You’d never know it from all the criticism Django Unchained has received in recent months, but Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster western is now his most successful film to date. After winning his second Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay on Sunday, Tarantino was asked if the ongoing criticism made the Oscar feel more rewarding—and he offered a surprising response. “I have to say, all that criticism that came out, it ended up being kind of a good thing because one of the things I wanted to do is… start a conversation about slavery,” he said. “A lot of people don’t like it—and I can understand that—and a lot of people do like it, and they’ve been kind of going back and forth and that back and forth is really what I really wanted for the end of the day of this movie. I hope that actually even continues for the next few years.”
Tarantino’s reaction to the Django backlash has been commendable. Although he lost his temper once or twice while promoting the film, he generally managed to keep his cool and accept responsibility for his provocative choices. It’s easy to forget that Tarantino’s films have been subject to controversy from the very beginning—though never to quite this degree—and the writer-director seems to have mastered the art of accepting his critics, rather than challenging them.
As for the dialogue started by Django Unchained, a case could be made that the film keeps the issues relatively uncomplicated and the debates it inspires have more to do with Tarantino’s indulgences (extreme violence, his use of the n-word) than the subject of slavery. However, these conversations inevitably lead back to slavery, forcing viewers to consider how this shameful chapter in the country’s history informs modern American life. In exploring this subject, Django Unchained ultimately eschews the emphasis on victimhood and pity that usually characterizes slavery dramas—which is precisely what makes it worthy of serious discussion.