“Django Unchained” (2012) is a three-hour Quentin Tarantino film, a cowboy-style Western set in the American slave South of 1858.
Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman, a freed slave and gunman, “the quickest gun in the South”;
Christoph Waltz as Dr King Schultz, dentist turned bounty hunter who frees Django and takes him under his wing;
Kerry Washington as Broomhilda von Shaft, damsel in distress, Django’s sold-away wife whom he tries to find and free from slavery;
Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin J. Candie, her master and head of Candyland, a huge slave plantation in Mississippi;
Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen, top slave at Candyland, a coontastic Uncle Tom of the worst sort.
- It is extremely violent – the blood not merely splatters, it splashes. Blacks are whipped, branded, tortured and killed. One is torn apart by dogs.
- Constant use of the n-word – on average, once every 90 seconds.
- The Klan as comic relief.
- Django as sidekick to Dr Schultz for most of the film.
- Stephen as Uncle Tom: blacks love slavery!
- Django as Black Brute: black men, when freed, are uncontrollably violent with little regard for human life. The stereotype, like the Klan itself, grew out of white fear of freed black men – when blacks became, like Django, unchained.
The first two made it uncomfortable to watch.
What was good:
- Best line: “I’m used to Americans,” says Django when asked why he is not sickened by seeing dogs tear a man apart.
- Priceless: The damsel in distress is a beautiful black woman, not a beautiful white woman for the gazillionth time. Setting it against the dehumanizing backdrop of slavery makes it even more powerful.
- Unlike Spielberg’s “Lincoln”:
- shows the evils of slavery, the violence and dehumanization – maybe a little too lovingly;
- black agency – well, at least for the last half hour.
Plot (spoiler alert): Just like Siegfried saves Broomhilda from the dragon, so Django saves his beloved Broomhilda from slavery. Django massacres the whites of Candyland and blows up the big house with Stephen inside. As Candyland burns, Django and Broomhilda ride off into the night, gun in hand.
Historical accuracy: Most of the violence shown against slaves was true, even the hot box. So were the French-speaking comfort women and the common use of the n-word. Many slaves knew how to ride horses and shoot guns, 8% could read. There is no solid proof for mandingo fighting. There was no Klan back then. The Uncle Tom and Black Brute stereotypes are extreme and therefore misleading, more the creation of white fear and fantasy than fact.
The n-word: Tarantino says he wants to be true to the times. He uses it about as frequently as Mark Twain did in “Huckleberry Finn” (1884). But Tarantino is also a well-known fan of the word.
Bechdel Test for Racism: Whites do most of the talking. Black characters mainly talk to whites, rarely to each other. The black-on-black love story is mostly plot device. Django is mostly a sidekick till Tarantino needs his bloodbath ending.