Let us not forget: Hardly had Obama been elected for the first time than the apartheid political philosophy of John C. Calhoun started making an unlikely comeback and talk of secession bubbled up from Rick Perry’s Texas through Dixie. The “dark vein of intolerance” that Colin Powell saw in his political party during the 2012 campaign is for real. A large national majority, 61 percent, in a Pew survey last spring disagreed with the statement that “discrimination against blacks is rare today.” Obama’s reelection was soiled by the spectacle of long lines of black Americans waiting hours to vote in Florida and Ohio, just two of the several states that have been engaging in voter suppression. On Election Night, anti-Obama riots broke out at Ole Miss, some 130 miles from Greenville, Mississippi, the site of Tarantino’s Candyland. The specter of the Old South rising again also haunted inauguration weekend: State legislators in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, took advantage of an African-American colleague’s decision to attend the festivities in D.C. by passing a racially gerrymandered redistricting plan that the absent senator’s vote would have otherwise defeated. No less an authority than the executive producer of the Fox Cable Networks adaptation of Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln told television reporters last month that John Wilkes Booth couldn’t “easily be dismissed as a psychopath” because he “believed what still probably 20 percent of this country still believes.”
However much it may resonate, Django Unchained, to put it mildly, has about as much chance of winning Best Picture as Mel Gibson does winning the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. The Vegas oddsmakers are probably right when they calculate that the Oscar will go to either Argo or Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth and the Ayatollah Khomeini aside, they both provide the kind of uplift the voters of the Academy have always favored. But it’s worth noting that of all the American films that have made moviegoing seem more vital this year, Django is the only one to demonstrate unequivocal “crossover” appeal—“crossover” being the entertainment industry’s undying euphemism for movies that draw large black and white audiences alike. That moviegoers of both races are willing to check out a white filmmaker’s profane, impolitic riff on the most sacred African-American history says something hopeful about America. Should the president keep on his present course of bringing a little more of the unchained Django into his second-term battles in Washington, we may yet see more change there as well.