by Prof. Karen Johnson
Django Unchained, the latest film by Quentin Tarantino (QT), tells the story about a rescued enslaved person named Django (Jaime Foxx) who teams up with his rescuer, a German-immigrant bounty hunter, named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), in efforts to capture criminal fugitives ‘dead or alive’ as a way of acquiring monetary awards. Django and Schultz ultimately devise a scheme to liberate Django’s enslaved wife, Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) from the brutal slave-owner Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. The film takes place in the South, from the 1858 to 1859 timeframe.
Although Django Unchained is supposedly a depiction of slavery, it is not a historical period piece. Instead, this film is more truly a Spaghetti Western genre, in every sense of the word; even the title, Django, is the same name of a 1960s Spaghetti Western film, made by Italian filmmaker Sergio Corbucci. Tarantino’s Django reflects the typical QT derisively mocking, sardonic storyline motif, wherein which the aestheticization of violence is reverberated throughout the entire film; and is carried out by the main character, Django, and the other significant supporting characters of Schultz, and Candie. In true QT stylistic fashion, Django represents the antihero—a neo-noir personality type, who is a tormented and conflicted individual, due to the brutal horrors of slavery and to the separation of the love of his life, Broomhilde. Django is willing to engage in any liberatory means necessary, albeit nihilistic acts of violence, to rescue Broomhilde from Calvin Candie’s plantation. For me, the only redeeming aspect of the film is Django’s unbridled love for Broomhilder and his desire to travel to the bowels of the earth, if you will, in efforts to free her from the holocaust of enslavement. That type of commitment to black love is rare on Hollywood screens. It is a powerful story plot, indeed!
Still, this is a White-American masculinist-authored fantasy about an “exceptional” bad-ass freed man, who is supposedly “different” from other enslaved men or women. Tarantino’s re-imagined Django stands out and alone from the other enslaved in that he is bold, fearless, and has some level of agency, albeit he is still subordinately tied to Schultz. The viewing audience is not given an understanding as to why Django is “exceptional” and the other well-dressed enslaved men and women are docile, idiots, fearful, happy, and have internalized their bondage.