ethnic revenge in american movies

All the Django haters are missing the point. Sure, if you hate the n-word, Django is going to piss you off. And if you think that a nerdy video store clerk isn’t in a position to make a movie about slavery, you may have a point, but you really don’t because it’s a revenge fantasy, not a documentary, and not a movie like the Color Purple or even friggin’ Beloved. Not the same ballpark, not even the same sport.

Django Unchained is all about the catharsis. We indulge in childish fantasy about the wretched of the earth getting even for all that’s gone down since 1492. But Django isn’t alone in its desire to stick it to the Man. We now have a whole ream of ethnic revenge movies. We had Machete, which is about the perversity of the border. You could even count Harold and Kumar as ethnic revenge. Yes, it’s a stoner movie, but it’s about Asian stoners who show up their obnoxious White bosses at White Castle.

I hate “post-racial” because it implies that race isn’t important. But the ethnic revenge movie could only exist in a post-racial society. You really couldn’t have a Django, Machete, or Harold and Kumar in 1955. Something is different. It’s now ok to admit that a lot of people have a legitimate claim on being really pissed off and it’s ok to talk about it. But why is it ok to indulge in the violent revenge fantasy? On one level, it’s because some folks really did deserve it. Did anyone not cheer when Hitler got shot in Inglorious Basterds? The deeper point is that no one is remotely serious about revenge because, frankly, things are better, way, way better. That isn’t post-racial, but it is post-something.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 15, 2013 at 12:01 am

12 Responses

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  1. I could not disagree more. The revenge fantasy fulfills national white guilt pathology more than it addresses any collective black racial need. That’s not post racial or post “something”. It’s in lieu of lots of things: national apology, reparations, parity. And a million creative uses of n****r by a white director is no small thing. But as long as it makes money, I suppose.



    January 15, 2013 at 1:17 am

  2. “You really couldn’t have a Django, Machete, or Harold and Kumar in 1955.” I’m not convinced of that. Cinematic racial revenge fantasies were being made in the late ’50s and were finding the silver screen in the 60s. Take, for example, “The Black Klansman” (1966); a film that tells the story of a Black man who passes as white man to join the KKK in order to seek revenge on KKK members who murdered his daughter. We shouldn’t simply celebrate Django as a product of post-something, or post-anything, when there were many films of that ilk that were successful and resonated with folks throughout the 60s, and especially the 70s.


    Matthew Hughey

    January 15, 2013 at 1:25 am

  3. Not planning on seeing the movie, especially after seeing Tarantino saying to an interviewer “Don’t ask me a question like that …. I am not your slave and you are not my master.” (!)



    January 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

  4. It’s normal that teenagers get a kick out of watching movies depicting acts of torture on certifiably evil people such as nazis and slave owners. At that age, the brain is not fully developed, and complex moral notions are difficult to grasp.



    January 15, 2013 at 9:18 am

  5. “Yes, it’s a stoner movie, but it’s about Asian stoners who show up their obnoxious White bosses at White Castle”

    Yeah, you might want to rewatch Harold and Kumar…



    January 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm

  6. I never thought it would be the post about Django Unchained that would be the most polarizing thing Fabio has ever written.

    I liked the movie a lot. I don’t have the same take on it as Fabio though. I don’t see anything post- about it. The film is not just a tribute to the spaghetti westerns (from which the revenge fantasy stems) but it’s also an homage to blaxploitation movies from the 70s. It may not be your taste but it’s an interesting and entertaining twist on both genres. For all of the criticism the movie has attracted (mostly from people who’ve never seen the movie), Django Unchained is a visceral attack on the evils of racism and slavery,. If it takes a cartoonish depiction of slavery to get that subject in a Hollywood film, then I welcome it. It doesn’t pretend that racism was just an evil of the past. There is something very contemporary about the dialogue of the characters, which I think was purposefully done to emphasize that this not a historical film (although some people have lauded the movie for its shredding of past racist depictions of slavery in Hollywood films). Yes, it’s entertaining but there are moments plugged in throughout that are intended to challenge your comfort level and question your motives.

    One of my favorite lines of the movie, which I think is Tarantino’s wink to the audience about his own role in making this movie, happens when Django’s soon-to-be partner, King Schultz describes to Django their strange relationship. “For the time being, I’m going to make this slavery malarkey work to my benefit. Having said that, I feel guilty.”


    brayden king

    January 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm

  7. ““You really couldn’t have a Django, Machete, or Harold and Kumar in 1955.” — I’m not convinced of that.”

    Perhaps more accurate: You couldn’t have had a Django, Machete, or Harold and Kumar that was directed by major directors, starring famous actors, and that made a lot of money (e.g was actually watched by a ton of people).



    January 15, 2013 at 4:27 pm

  8. @The White Castle: No – you should watch it closely. It begins with Harold’s white bosses dumping on him at work. Then, at the end of their quest for White Castle burgers, Harold totally owns them when he meets them accidentally at White Castle the next morning. I think it’s a fair reading to say that the movie is largely about Harold’s liberation from the need to kow tow to his bosses.



    January 15, 2013 at 5:32 pm

  9. PS. @brayden – Actually, my most polarizing posts seems to be “Should I teach postmodernism?” and an “inconvenient Truth About the GRE.” The first had about 140+ comments. The other is past 50 and people still post comments.



    January 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm

  10. Fabio,
    I find your use of the term “kow tow” to be insensitive in this context given its etymological associations. In the future you should use the less loaded term “prostration” and avoid insensitive words like “kow tow” or “proskynesis.” In the meantime head directly to the blackboard and write out 50 times “I will not use Orientalist slurs reminiscent of coolieism (even for purposes of describing the subversion of hierarchy).”



    January 15, 2013 at 7:00 pm

  11. Spoiler Alert re: Inglorious Basterds



    January 15, 2013 at 9:37 pm

  12. I think tressiemc22’s comments are spot-on.

    Seems like Tarentino’s on a spree of making spaghetti western revenge films.

    I liked Resevoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but ever since the Kill Bill trilogy it seems like he is just fulfilling his own youthful fantasies, resulting in somewhat self-indulgent, juvenile films.

    Pretty boring, actually.



    January 15, 2013 at 10:18 pm

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