As Django Unchained continues to dominate box office receipts in what appears to be an overall tepid era for movie theater profits, reaction to the film remains largely positive — if conflictedly so.
Django Unchained was unsurprisingly controversial out of the gate, its reputation far preceding it in pop culture. Going in, most people knew a few things about it, and the setup was one that seemed balanced on a knife’s edge of sensitivity. Essentially, it was a film about a black struggle made by a white man we all already know to be unafraid of “going there” when it comes to race and how we talk about it.
(Those of us around long enough to remember probably all recalled as we waited for Django Unchained to start first seeing Quentin Tarantino on screen in Pulp Fiction, and his character’s uncomfortable, slap in the face, bluntly described anger at being forced to deal with Marvin’s body.)
But where Tarantino has seemed too keen on shock value in the past, Django seemed on the mark. As a white viewer, at least, the film conveyed the casual brutality of slavery in America in such a way that it drove the point home without seeming gratuitous — and Spike Lee’s out of the box rejection seemed a bit unfair and dismissive.
To be fair, it would also be remiss to acknowledge that reception of Django Unchained would have been far different had a black man (or woman) made it, and that is worth acknowledging. Tarantino’s holding of the reins afforded the film a level of roughness that would have been perceived in an entirely different way by white moviegoers had the film not been attached to the filmmaker’s name, and, for that, Lee is to a very small degree justified in his anger.
Still, overwhelmingly, Django Unchained seems to be resonating with audiences both white and black — and one of the best ongoing analyses is coming from MSNBC contributor Toure, who writes on his blog about justification for the film’s violence, beginning:
“It’s also justified when a Jew kills a Nazi, which of course was at the heart of Tarantino’s previous revisionist revenge fantasy. A smart man in a green room at NBC posited that Kill Bill works in similar fashion as a revenge fantasy where a woman gets back at a patriarchal figure after near death in a scene akin to domestic violence or perhaps an honor killing. So then Django marks the third time Tarantino gives us people from outside the demographic power structure getting deadly revenge on white male oppressors.”