Check It Out: Django Unchained

by Li Onesto | January 13, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


I went to see the movie Django Unchained the other night and really want to encourage people to check it out. As a lot of people probably know, it’s written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, and stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson. It takes place right before the Civil War in the Deep South and follows the story of a freed slave named Django, played by Foxx, who hooks up with a bounty hunter, played by Waltz. Django sets out to rescue his wife who’s owned by a slave owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

There’s a lot to say about this movie, to critique, both artistically and politically, and there’s much controversy. But I’m not going to get into that here. More what I want to speak to is the positive impact this movie is having in how it’s bringing out the ugly truth of just how horrific slavery was in this country.

In 2007, Tarantino said he wanted “to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to.” [The Telegraph, April 27, 2007]

And at the first screening of Django Unchained in the United Kingdom, Tarantino said, “We all intellectually ‘know’ the brutality and inhumanity of slavery, but after you do the research it’s no longer intellectual any more, no longer just historical record—you feel it in your bones. It makes you angry, and want to do something.… I’m here to tell you, that however bad things get in the movie, a lot worse shit actually happened. When slave narratives are done on film, they tend to be historical with a capital H, with an arm’s-length quality to them. I wanted to break that history-under-glass aspect, I wanted to throw a rock through that glass and shatter it for all times, and take you into it. I did a lot of research particularly in how the business of slavery worked, and what exactly was the social breakdown inside a plantation: the white families that owned the houses, the black servants who worked inside the house, the black servants that were in the fields, and the white overseers and workers that were hired to work there.” (Guardian, December 7, 2012)

In fact, the movie does show the utter horror and immorality of slavery... as well as the bravery of slaves who fought to keep their humanity.

Just think about it. This year, one of the “holiday movies” that millions of people, of all nationalities, went to see was a film about slavery (it came in #2 after The Hobbit). And in this way, aside from being entertaining, this movie is educating, provoking and setting off lots of controversy and discussion about a whole chapter in U.S. history that needs to be studied, discussed, and debated.

I heard one discussion on NPR where they played a clip of an interview with Tarantino where he talked about how there are two kinds of violence in the movie—the violence of the slave owners against the slaves which was horrific; and the retributive violence of the slaves against the slave owners, which Tarantino said was “cool.” This set off a whole discussion on NPR about the moral questions involved in these “two kinds of violence.” I thought, if this movie is provoking this kind of discussion, that’s pretty cool.

Back in September, before the film came out, Jamie Foxx told Jimmy Kimmel, “This movie is really going to land heavy. It’s the first Western that acknowledges slavery. In dealing with the slavery aspect of it, for Black Americans—for our education on what it is—it’s really going to land sincere.”

Thirty-six years ago a TV series called Roots was the most watched TV series in the history of U.S. television. 130 to 140 million people watched the series, including many white people. The finale, watched by 100 million people, still stands as the third-highest-rated U.S. television program ever. In 2003, Bob Avakian wrote:

Roots was the history of a Black family, but it was also much more than that—it touched on the history of Black people in America as a whole. The story went back to Africa and the enslavement of people there and their forced transport to America, and it came all the way up into a period not far from the present day. And I remember the stories that comrades would tell of people working in factories or other work places, the white people in particular, who would be going to Black people they worked with and saying, ‘I had no idea about this’—which says something about the educational system and what the bourgeoisie wants people to know and not know. ‘This’ referred to even basic level things, like the fact that Black people’s names go back to the names of the slavemasters who owned their ancestors, and what that actually represents in human terms. The fact that little kids would get sold to another slave owner, ripped away from their mothers and sold at 8, 9 years old. White people in particular would say, ‘You know, I had no idea’ and they would be very moved by this. This was a very transformative thing, to use that phrase, in terms of the consciousness of millions of people in the U.S., including and in particular a lot of white people who had never understood this.” [From: Reaching for the Heights and Flying Without a Safety Net, Part 2: “We Want State Power—and We Should Want It,” Revolutionary Worker #1197, May 4, 2003]

To be clear here, I’m not comparing Django Unchained to Roots. But what I’m pointing to is the positive phenomenon of a big cultural event that puts on view the barbarous reality of slavery in this country. Many people are in fact ignorant of this history or don’t really grasp the deep reality of what it meant. It’s not their fault—the powers-that-be work hard to teach a different, whitewashed view of U.S. history, to cover over the basic fact that the origins of the U.S. are rooted in slavery and genocide. But people really need to know this history in all its ugliness and its continuing effects on the whole fabric of U.S. society.

In this light, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is a contribution, and, in my opinion, an artistic and entertaining one at that.

* * * * *

Available at:

The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need,
Revolution, Special Issue (#144, October 5, 2008)


Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy
by Bob Avakian
(RCP Publications, 2008)
Bob Avakian takes on the ideals of Jeffersonianism, and convincingly locates even its “loftiest aspirations” in social relations of exploitation and oppression—the social relations out of which those ideals grew, and which they served and continue to serve. (Online and available as a pamphlet. To order: send check or money order for $6.50 to RCP Publications, P.O. Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654-0486. Includes shipping)


“The Oppression of Black People & The Revolutionary Struggle To End All Oppression,”
a series of excerpts from writings and talks by Bob Avakian published in Revolution during Black History Month, February 2007.

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