Does “Django Unchained” Get History Right?

Django Unchained is Tarantino’s skewed Christmas gift to America — a movie designed to reveal the chains of slavery that continue to haunt America, while introducing the horror with unrelenting violence.

Django Unchained is also a cross between spaghetti westernShaft’s Big Score, and the Mandingo films and books of the 1970s.

Tarantino combines all of these elements to create an epic story, emulating the German lore of Nibelung that Django’s liberator, Dr. King Schultz (played by Christoph Waltz) tells after finding out Django’s wife’s name is Broomhilda.

Django Unchained is not just a love story or a violent thriller, it is an epic that borrows from each genre. In fact, I was a bit surprised that Tarantino did not use portions of the Ring of the Nibelung opera cycle by Wagner in one particular scene of hooded riders (invoking another movieBirth of a Nation).

Instead, Tarantino uses a variety of music to set the tone, with a James Brown/Tupac mash-up capturing the essence of the movie. Additionally, the film is violent, overwrought and long.

Operas and epic stories have a purpose: to remind a people of their shared memory, and the heroes they worship.

In this case, America’s shared memory is slavery. Django is a particular depiction of slavery that tugs at the memory of the so-called “peculiar institution”.

That memory is tainted by a particular fantasy: that vengeance is satisfying, and heroes are always cowboys. The memory he gets completely right is the violence of slavery.


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