I like Quentin Tarantino, but I loved Django Unchained. Tarantino’s always made good movies with good dialogue and good pacing and suspense. And he’s always been very skilled at his special Tarantino genre pastiche thing. But until Django the pastiche always just seemed like a stylistic tick. What he’s done is actually unearth a subject that’s worthy of his skills at it.
The issue is that not only is race central to American life and history, but profoundly problematic treatments of race are central to the history of American cinema.
You simply can’t tell the story of American film without touching on Birth of a Nation, Gone With the Wind, The Searchers, and other apologias for the antebellum south or briefs for white supremacy. It’s not just that these movies happened. But they happened and they’re incredibly influential and prestigious and in some ways deservedly so. Plenty of directors could make a great film about race (though fewer do than would be ideal), but Tarantino is almost uniquely suited to making a great film about race on film in America—one that situates a tale of Texas gunslingers as a “Southern” rather than a Western, one that if anything exaggerates the sheer evil of slaveholders rather than downplaying it, one where the helpful white guy ultimately screws up and nearly ruins everything.