By Laurel Schwartz ’15Politics Columnist
“Django Unchained,” directed by Quentin Tarantino, and “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg, are two of this year’s frontrunners for the Academy Awards. They also both take place during one of the most iconic times in American History: the Civil War.
Both films highlight freedom and slavery, yet they do so in very different ways. “Lincoln” focuses on President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, while “Django” focuses on freed-slave-turned-bounty-hunter, the titular Django, and his quest to find his wife.
At first glance, there are few similarities other than the time period between the Spielberg drama and the Tarantino action film. However, it is clear that they both lack something essential to any film about African American history: complex, strong, active African American characters.
Both films present archetypical versions of black characters. “Lincoln” centers on the white male political struggle in the courtroom and pays little attention to the black experience in America.
Numerically, “Lincoln” is drastically unequal in terms of racial representation, especially for a film that is about racial equality. The few African American characters represented in the film are stereotypes of passive black slaves waiting for white politicians to liberate them. Representations like this do not reflect historical reality: African Americans, free and enslaved, played a large role—both politically and in practice—in the abolition of slavery.
“Django,” on the other hand, is a stereotypical Quentin Tarantino movie; that is, it is over the top and meant to be as much. Therefore, while the African American characters in the film may be more complex than those found in “Lincoln,” the connotation of the film being “a Tarantino film” to be as much. Therefore, while the African American characters in the film may be more complex than those found in “Lincoln,” the connotation of the film being “a Tarantino film” dismisses their strength to some degree. Additionally, while the protagonist, Django, is on a quest to liberate his wife from slavery, he is given the resources to do so by white characters in the film. In the opening of the film, Django encounters a white dentist-turned-bounty hunter who teaches him his ways. This goes back to the same theme that was portrayed in “Lincoln:” of whites the sole driving force in the abolition of slavery.
However, because “Django” is told from the perspective of an African American, Tarantino is able to expose parts of the slave experience that may not otherwise be explored. For example, Tarantino is able to show scenes that display whipping and torture. “Lincoln,” while supposedly the story of liberating slaves from oppression, does nothing to show the brutality slaves actually faced.
With both films up for the award of “Best Picture,” it will be interesting to see the final result of the evening.