I am white. I grew up in a very small city with a very small number of people of color.
One of the problems with growing up as privileged as I am was that being confronted with the concept of racism in American history always came off as kind of... surreal. It's hard to imagine racism when you live in a community where the concept of race itself barely exists. "We treated black people as slaves? How horrible. But we don't do that anymore, right? OK, good. Glad to hear it."
When you never really see racism and you're told that on paper all Americans are technically on equal ground these days and all of that is in the past, it feels like you don't have to feel responsible for any of it.
I've certainly seen other movies about American slavery, but one thing I've never really realized until I saw "Django Unchained" is that pretty much all of those movies find ways to let the white audience off the hook.
They usually include some white character who is enlightened and helps the black characters get to freedom or what have you. This character usually exists in order for people like me to breathe a sigh of relief, finally having a character we can relate to so we can appreciate the film without feeling guilty. We're not like those slave-owners. We're like the guy who helped the slaves!
Additionally, pretty much all movies about slavery try to deal with the subject matter both reverently and gingerly. While this is understandable considering how horrible a lot of this stuff gets, it also gives people like me a way out. We go into the movie understanding that it is serious and so we steel ourselves and tell ourselves that we aren't going to enjoy it. We kind of treat it like punishment, and that's kind of what it is, but because we're kind of aware of that, it doesn't really hit us.
"Django Unchained" is a different animal, though. There is literally only one redeemable white character and he's a German immigrant. And even if that weren't enough to make it clear that we as white Americans are not meant to identify with him, he also still has to deal with a very high amount of guilt, and without spoiling anything (yet) that guilt does not exist for him to overcome in some dramatic way that solves problems. His guilt is not a positive thing, at least not all the time.
Additionally, because the movie is very much meant to evoke the style of a Spaghetti Western, this is a fun movie and you generally go in expecting to have fun.
So when white people like me get to the parts in "Django Unchained" that shows a lot of the really horrible things done in the name of slavery, we are not given a way out. A part of us wants to have fun, so when our fun is interrupted by horrible shit and we have no way to deal with that, it makes us uncomfortable.
As a white person, I can't really talk about or really accurate imagine how black people feel about this movie. I just can't. But as a white person, I can pretty accurately say that Quentin Tarantino did not make this movie in order for white people to feel good about slavery, and until now, I didn't really realize how much we needed that.
While I certainly enjoyed this movie and loved it, I'd be lying if I said that certain parts of the film didn't make me feel really fucking awful in a way that pretty much no other movie or TV show about slavery has managed, and that's a little surprising.
If you haven't seen the movie and you can handle some pretty horrible violence and unfiltered racism, you definitely should.go see this movie. Beyond that, I'm going to want to start dropping some spoilers at this point, so go see it if you haven't, then join me over here.
Again, SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT.