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Django Unchained: Coonskin Redux?

By Guest Contributor Paul Barrett; originally published at New Solitudes

Jamie Foxx in "Django Unchained." Image via Slate.com.

Jamie Foxx in “Django Unchained.” Image via Slate.com.

What I find surprising in the critical and personal responses I’ve heard to Django Unchained is the unwillingness to discuss what notions of race the film traffics in. What is Tarantino’s vision of blackness and whiteness, and how does his aesthetic mode of borrowing from every movie he’s ever seen contribute to his notion of race, cultural difference, and racism?

The feud between Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee is one point of entry for discussing Django Unchained. Lee refuses to see the film, arguing that “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. It was a holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them.”

At the heart of Lee’s critique, and much of the debate over Django Unchained are the questions of historical appropriation–who has the right to tell particular stories–and the question of realism. The latter question really asks, how can we tell particular stories? Is it disrespectful, irresponsible, or racist to depict slavery as a spaghetti western or in an unreal fashion?

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