Quentin Tarantino’s latest two films, Django Unchained and, before that, Inglorious Basterds, have at their cores a very simple, immensely entertaining concept: specifically, what I am calling ‘retroactive redemption against historic racism’. Of course, redemption is a theme in many Tarantino movies, most obviously within the Kill Bill series. It might also be argued that ‘retroactive redemption’ is a redundancy in that all redemption, including that portrayed in the Kill Bill series, is necessarily, by definition, ‘retroactive’. The redemption in Django Unchained, however, is retroactive in an extra-textual sense: that is, the viewer is redeemer-by-proxy, enjoying the catharsis of the in-text redeemer’s (Django’s) victory over the racism of our collective past.
Of course, we must acknowledge that neither racism nor slavery are entirely in the past. Moreover, attending a Hollywood blockbuster should never be credited as anti-racist practice. That said, the film is at its most enjoyable if you are willing to pretend for just a few hours that anti-racism is as simple as sitting in a cinema and laughing alongside strangers while white supremacists on-screen are blown to pieces. If one can suspend momentarily their knowledge of the complexities and difficulties of anti-racist practice, this film can be cathartic for a wide-range of people: those angry, those guilty, etc.
If nothing more, Django Unchained, in its mass appeal, begins a discussion from which progress can be made. If the unanimous laughter at on-screen violence I witnessed in the cinema is an indication of our solidarity against the racism of our collective past, there is great potential for harnessing that solidarity to begin dialoguing on our present. For potentially bringing that conversation to the masses, Mr. Tarantino, I salute you.
By: Jacob McLean