Two films about American slavery in the Civil War era are currently playing in theaters.
Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln begins with a black soldier reciting the Gettysburg Address.
Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained begins with a black slave being recruited to kill three white murderers.
In Spielberg’s film, the leading black female character is a humble seamstress in the White House whose eyes fill with tears of gratitude when Congress votes to abolish slavery.
In Tarantino’s film, the leading black female character (Kerry Washington) is a defiant slave who has been branded on the face as a punishment for running away, and is forced—by Leonardo DiCaprio—to work as a prostitute.
In Spielberg’s film, all the black people are good.
Tarantino’s film features “the biggest, nastiest ‘Uncle Tom’ ever”—played by Samuel Jackson—who is insanely loyal to his evil white master, and savage in his treatment of fellow slaves.
In Spielberg’s film, old white men make history, and black people thank them for giving them their freedom.
In Tarantino’s, a black gunslinger goes after the white slavemaster with homicidal vengeance.
In Spielberg’s film, Daniel Day-Lewis is magnficent as Lincoln.
In Tarantino’s, Jamie Foxx is magnificent as Django.
Spielberg says the history in Lincoln is true. Tarantino says the history in Django Unchained is “very right on. In fact, if anything, I’m actually holding back somewhat from some of the more extreme stuff.”
Spielberg’s film displays the director’s “integrity and seriousness of purpose.” (Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker)
Tarantino’s displays the director’s “signature rococo verbal theatrics, outlandish humor and flair for both embracing and subverting genre conventions.” (Christopher Wallenberg, Boston Globe)
Spielberg’s film is “a stirring reminder that politics can be noble.” (Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News)
Tarantino’s is “unwholesome, deplorable and delicious” (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian), but never lets us forget the brutal reality of slavery.