His latest, “Django Unchained,” a kind of Spaghetti Western set in the antebellum South, is brazen even by Tarantino standards. Starring Jamie Foxx as a slave taken under the wing of a bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), the film’s strange mix of surrealist comedy, bloody action and brutal depictions of slavery make “Django” arguably Tarantino’s most audacious movie yet.
“Django Unchained” not only plunges Tarantino back into the racially sensitive territory that has brought him criticism in the past, it essentially explodes it. The n-word is used more than 100 times in the film. Two especially violent scenes of slavery – one a Mandingo brawl, the other involving a dog – even Tarantino calls “traumatizing.”
It’s a revenge fantasy that, depending on your perspective, makes this either the rare film to honestly present the ugliness of slavery, or one that treats atrocity as a backdrop for genre movie irreverence. It’s probably both.
“If the only purpose of this movie was to make a shocking expose about slavery … that would be well and good. You could definitely do that,” says Tarantino. “But this movie wants to be a little more than just that.”
It’s ironic that Tarantino is now unleashing a movie boasting of historical realism after his last film, “Inglourious Basterds” (the hit of his career, with global box office of $321.5 million and eight Oscar nominations) rewrote history by killing Hitler. “Django,” similarly revels in the catharsis of seeing the evildoers of history get their comeuppance.
“With black audiences, they laugh, they just get it,” says Tarantino. “Part of the humor is stemming out of: `We were afraid of these idiots?’”
Tarantino’s two-part “Kill Bill” and “Death Proof” were also revenge tales, only for women hunting patriarchal stereotypes. Yet from the banter of “Pulp Fiction” to the romance of “Jackie Brown,” race has clearly emerged as a dominant theme in Tarantino’s films.
“It’s the most important subject in America, both from a historical perspective and in our day to day lives,” says Tarantino. “There are a whole lot of white filmmakers that might wish to venture into this area but they’re afraid. They’re afraid of being criticized.”
Tarantino was memorably chastised by Spike Lee after the n-word laden “Jackie Brown” for being “infatuated” with the expression. Tarantino says he was “done wrong” by Lee, and that while he doesn’t care what Lee thinks of “Django,” liking it would be “a nice olive branch.”
Tarantino is prepared for any coming controversy.
“Not to sound too full of myself, but I guess I have the shoulders to carry it,” he says. “You just have to be able to walk the walk and carry it. I’ll take the stones that come my way for it. There might be some controversy right now but then that goes away. Frankly, it’s a very short amount of time in the course of a life of a movie.”