Conservatives Freak Out About Django Unchained

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 19 2012 11:56 AM

Conservatives Freak Out About Django Unchained

django
Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained

The Weinstein Company

Last week, the Drudge Report sparked controversy after inexplicably plastering its cover page with a picture of Quentin Tarantino above the word “N*GGER” printed several times. The headline linked to a review of Django Unchained, and was only comprehensible (and then just barely) as an attempt to stir up anger over the movie’s story about one slave’s revenge. Above the headline were several Tarantino-related links, including one to an old story about Spike Lee’s criticism of the director for his liberal use of the racial slur in his films.

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

Whatever Matt Drudge was trying to say—if anything—the sensationalistic headline highlighted the growing fear expressed by some on the right that Django Unchained is somehow a threat to white people. As Max Read noted at Gawker, those supposed fears were likely fueled in part by star Jamie Foxx’s opening monologue on Saturday Night Live a little over a week ago, in which he joked about being excited “to kill all the white people in the movie.” The monologue was highlighted on Breitbart News among other conservative websites. In a typical NewsBusters post, Noel Sheppard cluelessly wrote, “Imagine the uproar if a white actor joked about killing all the black people in a new film he was starring in.”

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Jeffrey T. Kuhner wrote a more detailed reaction to the SNL skit for the Washington Times, deeming Foxx a “black nationalist,” while accusing minorities of “racial tribalism”—a supposedly privileged attitude that allows gays, Latinos, Asians, and so on to say offensive things about other groups, while whites can’t.

Anti-white bigotry has become embedded in our postmodern culture. Take Django Unchained. The movie boils down to one central theme: the white man as devil—a moral scourge who must be eradicated like a lethal virus. For decades, Hollywood, U.S. textbooks and higher education have stressed that America was founded upon slavery, sexism and genocide. In other words, white European civilization is the root of evil and imperial subjugation around the world. 

It’s not clear whether Kuhner simply hasn’t seen the movie yet or if he just chose to ignore the fact that the only white men who are portrayed as “devils” are slave owners and slavery sympathizers. The German Dr. Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, who veritably embodies “white European civilization,” frees Django and goes out of his way to help him win his wife back while deceiving the other white characters, even stating flat out at one point that he doesn’t believe in the institution of slavery.

While it’s easy to laugh at Kuhner’s hyperbolic piece, it wasn’t too long ago that writers for more respectable (and less rabidly rightwing) publications were getting worked up about the possibility of cinematically inspired black violence. Back in 1989, in New York Magazine, both David Denby and Joe Klein suggested that the the polarizing climax of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing—in which racial tension erupts into a violent outburst after a black youth is killed by the police—might prompt violence against whites. “If some audiences go wild, [Lee’s] partly responsible,” Denby wrote. Klein echoed the sentiment, saying that while the “subtleties” of the movie would leave “white (especially white liberal) audiences debating the meaning of Spike Lee’s message,” black teenagers would regard the message more simply: “The police are your enemy…White people are your enemy.” Klein found a “dangerous stupidity” in this supposed message.

Of course, black audiences didn’t riot after seeing the film, because they are not so simple-minded as Denby and Klein implied they were.

As for Django Unchained, the movie barely begins to touch the surface of the everyday violence practiced upon black bodies during slavery: Tarantino’s revisionist fantasy spends more time reveling in the revenge enacted by Django and Schultz against horrible villains, including a prominent black character. If Kuhner and company can’t face this much, they obviously haven’t spent much time thinking, in an honest way, about American history.