Does ‘Django Unchained’ make slavery safe for the masses?

Opinion

Jamie Foxx in The Weinstein Company's 'Django Unchained' - 2012

Jamie Foxx in The Weinstein Company's 'Django Unchained' - 2012

For lovers of the Blaxploitation genre, Django ["the 'D' is silent"] — played with unrepentant swagger (because “swagga” wasn’t yet part of the vernacular in the slave era) by Jamie Foxx as he shoots and cusses his way through Django Unchained, which hits theaters on Dec. 24 — may remind audiences of that throwback era when black leading men had testosterone in spades, and weren’t afraid to show it.

Take Richard Roundtree’s Shaft, add in Alan Ladd’s gunslinging Shane and throw in a dash of Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey in for good measure, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect from the slave turned bounty-hunting freeman at the center of Quentin Tarantino’s award nominated vehicle.

Django is one cool character, the bad mother…”shut your mouth” all the dudes want to be and all the women want to be with. Alas, ladies: he’s only got eyes for his missing wife.

In fact, it’s Django’s bold manner that prompts one of the characters to declare that he “ain’t never seen a ni**er like [him] before”. This being a Tarantino joint, the n-word factors very prominently into our story, and carries with it grave cultural implications. But more on that in a moment.

Foxx’s character is an anti-hero on a mission in this homage to the spaghetti western, and like most cowboys he is singularly focused on vengeance. This involves finding his wife Broomhilda (played by Kerry Washington), who has been traded away after an escape attempt. Along the way, he is offered manumission from King Schultz, an erudite German bounty hunter with a fondness for florid, polysyllabic phrases.

Posing as an itinerant dentist, Schultz rescues Django from slave traders, where the two forge a bond as they make their way across pre- Civil War America to find Schultz’s bounties.

Schultz, however, is far less interested apprehending his marks than he is in eliminating them, which is both more lucrative and expedient.

Through a series of hilarious and cringeworthy events, the unlikely odd couple leave a profusion of gore and bullets in their wake.

All of this makes for great fun, but hardly Golden Globe worthy. The mega-watt presence of the versatile Foxx, the brilliant Christoph Waltz, and the ageless Leonardo DiCaprio – all of them either past nominees or outright winners of Hollywood’s top accolade – makes the movie shine with talent.

What it doesn’t do, though, is convince you the movie is anything other than what it is: an action packed, semi-parodic revenge flick that playfully diverts but never mesmerizes.

One thing Django Unchained is not, however, is what Ms. Washington ludicrously proffered in a recent interview as an “opportunity” to talk about a touchy subject. Viewers should disabuse themselves of this disingenuous idea immediately.  If an education on slavery is what you seek, best rent Roots, the most transcendent picture about slavery ever to grace the cinema. Perhaps the only person Ms. Washington is fooling with that nonsensical argument is herself.

This being a Tarantino production, be prepared for a bloody good time – literally. With Django the reining king of gore and profanity appears to go further than he ever has.