Aiming to confront “the racial frankness in [Quentin] Tarantino’s films and not the man himself,” Adilifu Nama’s new book offers close readings of the writer-director’s eight feature films (and additionally, True Romance) in order to unveil the complexities of racial interest and formation as they occur within the Tarantino oeuvre. Nama takes this charge as a corrective to critics like Armond White who view Tarantino’s films as “pop sleaze without the politics,” or Stanley Crouch, who’s compared Tarantino’s interest in race with novelist Ralph Ellison’s. Nama falls somewhere in the middle, wishing to lift the “hackneyed claims that Tarantino is a racist,” while stopping well short of hagiography, stating “at most [Tarantino’s films] serve as catalysts for discussions around black racial formation across the public sphere.” The latter assertion is well taken, since the totality of Race on the QT provides ample, perceptive examinations, but almost exclusively along narrative and character lines, with little attention paid to form or aesthetics, rendering several of these readings useful, but only up to a point.
Nama’s best insights come in the book’s first chapter with analyses of Reservoir Dogs and True Romance, where clever approaches to dialogue and each film’s implicit critiques will make even the most ardent viewer want to revisit them. Nama is particularly on point with Reservoir Dogs, which he deems “a visual analogue of the type of hypermasculinity and extravagant violence rapped about on top of 1970s funk samples.” That is, Nama meticulously mines each of the film’s white characters’ racist views on blackness (of which there are plenty) and positions them in relation to Holdaway (Randy Brooks), the film’s sole black character, since he’s “a formidable tactician and the principle architect for bringing down [the] crime organization.” By recasting Reservoir Dogs as a “racial revenge narrative,” Nama acutely displays the film’s ties with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, films that utilize this kind of narrative far more explicitly. However, Nama’s discussion of these films proves largely unsatisfactory, since here he’s adamant and repetitive in his assertions that Inglourious Basterds is a “science-fiction fantasy” and Django Unchained a “Gothic horror film.” These categorical imperatives detract from Nama’s stated interests in reading for blackness.