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Opinion: Why 'Django Unchained' stirs race debate
January 8th, 2013
03:00 AM ET

Opinion: Why 'Django Unchained' stirs race debate

Editor's note: Gene Seymour is a film critic who has written about music, movies and culture for The New York Times, Newsday, Entertainment Weekly and The Washington Post.

By Gene Seymour, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Spike Lee says he's never going to see Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" because he's certain it is "disrespectful of my ancestors." Tarantino says he doesn't need to waste time responding to Lee's accusation. That, as they say, is that.

So why do we insist on staring at two egomaniacs staring down each other?

Race. Again. The subject that never fails to provoke, antagonize, alienate - and fascinate rubber-necking onlookers from sea to shining sea. Fixating on race is an absurdity that has no rational reason to exist, yet no one quite knows how to eliminate it from humankind. The only thing dumber than race is underestimating its importance.

"Django Unchained" is Tarantino's latest exercise in genre-bending audacity, an antic ripsnorter folding in most of what its director knows and loves about spaghetti westerns, 1970s blaxploitation thrillers and his own ribald, recklessly violent body of work. Its title character, played by Jamie Foxx, is a slave bought and freed by a drolly effective German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), who agrees to help Django emancipate his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from a decadent plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

"Django" makes no pretense of being anything other than a phantasmagoric pseudo-western, rife with calculated vulgarity, anachronism and impropriety. Its body count rivals that of Tarantino's 2003 martial-arts epic, "Kill Bill Vol. 1" (to whose messily operatic set pieces of slaughter "Django" bears an uncanny resemblance).

Read Gene Seymour's full column