Transition - Vol. 112

Transition - Vol. 112

Transition - Vol. 112

Transition - Vol. 112


Published three times per year by Indiana University Press for the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, Transition is a unique forum for the freshest, most compelling ideas from and about the black world. Since its founding in Uganda in 1961, the magazine has kept apace of the rapid transformation of the African Diaspora and has remained a leading forum of intellectual debate. In issue 112, the editors of Transition look at violence, particularly as it relates to the history of slavery, which raises the question of representation. Textbooks and television both grapple with the same fundamental questions: to whom do the stories of slaves belong? How should these stories be told? In this issue, Daniel Itzkovitz talks with Tony Kushner about the controversy that surrounded the making of Lincoln, a serious and sober film about the passage of the 13th Amendment. Django Unchained covers the same time period but uses a wildly different lens. The film is terrifying and topsy-turvy, and has ignited controversy that became a white-hot conflagration. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. speaks with Quentin Tarantino about the making of his film, and a host of scholars and critics, including Walter Johnson, Glenda Carpio, and Terri Francis, set the issue ablaze with provocative and searing commentary that speaks to the controversial film and its potent afterlife.


“I Like the Way You Die, Boy”
fantasy’s role in Django Unchained

Glenda R. Carpio

“And I am taking the story of a slave narrative and blowing it up to folkloric
proportions … worthy of high opera. So I could have a little fun with it. One
of the things I do is when the bad guys shoot people the bullets usually don’t
blow people apart. They make little holes and they kill them and wound them,
but they don’t rip them apart. When Django shoots someone, he blows them in

—QUENTIN tarantino

django unchained is not supposed to be experienced or understood as a historically accurate representation of slavery; surprisingly, this point has been lost on many a viewer. It is, as the film critic Chris Vognar rightly notes, a typical Tarantino movie, which is to say that it is “more concerned about movies than anything else.” At the same time, the film is deeply situated in both the history of cinema and historical fantasy. Tarantino has “a little fun” telling the story of a slave named Django, a reference to the titular hero of Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 spaghetti Western, himself named after the virtuoso jazz musician Django Reinhardt. Tarantino also makes multiple visual and narrative allusions to the blaxploitation tour de force, the1975 film Mandingo, and other films in this genre—The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972) and its sequels, The Soul of Nigger Charley (1973) and Boss Nigger (1975), as well as direct and oblique references to Norse mythology, to D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the novel that inspired it (Thomas Dixon’s 1905 The Clansman), to the slave narrative genre, and a host of other cultural artifacts. But Django Unchained also jolts viewers with scenes of chattel slavery that are so violently horrific that watching without squirming is impossible, as when a slave is torn apart by dogs or when two slaves are made to fight each other to death with bare hands. the combination of Tarantino having “a little fun” and his subject matter, arguably the mostly explosive and, especially from a contemporary perspective, most earnestly treated topic in American history, risks trivialization. Yet Django Unchained is also a richly allusive cultural text that, through its . . .

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