Quentin Tarantino's pre-Civil War revenge fantasy "Django Unchained" is facing criticism for gratuitous violence, and for what some feel is excessive use of the n-word.
Tarantino's take on a Spaghetti Western centers on a slave named Django (Jaime Foxx) who is purchased by Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a bounty hunter, and set free. In return, Django helps him locate and slaughter a number of powerful and merciless slave owners.
"Django Unchained" contains graphic depictions of abuse at the hands of these slave owners -- even the most seasoned Tarantino devotees may find themselves having to look away as slaves are shown being severely whipped, eaten by dogs, and being forced to fight to the death for their owners' amusement.
The film prompted Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman to ask, "Is 'Django' attacking cruelty or reveling in it?"
"Django Unchained" has also been branded "disrespectful" by Spike Lee.
Continue Reading Below
"American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them," Lee tweeted.
While the Oscar-winner's previous efforts, including "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill," are famously violent, it's easier to interpret those films as cinematic escapism. Like "Inglorious Basterds,""Django Unchained," is influenced by real-life atrocities. Perhaps American moviegoers find the depictions more difficult to stomach because said atrocities took place on U.S. soil.
Still, some -- including the director himself -- argue that watering down the violence would have done audiences a disservice.
In a recent interview with The Root, Tarantino said that the brutality and language are necessary to complete an honest portrayal of the racial injustices that are part of American history.
"If you're going to make a movie about slavery and are taking a 21st-century viewer and putting them in that time period," Tarantino said, "you're going to hear some things that are going to be ugly, and you're going see some things that are going be ugly. That's just part and parcel of dealing truthfully with this story, with this environment, with this land."
Jermaine Hall, Editor-in-Chief of VIBE Magazine, believes that Tarantino's vision not only has an unoffensive premise but that it also offers a healthy comedic take on the brutality of slavery.
"Here is a slave (Foxx) willing to go to the ends of the earth to save the love of his life (Washington). He empowers the slave and satirizes the KKK in one scene because they can’t figure out how to properly wear their Klan masks due to one of their wives’ tailoring shortcomings. It's all a part of Tarantino's humor-meets gore mind that's been highly informed by Black culture."
Shawn Edwards, a film critic for FOX 4 News, believes that the film does in fact provide a toned-down portrayal of historical atrocities.
"If you've done research (into the time period portrayed in the film) or if you know anything about slavery and you watch 'Django,' you know that Quentin Tarantino toned it down," Edwards said. "The horrific way that the slave trade started -- in which human beings were loaded on a ship for 90 days and stacked on top of one another --just the hygiene element alone makes you sick. The amount of rape, murder and brutality that took place day to day on plantations is totally muted in this movie. You're talking about the ugliest period of American history, in which families were sold and divided and babies were killed. None of that is shown in this movie."
"World history is one of force and conquering," author and Media Arts professor Alex Sukhoy said in an interview. "In grade school, high school and even college, rarely are we exposed to the extent of that violence. We're told there was a war, here's who the generals were, it may have been cold outside and here's how it ended.
"What Tarantino does in 'Django,'" Sukhoy continued, "is acknowledge that while, as Americans, we have read about slavery and may be aware of some of what occurred, in his trademark directorial style, he magnifies the horror of our country's institution, what it was like and how it shaped those involved on both sides. 'Django' is a film adults everywhere must watch, because the violence on screen is a violence of our world history."
Beverly Hills psychologist and author Dr. Fran Walfish believes otherwise, and considers the excessive violence in Tarantino's more recent films to be unnecessary.
"I do not think this level of cruel, unflinching brutality in 'Django' is necessary to reflect the true horrors of slavery. After all, Steven Spielberg told the story of the true horrors of the Holocaust in 'Schindler's List' without this level of disturbing blood and brutality. Each director has his or her own personal style. As a Jewish daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I was very uncomfortable watching 'Inglorious Basterds.' It seems to me that Tarantino is acting-out a rage-filled revenge of slavery in the Pre-Civil War South."
Spielberg's latest film, 'Lincoln,' is an example of a film about slavery that does not include scenes of violence or delve extensively into the unsettling truths about the abuse that many endured.
In a New York Times opinion piece "In Spielberg's 'Lincoln,' Passive Black Characters," Kate Masur argues the the director's acclaimed historical drama draws the black characters as subservient and passive, who largely stand back while white men work to pass the 13th Amendment.
"It’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them," Masur said. "For some 30 years, historians have been demonstrating that slaves were crucial agents in their emancipation…Yet Mr. Spielberg’s 'Lincoln' gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee."
By contrast, "Django" presents some slaves as determined to seek empowerment -- despite being at the mercy of white men, key characters are actively working to alter the life that has been imposed on them.
"People should be criticizing 'Lincoln' rather than 'Django,' Edwards said. "Spielberg has a movie that's solely about the ratification of the 13th Amendment and there's never any context as to the atrocities of slavery. I'd much rather see Tarantino's cartoonish version of that time period than a three-hour movie where it seems like they're arguing over a piece of seat belt legislation."