Far from denigrating those who endured the brutalities of slavery, the director's latest confronts those who play the racist card
Given my criticism of Quentin Tarantino's inglorious fantasies over the years I sat watching Django with bated breath. Described as a spaghetti-western about slavery, it is a wonderful surprise.
It was like going to the Saturday matinee western, then walking down the street and gunning down real and imagined villains like the fantasist Billy Liar.
Why? Because almost every time some racist uttered the N-word they were duly dispatched to hell without any compunction, never mind conscience.
It's an unashamed, vicarious pleasure because it screams in the face of every racist, from the father of US cinema DW Griffith to every bar-room redneck.
Director Spike Lee has attacked the film "for insulting his ancestors," without seeing it. That surely renders Lee a hostage to fortune when you consider his emulation of Eldridge Cleaver's suprematist sexism in films like She's Gotta Have It and Jungle Fever.
But veteran activist Dick Gregory, who's seen Django Unchained 12 times, correctly takes Lee to task in my view.
"I'm 80 years old, I saw cowboy movies, wasn't no black folks in cowboy movies. I'm looking at a western, plus a love story," he says.
"You'll never see a love story about a black man and a black woman where it wasn't some foul sex and foul language. And Spike Lee can't appreciate that. The little thug ain't even seen the movie, he's acting like he white."
The film's prologue provides a simple political parable. It's 1858 and two men driving chained slaves in the rain are confronted by the strange sight of a mobile dentist King Shultz (the brilliant Christoph Waltz) who saves Django (Jamie Foxx).
Shultz is a bounty hunter and wants Django to identify three outlaws for which he will be given his freedom, $75 and a horse. A diabolical double act is born.
The bounty hunter learns Django's wife Brunhilde has been sold and resolves to save her from a place called Candy Land.
It's run by plantation owner Calvin Candie - Leonardo DiCaprio, convincingly evil - who has a penchant for Mandingo wrestling to the death.
That provides Shultz with a plan that will free the woman while filling his and Django's pockets.
Throughout the duo witness the horrific consequences of slavery, including black people who are collaborators such as the scheming house slave Stephen, played against type by Samuel L Jackson.
Spike Lee has called Jackson a "house Negro." How on earth is the audience to distinguish between characters and actors if their cinematic colleagues get confused?
This is no naturalistic film but an uproarious, cinematic cartoon designed to appeal to a contemporary action audience as the US continues to play the racist card in its pursuit of world power.
Such has been the reaction to the film, it seems churlish to mention its failings such as Tarantino playing an Aussie slaver with a dreadful accent seeking out "blackies."
Yet that serves a useful purpose in reminding us that Brits were more than responsible for slavery, with our antipodean colony continuing its genocidal policies towards aborigines and uninvited immigrants.
Why not a film about Ned Kelly next, Tarantino?
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