The Subject Effaced: Identity and Race in Django Unchained

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Journal of Black Studies

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Quentin Tarantino’s stated ambition for Django Unchained was to create a film that grapples with “America’s horrible past with slavery . . . but do them like spaghetti westerns.” This article considers the implications of those priorities—a serious treatment of slavery on one hand, and reference to genre tropes on the other. It concludes that, although the spaghetti Western may be particularly well suited to depict the nihilistic and dehumanizing violence that undoubtedly characterized chattel slavery, the genre’s resistance to the representation of human subjectivity mirrors the relative silence around the psychological dimension, not only of slavery, but also of continuing crisis of structural racism in the post–civil rights era. As such, through the specific narrative and aesthetic strategies he employs, Tarantino unwittingly undermines his own pretensions to social consciousness, producing instead a film that reflects and reproduces the ignorance, strategic silence, and White guilt surrounding America’s ongoing history of slavery and racism.



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