Always the provocateur, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained has sparked yet another debate over his latest violence laden offering. Are the naysayers correct in this instance?
It’s his most successful film at the box office, surpassing the heights of Grindhouse and Inglourious Basterds, but the reaction has not been favourable across the board. Fans have flocked to see the western starring Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, and although it has just been knocked from the top spot in the UK by Les Miserables, it is still firmly entrenched in the top 10. However, as with many Tarantino offerings, the question of the amount of violence and profanity remains with the extra inclusion of racism for this excursion.
The most vocal of critics has been Spike Lee. Director of Malcolm X, Inside Man and He Got Game to name a few, Lee has tweeted his thoughts to his followers stating “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It was a holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them.” By his own admission he has yet to see the film, but this is the reaction that Tarantino has provoked throughout his career. His inclusion of the n-word in his filmmaking has always been a sensitive issue, one that Lee has previously commented on following the release of Jackie Brown in 1997 saying “I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word. And let the record state that I never said that he cannot use that word, I’ve used that word in many of my films, but I think something is wrong with him.” Needless to say the word appears over 100 times in Django Unchained, but does this detract from the film itself and should it?The slavery aspect of the film is a big part of the story and with Lee’s damning appraisal, you would think that Tarantino would come out all guns blazing, pardon the pun, but he has been surprisingly quiet in his riposte.
Another talking point has been the violence, or more specifically, the guns. In light of yet another school shooting in the US, is it wise to release a film where gun violence is so paramount? You could argue that the film is a western and therefore a six shooter is an essential piece of hardware. Likewise you could say that the focus could have been shifted elsewhere. The pro –gun movement have jumped on to the bandwagon with the slogan “what would Django do?” being used for Political Media’s President Larry Ward’s latest campaign, but Foxx and Tarantino have spoken out for increased gun control in the wake of more and more shootings across the country.
The main question to arise is, should filmmakers be held accountable for the acts committed by the minority, or would the mental state of the shooters and the right to bear arms have caused the outcome regardless of what film they happened to have seen? Tarantino has his opinion “obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health” he told a radio station when quizzed on the thorny subject. The questions being directed to him are reminiscent of the ones that were levelled at Oliver Stone over a decade ago, when the perpetrators of the Columbine Massacre were said to be fans of his film, Natural Born Killers.
The debate will always surface when an overly violent film is released or sensitive subject matter comes to the fore in what is usually an escape from our everyday lives. The film makes no excuses for its bloody, often gratuitous violence and embraces its descent into the murky world of slavery. However, you know you are not watching a historical masterpiece. You’re being immersed into the mind of either a genius or a man who loves the gory side of things, depending on your point of view.
He still insists on making an appearance in the film though and although everyone liked looking out for the Alfred Hitchcock cameo, when Tarantino does it, it just doesn’t have the same effect. Stay behind the camera Quentin. It’s for the best.