Django Unchained is a movie by Quentin Tarantino based two years before the civil war. The movie revolves around Django who is a freed slave who with the help of a German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz, sets out to free his wife from a brutal plantation owner, Calvin Candie. It is a cinematic masterpiece and has classic Tarantino tropes such as beautiful set-pieces, campy dialogue, and lots of gore and violence.
Django Unchained is a spaghetti western-blaxploitation-revenge flick and not an accurate retelling of the past, however, looking at certain aspects of the film can give us an insight on what life was like for African Americans in a pre-emancipation proclamation United States of America as it is an accurate depiction of southern barbarity. Certain mannerisms depicted in this movie are now illegal, such as owning another, or politically incorrect for example white people constantly referring to the slaves and other black people as “Ni**er” (a derogatory term used to refer to African Americans contemptuously), however, there are other blatantly racist mannerisms in this movie that have become systemically ingrained such as certain white people feeling like they are objectively superior to people of an African origin or believing that they do not deserve equal treatment.
We can see some of these mannerisms in the way other characters treat the protagonist, Django Freeman. One of the scenes that stuck out to me is at the beginning of the movie when Django is riding horseback, and you can hear the townspeople say, “is that a Ni**er on a horse?”. Even though horses are an outdated mode of transportation, we can see this in today’s culture too. For example, today if a white person was driving an expensive sports car the authorities do not look into the matter but if it is a person of color, the authorities often question them as they think they do not own it and the vehicle might be stolen or acquired through illicit activities. Even the usual citizen would be like “oh look… a minority in a sports car”.
The same thing can be seen in the American political system. For example, when President Barack Obama was elected, the media and the public made a big deal about the fact that the president was black. In recent events, the election of Kamala Harris sparked the same intrigue in the public’s eye where people were talking about how much of a big deal it is that we have a “Black woman as a vice-president”. I just find it interesting how these are ingrained in society and are still such a big deal almost 200 years after the abolishment of slavery and is a commentary on how slow society progresses once the initial impressions about a certain group of people have become systemically ingrained.
Another dialogue that sparked intrigue with me was when Dr. Schultz asks Django if black people also believed in marriage when he states, “Do most slaves believe in marriage?”. This shows how alienated these two cultures were from each other and how much misinformation was being spread around about the black community. It also highlights perfectly how the white people thought that the black people were so different from them but ended up being so similar, to the surprise of white people.
Another part in the movie that highlights the misinformation white people had about African Americans is when Leonardo Dicaprio’s character, Calvin Candie, who is a slave owner is talking about the anatomy of a former slave’s skull. When talking about it he states, “You see, the science of phrenology is crucial to understanding the separation about two species. In the skull of the African here, the area associated with submissiveness is larger than any human or other sub-human species on planet Earth. If you examine this piece of skull here, you’ll notice three distinct dimples. Here, here and here. Now if I was holding a skull of a… of an Isaac Newton or Galileo, these three dimples would be in the area of the skull most associated with creativity. But this is the skull of old Ben, and in the skull of old Ben unburdened by genius, these three dimples exist in the area of the skull most associated with servility.” (Tarantino 2012)
This dialogue perfectly encapsulates that the white public was fed misinformation for them to feel morally just when enslaving countless African people. Tarantino put blatantly exaggerated dialogue so that we can tell that it is false however a lot of people in that time did believe this to be true and hence felt no remorse for the way they treated black people. White people thought that they were doing the African people favour as they were “made for enslavement” or because they were “godless and were introduced to religion” by the white people. Certain people even believed that by bringing African people to America, they were saving their lives from being cannibalized by their tribes.
This movie also gives us insight into how brutal methods were used to punish Black people. This can be seen throughout the movie when we see the slave owners use a whip to discipline the slaves and the marks on numerous backs throughout the movie from the lashings. Another such event is when Broomhilda, Django’s wife, is put in a hotbox for 10 days because she tried to escape the house that she worked in as a slave. Although we do not see violent treatment to this extent anymore, there has been a lot of cases of police brutality against black people and even murders committed by officers of the law due to unnecessary use of extra force to arrest them. This movie helps us see the origin of this unjust treatment and helps highlight how it is continuing in the modern-day.
To sum up, Django is not only a visual masterpiece but also a gruesome and accurate insight on how cruel the living conditions were for the African Americans enslaved in the south after the second middle passage.
Tarantino, Quentin, et al. Django Unchained. Weinstein Company, 2012.