocaust taken more seriously in film history than slavery is? Or is that an unfair argument, as well? Speak up, use your voices, don’t be scared!
Image of Spike Lee via , image of Django Unchained via , “collage” smushed together by moi.