Django Unchained, the latest of what appears to be a Hollywood trend toward historical fiction movies, much to my surprise, offers a unique blend of comedy, drama, history, and pure entertainment. As an avid moviegoer with a genuinely jovial disposition, my movie preferences include love stories, comedies and dramas. I generally try to steer clear of films laced with blood and guts, sex and violence.
Django Unchained is director Quentin Tarantino’s remake of director Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Italian “spaghetti Western” film starring Franco Nero, which earned a reputation as being one of the most violent films ever made. Django Unchained holds its own in regard to violence, which is why I was reluctant to go see it.
In the tradition of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Inglorious Bastards, the film features a stellar cast, teaming Jamie Foxx as Django (“the ‘D’ is silent”), a formerly free and recently enslaved man, and Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter. The film has an equally impressive ensemble supporting cast, including Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The film is set in 1858 just prior to the abolition of slavery. Django is recruited by Dr. Schultz to partner with him in tracking down and capturing, dead or alive, notorious criminals. Django signs onto this on the condition that Schultz will help him rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), a slave who has been sold to Calvin Candie, a notorious plantation owner played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
As the movie unfolds in pursuit of their bounty, there is violence, blood and guts, but it is tempered by comedic relief. Although the film depicts the horror of slavery, it is camouflaged by humorous special effects and dual-meaning dialogue.
Jackson, plays Stephen, a slave’s worst nightmare, an “Uncle Tom, house nigga,” who derails Django and Schultz’s elaborate scheme to rescue Broomhilda, by informing Master Candi (DiCaprio) of their real quest.
As historical fiction goes, the film shows some integrity. According to historians, the original American cowboys were black and former slaves from African countries, including Ghana and Gambia. The highly skilled slaves worked as cattle-herders on plantations throughout the Deep South. Many used dogs to herd cattle among ranches, but after the Civil War, the ex-slaves became mounted cowboys.
Between 1886 and 1896, there were more than 35,000 cowboys, 8,000 of which were black. Irrespective of race, while herding cattle, the cowboys lived, ate and slept together. They were bound by their lifestyles, dangers and job hardship.
Black cowboys contributed greatly to the cattle industry and settling of the West. Usually taking three months to reach their destination, black cowboys moved millions of cows through Colorado, Kansas, Texas, South Carolina, Wyoming, and the Dakotas.
In spite of the over-the-top violence and the sting of slavery, Django was quite entertaining. I laughed more than I cringed. I had to close my eyes often and remind myself that slavery is over although its aftermath is still very present in our lives.
Tarantino’s Django is historical, educational, funny and entertaining. Laughter made the film’s depiction of slavery’s bitter pill easier to swallow. Django Unchained is worth seeing because the good guys win.