Referring to Marx's famous dictum that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves, Eric Lee points out an interesting difference between Steven Spielberg's movies Lincoln and Schindler's List, on the one hand, and Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, on the other. (I should say that I haven't seen either of the Tarantino films, but I don't think it matters to the point I want to comment on.) Eric sets out that difference as follows:
Tarantino and Spielberg have now made their films about American slavery, just as previously they both made films about the Nazi Holocaust...
Spielberg's films - which are largely historically accurate, extremely well crafted, and well-intentioned - are accounts of how a gentile... risked everything to save the Jews and how a white man... did the same for Black slaves.
Tarantino made a radically different choice when he decided to make films about Nazi Germany and the American South.
Tarantino's films are fantasies - and unlike Spielberg's are often hilariously funny, even if brutally violent.
Tarantino's "basterds" are American Jewish soldiers sent into Nazi-occupied Europe to kill - and scalp - as many German soldiers as they can. In the end, their efforts combine with those of a French Jewish woman also seeking revenge on the Nazis.
Django too is a story not about good white men who come to free the slaves, but about a slave who frees himself. Even though Django is assisted by a white German... it is he [Django] who deals the death blow to the slave-owners in the film.
Eric goes on to say that, while Spielberg's approach is the more accurate one, Tarantino's films reflect the aspiration 'that the oppressed... can liberate themselves and indeed that only they can do so'.
I think it is necessary to give due weight to both parts of what Eric is saying here; but that in doing so one must also recognize that in certain situations of extremity self-emancipation is not the only true form of liberation, not even as an ideal.
I won't dwell at any length on the well-known theme that freedom has to be taken and not given because it is only in fighting for freedom that people develop those capacities - autonomy, self-confidence, mature judgment, etc - enabling them to live genuinely free lives. A self-acting democracy, likewise, emerges out of popular struggles for it, in which citizens become through their own activity the kind of people who are capable of sustaining a democratic polity. You can read about this in both the liberal and the socialist traditions: in the work of J.S. Mill or in the writings of Rosa Luxemburg.
Important and true as such themes are as aspirational, it would be false to say of people in situations of dire oppression or emergency (not that Eric himself does say, or suggest, this) that they must liberate themselves since that is the only authentic liberation. The remnant populations of the Nazi death and concentration camps in 1945, just to take one example from the films being discussed, could not have secured their freedom by autonomous struggles and it would be a cruel fiction to say otherwise. Their actual liberation when it came was secured by Russian, American, British, etc, arms, and this was a liberation. In the circumstances it was as genuine a liberation as you could ask for - from enslavement, hunger, arbitrary cruelty and the proximate threat of death. To make the same point on a smaller scale, a rescue of someone in danger and unable to save themselves without external help is no less valuable for being that than an act in which a person does manage to escape unharmed by their own efforts.
The world can be a bad place and trying to repair the damage cannot always meet the purest of ideals.