Quentin Tarantino’s award-winning Western Django Unchained is leaving Netflix on July 24. The movie, which was originally released in 2012, turned out to be a fairly controversial project for the esteemed director, despite its various successes in the industry, and viewers will need to decide for themselves whether Tarantino went too far with his extremely stylized depiction of slavery.
The film’s story follows the journey of a slave (Jamie Foxx) in the Old West and Antebellum South who trains under a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) in an attempt to reunite with his wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington). After it’s release, Django Unchained was acclaimed by critics and won numerous awards, including two Oscars. It also made $425.4 million at the global box office, and remains Tarantino’s highest-grossing film.
But Django Unchained certainly drew plenty of criticism for its violence and use of racial slurs. Notable filmmaker Spike Lee had called into question Tarantino’s use of racist language all the way back to his well-received crime movie Jackie Brown in 1997, when he is said to have commented that “Quentin is infatuated with [the N-word]… What does he want to be made – an honorary black man?” and remarked that he would not watch Django Unchained because “American Slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It was a holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them.” Tarantino then fired back, saying, “As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. And to say that I can’t do that because I’m white… that is racist,” while Django Unchained star Samuel L. Jackson countered, “Spike saying ‘I’m not going to see Django because it’s an insult to my ancestors?’ It’s fine if you think that, but then you have nothing else to say about the movie, period, because you don’t know if Quentin insulted your ancestors or not.”
Actor and activist Jesse Williams also criticized the film, writing for CNN, “If, like Tarantino, you show up with a megaphone and claim to be creating a real solution to a specific problem, I only ask that you not instead, construct something unnecessarily fake and then act like you’ve done us a favor. Django Unchained is being projected on screens around the world, out of context: A slim percentage of consumers have any real understanding of what took place during slavery, one of history’s most prolonged, barbaric, and celebrated human rights violations. Sadly, for many Americans, this film is the beginning and the end of that history lesson,” but Jackson said in an interview with Vogue Man that “Django Unchained was a harder and more detailed exploration of what the slavery experience was than 12 Years a Slave, but director Steve McQueen is an artist and since he’s respected for making supposedly art films, it’s held in higher esteem than Django, because that was basically a blaxploitation movie.”
Others weren’t keen on the excessive violence of Django Unchained, but Adam Serwer of Mother Jones published an impassioned defense of the film, writing, “Django, like many Tarantino films, also has been criticized as cartoonishly violent, but it is only so when Django is killing slave owners and overseers. The violence against slaves is always appropriately terrifying. This, if nothing else, puts Django in the running for Tarantino’s best film, the first one in which he discovers violence as horror rather than just spectacle.”