Lawrence D. Bobo: Slavery on Film: Sanitized No More





Lawrence D. Bobo is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard University.

(The Root) -- Not many films keep me thinking for days on end. Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, about a slave-turned-bounty hunter in the antebellum South, accomplished this and then some. As a result, I have to classify it as a great film. A truly great film should stay with you, and Django certainly does....

Django is the most cinematically and culturally important film dealing with race since Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (1989). For too long American cinema has presented -- and American audiences have accepted, digested and largely tacitly embraced -- a hopelessly sanitized version of slavery in the South.

The defining image, of course, is that of Scarlett O'Hara and family enjoying the "good life" before "the War." Slavery has been often rendered just a benign backdrop to the beauty, elegance and, indeed, virtue of the plantation elite. That is why this movie sticks with me. It literally blows to pieces this ridiculously inaccurate "collective memory."...

What the film does do, and what stands out for me as its lasting import, is to give us an unforgettable cinematic expression of the brutality, inescapable violence and absolutely thorough moral degradation of American slavery. In doing so, Tarantino powerfully flips a script that has for too long dominated our collective imaginations. For years I have complained that anyone offering a generous word about the film Gone With the Wind should be compelled to have a viewing of Spartacus, since the latter was the only American film I knew of that comes close to capturing the inherent savagery of a slave regime....



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