‘Django Unchained’ — the ‘d’ is silent, but not the critics

Story and photo by RENEE ESTRADA

The 2013 Academy Awards were held on Feb. 24, 2013. Films, actors and others in the industry were honored for their talents. While all the films got their moment in the spotlight, one film seemed to stand out from the rest, and that film was “Django Unchained.”

“Django Unchained” stood out from the rest because of the controversy it garnered in the weeks prior to the awards ceremony. Many spoke out against the film because they believed it to be racist, crude or desentizingly violent.

“Django Unchained” received two Academy Awards: one for best original screenplay, awarded to Quentin Tarantino, and one for best actor in a supporting role, awarded to Christoph Waltz.

The movie is about a freed slave, Django, who joins bounty hunter King Schultz in his search to find criminals. He does so in order to earn the money to buy his wife, Broomhilda, her freedom, and the two can be together again. All along the way he mercilessly kills white slaveowners.

Some critics, namely Aisha Harris of Slate, say the entire film is a blatant slave revenge fantasy. In her piece, “When Blaxplotation Went West,” she argues, “He’s [Django] not standing up on behalf of his fellow subjugated man. You can choose to identify with Django, but if you do, you’re rooting for his overcoming of oppression, not a collective victory for the black race.”

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Meanwhile, blogger and critic Jamelle Bouie argued that while the story of Django may be unrealistic, at least the movie depicts some true aspects of slavery, which is very unlike Hollywood. There is no gentle and kind slaveowner. Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, accurately portrays the cruel slaveowner who was depicted in history books and imaginations. He is ruthless and probably doesn’t have an ounce of compassion.

Ingrid Gonzalez, a student at the University of Utah, agreed with these sentiments.“’Django’ showed how blacks were treated at that time. The director didn’t cover anything up,” Gonzalez said. “When it came to the treatment of slaves I feel that it was spot on, and to me that’s rare in movies because most movies show kind slaveowners, and there really weren’t many of those.”

Some critics, namely James Rocchi of Box Office, defended Tarantino’s work, suggesting the violence and language used is his style. In his review he wrote that the film combines “his maniacal style of mashed-up fragments from the cultural canon with a seriousness of intent that turns Django into a discussion of both pop and politics.”

A few years ago Tarantino made “Inglorious Basterds,” a fictitious movie in which Jews went in search of Nazis to kill and scalp them. The film enraged Germans for the depiction of Nazis. In an article for the U.K Telegraph, Richard Alleyne wrote, “Germans fear it will turn the Second World War into a comic book adventure in which their countrymen have no redeeming value.”

Others say the language in “Django Unchained” is over the top, considering the n-word is used more than 100 times. “Pulp Fiction,” another film written and directed by Tarantino, is not a movie involving slavery and Tarantino was criticized for his usage of the n-word in that. Given that “Django Unchained” is set in the antebellum South, some might argue the word is more historically relevant than a film set in California during the 1990s.

Some critics say that the violence is what is excessive. Jermaine Spradely, the multicultural editor at the Huffington Post, argues, “The problem is that, by showing non-stop killing, maiming, whipping and beating throughout the entirety of the film, by the end, the viewer is so desensitized….”

Some viewers agreed with that. Sara Scott, a student at the U, said, “I liked the movie but the gore definitely took away from it. The violence was over the top in my opinion, but I knew before I watched it that’s Tarantino’s style.”

While critics may not agree on what the film represents, movies like “Django Unchained” prove that viewers need to watch with a close eye. As controversial as movies can be, that doesn’t always negate their value. Some aspects can be surprisingly accurate, while others can be outright appalling.