A few weeks ago I predicted that Spike Lee was going to react over the concept of Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering, Django Unchained. “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. It was a Holocaust,” he stated on his Twitter account. And the man is absolutely right.
But since when has a little thing like historical accuracy done anything but help take Tarantino’s reputation to another stratosphere? In Kill Bill we witnessed a tall thin white woman obliterate a gang of samurai gangsters with a single sword and Inglourious Basterds had a team of Jewish soldiers from the US going to Germany to put more lead in Hitler’s grill than 50 Cent. And guess what? Audiences gobbled it up like the McRib. And that’s the beauty of cinema. We can change historical events, alter their outcomes or simply give a perception of how something might’ve gone down no matter the outrage.
So it was only a matter of time before someone coined a fictional story of retribution and revenge during a time when injustice and cruelty was the norm if your skin was the wrong color. And who better to pen such a tale than the eclectic-hip-hop-loving-kung-fu-movie-enthusiast Quentin Tarantino.
Setting the stage a few years before the Civil War, Django Unchained finds a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz from Inglorious Basterds fame) looking to employ the help of a slave named Django (the “D” is silent). Schultz is looking to collect a bounty on a group of nasty hillbillies called the Brittle Brothers, but has no idea what they look like. But Django does.
After coming to an agreement and eventually befriending each other, Schultz takes Django under his wing and teaches him how to thrive in the bounty hunting business. Learning the game, learning to aim and learning to maim, Django becomes a bounty-hunting prodigy, and gets paid Brad Pitt handsomely to do so.
Together, Django and Schultz get about a mill in ice grills during their escapades and encounter folks so racist, that not only were they in utter shock to see a black man ride on a horse (instead of hoofing it as they thought a black man should,) but their nonchalant use of the "N" word came so natural and so frequent that Trinidad James could’ve sampled 90% of the movie’s audio for his All Gold Everything record.
Yet, that kind of behavior only seemed to fuel Django’s fire. Putting the hurt on racists, fugitives, and foes to a music score that would crack concrete pavements courtesy of artists such as John Legend, Tupac and Ricky Rozay, you couldn’t help but root for Django. And oh lawdy lawd, did he hear our cries. As is the deal with most QT movies, the body count hit the kind of numbers that only Soundscan can track in its 2 hour and 45 minute run time.
Django’s priority is to rescue his enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry “You need me in your life” Washington), from Leonardo DiCaprio who turned in a show stealing performance as Calvin Candie, the plantation owner who lusts for “Mandigo Fights” and negotiations. Using the N-word so many times you’d think his baked bean teeth would be whiter, Candie radiates the charisma and charm that Tarantino villains have become synonymous with. You just love to hate ‘em and hate that you love ‘em. Get that man an Oscar nomination!
But instead of going in gunz-a-blazin’, Schultz and Django hatch a clever plan of smoke and mirrors to legally buy Broomhilda’s freedom, ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. Only they didn’t count on Candie’s Uncle Tom house slave named Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), whose self-hate and love of oppression could only be matched by Ward Connerly. Stephen’s loyalty to Candie is like that of Condolezza Rice’s to G-Dubya, and that ain’t no hogwash, boss.
When it was all said and gunned, Django Unchained was bloody good fun, mate. Draped with over the top blood and guts, unreasonably racist dialogue and topped off with a very-very unnecessary shot of Django’s jank hanging upside down – Tarantino never fails to take it there. But that’s why we love him. Though it was a tad bit long, the dialogue and character development all seemed to serve a purpose. But with the help of a badass theme song and a cast that engaged the viewer with highly offensive dialogue and comedic antics (Johan Hill and Don Johnson as Klansmen was straight comedy), DU is bound to become an overnight cult classic. I think it’s safe to say that to the dismay of Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino has made one of the best spaghetti westerns of all-time.