If you’ve tuned into any form of media over the last few weeks, you can’t help but notice the huge media push for Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s new film that tells the story of a slave-turned-bounty hunter (Jamie Foxx) who sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. The film’s co-stars Jamie, Kerry Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio landed the cover of VIBE magazine, Oprah sat with Kerry and Jamie in back-to-back interviews and BET ran the Roots miniseries the entire weekend as tie-ins for the film.
Most critics have praised the film. It has a 91% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the LA Times praised Django Unchained as Tarantino’s “most articulate, intriguing, provoking, appalling, hilarious, exhilarating, scathing and downright entertaining film yet.” Oprah Winfrey called it “laugh out loud funny” and “cathartic”. Golden Globe and NAACP nominations have already rolled in. For many, calling the Christmas Day release anticipated would be a gross understatement.
For others, not so much. On Saturday, Spike Lee revealed his take on the film, which he hasn’t seen, and it was unsurprisingly unsupportive. “I'm not gonna see it," Lee said in an interview with VIBETV. "All I'm going to say is that it's disrespectful to my ancestors. That's just me...I'm not speaking on behalf of anybody else." That night on Twitter, he added, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”
I’ve committed to seeing the film with friends on opening day. I’ve been a loyal fan of Tarantino films since Pulp Fiction and enjoy his off-kilter sense of humor. I roared through Inglorious Bastards, which like Django was a revenge fantasy of the oppressed dishing a taste of their own medicine to the oppressors.
Still, I’m a little hesitant to keep my plans. I can’t overlook that slavery is a subject America often likes to sweep under the rug, acknowledging that it happened, but never confronting the still-current effects of it. So frequently when Black people talk about slavery — we’ve largely given up on reparations — it’s commonly met with something like, “that was so long ago” or “get over it” or even more ridiculous “we live in a post-racial society” or “race doesn’t matter.” And while the co-stars have been vocal about the film’s accurate depictions of slavery—Kerry Washington went so far as to allow herself to be whipped — I also keep hearing how funny the movie is, and like Lee, that just doesn’t sit so well with me.
It feels weird to suddenly take on subject no one wants to address in the mainstream and then inject it with humor, perhaps to make it more palatable for a mass audience? It would seem to steal some of the seriousness of what slavery was. A friend who thinks similarly to me on most matters made it to a screening of the film and said it was pretty good overall, but she cringed at all the non-Black people laughing. Their comfort observing the darkest moment in American history made her comfortable. I expect I’ll have the same reaction on Tuesday.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk