In Django Unchained, dentist/bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), and former slave/assistant bounty hunter Django (Jamie Foxx), spend a winter collecting bounties on outlaws, and then rescue Django’s wife, Broomhilda “Hildie” Von Shaft (Kerry Washington).
Hildie is one of the “companion slaves” at Candie Land, a plantation owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and run by head house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). In order to get Hildie from Calvin, Schultz and Django try to con their way into Candie Land – a plan that goes awry.
SLAVES AND OWNERS
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Django is a blaxploitation-type western that plays like an episode of Bonanza with lots of blood splattered.
It seems Tarantino set out to tell the story of how slavery really was, as a continuation of Alex Haley’s Roots. At least, that’s what he’s said in a recent interview.
Where Haley’s Roots traces the genealogy of African-Americans, however, Django traces how blacks were treated by whites and each other. Each character in Django, which is set two years before the Civil War, represents a type of person who existed then.
Stephen represents the older slaves, who were in charge of all of the other slaves. Stephen has a voice and uses it to treat the slaves worse than the master.
Calvin represents the slave owners who have been raised around blacks and know that there is a class difference, yet manage to treat them (read: black women) as equals, at times.
Dr. Schultz represents the whites who were angrily against slavery, and tried to do something about it. Django Unchained is a decent movie. It highlights the black experience and its titular character is a black hero “killing whitey.” Jackson put it best in an interview with The Urban Daily in which he described Django as Shaft on horseback.”
That said, there are some things that give one pause about Django. There is an enormous amount of blood splatter – commonplace in a Tarantino film. Moreover, none of the black actors in the film were recognized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association with nominations for a Golden Globe.
Waltz and DiCaprio have been nominated for best supporting actor, and Tarantino for best director and original screenplay. In the directing and writing categories, it’s understandable that Tarantino has been nominated. He’s a respected filmmaker. In addition, Waltz and DiCaprio are respected actors in their own right.
Foxx and Jackson getting snubbed, however, is unacceptable. As Django, Oscar-winner Foxx is the epitome of a man in love with and devoted to his wife, torn between being fettered as a black man and having the freedom of a free man. He has to watch his wife get brutalized over and over again and not react.
Django even goes so far as to get on his hands and knees and beg for Hildie to be spared. Needless to say, he is the type of man that black men should model themselves after. Foxx’s Django is the reason Django Unchained is a great movie: Django gives audiences a black hero to look up to — which is nomination-worthy.
As Stephen, British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and Independent Spirit award winner Jackson is the perfect villain. Stephen has the power of life and death in his hands — so much power that whites as well as blacks fear him — and wields quiet power over Calvin. Rather than use that power for good, Stephen exacts severe punishments on his own people. Stephen is the type of villain that audiences are expected to hate, and
Jackson plays this villain well enough that he should have received a nomination. DiCaprio, who is scary good at playing a plantation owner who likes black women, plays the dandy quite well. He’s also really good at being the type of man who likes to watch black people brutalize each other.
Lastly, Waltz’s Dr. Schultz is awesome. He never loses his cool, even when staring down two dozen loaded guns, and is fiercely devoted to the freedom of all people, even to his detriment.
Django Unchained is like Roots in that it’s something that all black people (read: adults) should see. It tells the story of one man’s journey from slave to husband/hero/free man.
It’s disconcerting, though, that the actors who embody a film geared toward the black experience are not honored as they deserve.