Django Unchained

| December 27, 2012

I am having a hard time with Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, the latest movie by the famed director starring Jamie Foxx as Django, Kerry Washington, Christoph Waltz , Leonard DiCaprio and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson. I am trying to view it as a love story, set in slavery times. But the movie is so full of scenes that I found detestable as well as insulting for any viewer with a conscience.

Foxx is one of many slaves who are walking from one southern town to the next to be sold at a slave auction in 1858 or so, and his freedom is purchased for him by a German guy named Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) who is a bounty hunter. Schultz is looking for three men who are wanted for murder and for robbing a stagecoach. Django knows who the men are, and he is enlisted by Schultz to become a bounty hunter as well. The ultimate promise that Schultz makes to Django, however, is that in the end, he will take Django to the plantation where his wife, Broomhilda, is enslaved and buy her freedom as well. So it is on, as far as Django is concerned: he is excited about his newly found freedom, about the prospect of gaining freedom for his wife, and very exciting about “killing white people for a living.”

Django (the “D” is silent) is full of violence and slave references, as only Tarantino can express on the big screen. It is also full of folks using the “N” word, which was apropos for the time, but in some cases, enough was enough already!

Broomhilda has learned how to speak German and so far has been afforded the luxury of not having to pick cotton in theDeep South. But that one aspect of slavery is missing—no one ever picks cotton in the movie, and the only time I saw cotton during the nearly 2.5 hour feature was when Django blew someone away and blood splattered all over the fluffy, white stuff. Another glaring omission is the fact that not many of the slaves use the word “Sir” when addressing their masters. Even when Django first meets Dr. Schultz for the first time, he answers the doctor’s question but doesn’t end it with a “Sir.” Scenes of “Mandingo” fighters beating each other to a pulp and another where a dog savagely kills an escaped slave exhibit violence that is classic Tarantino (who did a similar “revisionist” movie about Nazi-occupied France and U.S. Jewish soldiers with his 2009 Inglorious Basterds), but these scenes are insufferable.

Jackson plays a “house” slave named Stephen, who is nearly 80 years old and full of venom, more so for fellow slaves than for his master Candie (DiCaprio). There is an extended scene where some Klan knock-offs, led by Don Johnson, discuss the inaptitude of the seamstress who made the white linen bags that they are using to cover their faces in the still of the night.

The relationships between Dr. Schultz and Django, as well as between Stephen and Candie aren’t realistic, but the entire premise of a spaghetti western intertwined with a slavery tale isn’t realistic, either. Django, it has been noted in an interview with Tarantino, starts off too liberated in the beginning and he is encouraged to slow down and grow into the role of a “bad ass” slave. At times, Django is telling Dr. Schultz what to do. Jackson, on the other hand, plays Stephen in such a subservient, Uncle Tom role that it’s disgusting. His makeup is awful, making his eyes appear yellowed, I suppose as an old, drinking, dark-skinned Black man would appear. He played this superior role over the other slaves, while at times “kowtowing” to Candie and then over speaking and challenging Candie, until you wondered just who owned whom.

And if Jackson makes another 50 movies in his career, he doesn’t have to use the “N” word another time—he used it more than enough in Django Unchained. Washington could have spared herself this role; they could have used any black actress to play the few scenes in which she appeared. But she and Foxx played well together in Ray, and he probably pulled her into this movie to give her a job, other than in her current television hit Scandal.

Certainly I don’t discuss every bit of the movie, scenes and plots that unfold, because I can’t step away from other film aspects. Other critics have thoroughly discussed the merits of the movie and the use of the “N” word, and Foxx has been quoted as saying if you want to learn something, then go see a documentary. However, Django Unchained, albeit one that is being discussed as one of the year’s and Tarantino’s best movies, is still sitting kind of funny with me, even after a week. It is playing in wide release, if you want to judge for yourself.

About the Author:

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago. She is the author of "Old School Adventures from Englewood--South Side of Chicago" and the proud parent of "the smart rapper"--chemist-turned-rapper, turned humanitarian...Psalm One!
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