More Than A Few Words (Maybe Too Many…) About ‘Django Unchained’

More Than A Few Words (Maybe Too Many...) About 'Django Unchained'

Oh boy here we go…

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Is there a film that has caused more heated discussion this year, before it's even come out, than Django Unchained? (Next year I’m sure there will be a new film that will raise peoples' hackles).

Most of the furor over the film was from the result of an early draft of the script that was leaked online – a draft that I admittedly never read. Reason being, scripts change a lot during development and production, and the end result on the screen is often radically different than what finally ends up on the big screen.

But let’s state the obvious here… Django is a film that’s supposed to be controversial, and I find that there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I’ve always believed that controversy is good for the soul. People need to get upset from time to time. Too many films, and most TV shows for that matter, are conceived to be passive entertainment designed to lull you into sleep.

I would rather have a film get people upset enough to leave the theater in a rage, than to have people dragging themselves out after seeing a film, nodding to themselves, saying: “Oh, I guess that was O.K., I guess.” I think that films should, sometimes, engage and outrage.

So, of course, if it’s a film that deals with slavery, it’s still a touchy subject even in this 21st Century. Especially when it comes to black folks. We’re still too conflicted over dealing with this “peculiar institution” as it was called. There are those who wish to ignore it altogether, to pretend it’s something in the past to be ashamed of and forgotten. However there are others who feel that we still don’t talk enough about it, and the still lingering psychological effects it has on black people.

However, when it comes to the cinematic treatment of slavery on the screen, that’s when the fur really begins to fly. It’s no secret that slavery has been woefully and inaccurately portrayed in cinema history. Too often it’s portrayed either as a romantic fairy tale, full of happy content slaves, serving their white masters without complaint, or some female house slave who falls in love with her white master with dreams of a happy life together. The horror and brutality of slavery has rarely been seen in films, and it’s no surprise that people are reluctant to see it.

Granted there have been black directors who have dealt with slavery before in films, such as Haile Gerima (Sankofa), Charles Burnett (Nightjohn) and soon Steve McQueen when his 12 Years a Slave comes out next year. Though I find it interesting that of those three I named, only one is African American – the other two being British and Ethiopian. Which comes back to a piece I wrote for S & A a year and half ago about why a serious film about slavery is so hard to be made – the reason being, as I said, “simply that we, even in this day and age, still have way too much psychological and emotional pain and baggage still associated with slavery.”

Which brings us to Django Unchained and what it is not.

It is not the definitive, ultimate film about slavery, and it was never intended to be that. It is, after all, a Hollywood studio movie made for the main purpose of entertainment. What it is, is a fantasy of sorts. A sort of wish fulfillment of what one wishes might have been, of black avengers righting wrongs. A black hero who goes through hell and high water to save his damsel in distress.  There have been a million movies like that with white characters, so what’s wrong with having a black one doing that for a change?  When was the last time you saw a black man on the screen going through the gates of hell and back again with one single purpose in mind, to save the women he loves? I'm think like, never.

Some have called Django a “black revenge” film and there’s nothing wrong with that, though some have complained about it. I don’t recall anyone complaining about Jewish revenge films like Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, Spielberg’s Munich or Edward Zwick’s Defiance. Didn’t hear a peep.  No one had a problem. But seeing a black man getting payback against slave owners, and suddenly people, lots of them black, start getting hot under the collar.

Something else is that, though the film is very funny at times, none of the humor comes from scenes involving slavery or the degradation of black people. In fact, it’s just the opposite. There are painful and quite disturbing scenes of the brutal treatment of black people being whipped, branded with hot irons, and torn apart by rabid dogs. It’s violent, brutal and extremely ugly. Not for the squeamish or more sensitive types. The point is that that, this is what happened and even worse atrocities than that. Would you rather see a film that tries in some way to reveal the horrors of slavery, or Halle Berry in Queen?

But after all that, what’s the deal on Django in the final run?

The result is, as far as I’m concerned, simply fantastic! In fact, I consider Django one of Quentin Tarantino’s strongest films, far better than Basterds, which tended to meander into other subplots, interrupting the basic dramatic flow of the main story. Django is all of one piece, with a forward moving narrative.

And for a film running 165 minutes, it moves. It never feels draggy or long winded. And like all of Tarantino’s films, it features all his own trademarks. There’s the mixture of film genres. Django is a wild mixture of Blaxploitation films such as Slaughter’s Big Rip -Off, the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci, Goodbye Uncle Tom, Blazing Saddles, Mandingo, and the late 60’s TV western show The Outcasts, which I wrote about HERE , with an eclectic soundtrack featuring everything from Ennio Morricone’s music for Two Mules for Sister Sara, Verdi’s Requiem to Rick Ross.

No doubt, people will criticize the extreme violence in the film where bullets seemingly tear out chunks of people bodies when they get hit. But that's historically accurate. Large caliber bullets during the 19th century traveled more slowly and were made of heavier material and as a result would rip out people’s flesh. If you didn’t die from the shot, you would bleed to death screaming in agonizing pain, as a lot of people do in Django.

And of course there’s Tarantino’s patented technique of long dialogue scenes that slowly rise in tension to a sudden climax, before reverting, and then building again in suspense to a more explosive and violent final climax.

And there are his quirky choices in casting including, Walton Goggins, the original Django himself, Franco Nero in an amusing cameo bit, Lee Horsley (from that ABC detective show Matt Houston back in mid- 80’s – where did he find him?), Don Johnson who is great as evil plantation owner, Bruce Dern,  to, of all people, Don Stroud, who played villain Ed McMahon’s enforcer and hit man in Slaughter’s Big Rip –Off.

As for the performances  all of them are terrific, but Leonardo DiCaprio must be the standout. As Calvin Candie, a plantation owner who breeds Mandingo fighters, he’s both charming and frightening at the same time. There always a glint of madness in his eyes. It is truly mesmerizing performance and one extended dinner table scene which starts off calmly, but turns into a truly frightening display of terror alone maybe his best work to date in a film is years.

Christoph Waltz is also charming and very charismatic as Dr. King Schultz the bounty hunter, who Django partners with. There’s a practiced theatricality in his style and mannerisms – half actor, half killer. What is interesting though is that unlike what people have been thinking about his character is without seeing it; Schultz is no white savor. He’s a businessman and killer who sees Django as a means to an end to get what he wants. Something that Django quickly understands. If someone else could have provided that for him, Schultz could have gone with him. As a result, Django uses Schultz as an opportunity to get what he wants – his wife back and bloody revenge.

Jamie Foxx’s performance as Django is much more subtle and complex. Some will complain that he doesn’t seem to say much in the film, but that’s missing the point that’s right in front of them. Django is, like Schultz  an opportunist, but unlike him, for a righteous cause. Once freed of his shackles, he quickly leans the tricks of trade of being a bounty hunter, and becomes his own man. Something that he always was, even before the chains came off. Something  he does to one of the traders who was transporting him at the beginning of the film reveals that. After learning the ropes of the bounty hunting trade and being a natural deadly shot, he takes his situation into his own hands; and what is the most pivotal scene halfway through the film, tells Shultz that, from then on things will be done his way and they are. This is not the white savior/black pupil situation that some feared their relationship would be in the film.

Samuel L. Jackson is a horse of a different color, playing what is essentially the King of Uncle Toms. It’s actually a rather brave role for Jackson to play. A character who is meant to be despised and loathed, kowtowing to his white master DiCaprio, and doing everything he can to subvert and undermine Django. He’s so despicable that I suspect even white people in the audience will have nothing but contempt for him. In many ways he’s a parody of the devoted slave stereotype seen in countless antibellum plantation movies of the 1930’s and 40’s, usually played by an actor like Clarence Muse, but taken to an even more extreme level.

Kerry Washington, one would argue, compared to the other actors, is underdeveloped in term is characterization. Yes she is brutalized and whipped, though not raped in the film. But one must argue that, that’s what happened back then. The ugly reality is that black women were considered chattel. But nevertheless, Washington’s character is yet strong and resilient. If she is not as fully fleshed out as the other major characters, is perhaps the film’s only shortcoming.

No doubt people will be upset with my take on the film (I can hear the angry comments already), but that’s what Django does. It demands an emotional response whether you like it or not. Tambay will soon give his opinion on the film which I suspect will be far different than mine. That’s great as far as I’m concerned. I wish there were more films that could create this sort of furious debate and conflicted feelings.

But I absolutely love and was blown away by Django Unchained, and I can’t wait to see it again, and again after that.

In a way I’ve been waiting to see a film like this about a black hero for the last 30 years.

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Enoch mubarak

The person that wrote this article has no business in this business because if this is as deep as his perspective can delve into the movie, motives, intent and minds of the movie goers to believe that the essence of discussion and dissent is because…

" seeing a black man getting payback against slave owners, and suddenly people, lots of them black, start getting hot under the collar"- sergio

then this guy should only be allowed to write with crayons. The entire article reads like it is written by someone that dropped out of school early to avoid the June rush.

Sincerely, Enoch Mubarak
President/CEO Mubarak Inter-prizes


Wonderful commentary. The only point that perplexes me is your bit on Kerry Washington not being raped as female chattel were during slavery. Although she is not raped on screen, Tarantino added multiple allusions to her being raped. First with Django and Schultz's talk about her being a "comfort girl" (or something along those lines) as well as at the table when Jackson's character referred to the sexual abuse she lived through at the hands of the "Mandingos." I think that a rape scene wouldn't add to the film, especially since they made it clear that that was indeed already her purpose as a slave.


Looking forward to seeing the film. I did not have the opportunity to read the script, Thank God!! I think what QT added and removed from the script will reflect his style. Will only judge the film on how it is carried out on screen.


we need "A black hero who goes through hell and high water to save his damsel in distress." With Hollywood erasing black women from films, too see so many of us on the screen in this and The Help, can't imagine what reaction will be.

OMG I spent nearly a week answering questions, debating, and nurturing wounds of others that resurface after the movie Flight. Seriously, the movie Flight with Denzel Washington. I say a week, only because I left the chatter. Women, not just black women, were up in arms over Flight so I can imagine what Django will do. My timeline can't wait for me to see it and give my view. I've sworn I will see it Christmas morning.


I'm just going to say that OF COURSE the lack of characterization for Kerry Washington's character would be seen as "minor" to you.

This was, in fact, my biggest complaint after reading that draft, that she was merely a motivational object. And honestly? I'm disturbed by the fact that she isn't raped as would most certainly happen.

Tarantino, who is so "brave" would flinch from that bit of reality, but he has no problem coming up with creative uses for the word nigger.

Avid S&A reader

Where is CareyCarey when I need him? Now that Tambay has given his expected "rendition" and Sergio has cleaned it up with his real-deal express, I now need CareyCarey to kill it off. Has anyone "seen" Carey?


Leonardo DiCaprio as the stand out?!?! Did we see the same film? Christoph Waltz stole the whole movie. The only one who came close to him was Samuel L. DiCaprio was an awkward villain in my opinion, which I think was more of a flaw in his characterization than DiCaprio's acting in itself. But Waltz was mesmerizing from start to finish. And his arc–going from profitting from slavery to whole-heartedly disgusted by the degradation was executed brilliantly.


As I commented on Tambay's review post, I look forward to this post, and all of the insightful, passionate comments. After having seen the film at an AMPAS screening last week, I can at least pass my two cents. It's all Tarantino in tone and taste. Darkly comic, openly explotative, cartoonishly violent, testosterone-driven, sociopolitially simple. That being said it's a good slavery-revenge/spaghetti-western mashup flick; a beautifully-shot mess in every way but performance; the committed cast chewed up every minute. Very likely to see it again… vigilance.


I will be seeing this film, bootleg of course. They won't get a dime out of me.

Professor X

Check out an article on about how most neocon whites think that Jamie Foxx truly wants to kill all white people:


I read the script Online and am happy to learn that the grapes are gone. I was far less concerned about the racial element than I was about the treatment of black women. It still appears that the portrayal of black women leans toward them being complicit in their enslavement, but I'll withhold judgment until I see the final product. As far as it being a black revenge fantasy, why is that so wrong? No one screamed about the revisionist history of "Inglorious Bastards". I suspect anyone disturbed by evil, white slave owners being blown away by someone who experienced the brutality of slavery has some personal racial issues to deal with. As my mama says "If you throw a stone into a pack of dogs, the one that yelps is the one that got hit."


This is the first review I have read that has given me hope this may be a film worth seeing after all.

Agent K

I love it how some people buy into the notion that black people are the only one's that raise complaints about certain films as if other races don't. Do we have to be passive on every project that comes out with black people in the cast? Especially ones made by white people? I'm sorry "Caucasians". Wouldn't want to offend them.

willie dynamite

Great review Sergio, solid stuff. I did read the script which is why I was ready to hate on the film but a lot of what was in that script, like the multiple rapes of Broomhilda, is not in the film and the film's structure was tightened. In reading some of the comments it is easy to give QT the side eye based on that script. I think QT realized his early draft missed the mark due to his lack of perspective, which is why we probably have to give his producer Reggie Hudlin some credit. Reggie Hudlin is a black man from East St. Louis. I am sure he played a huge role in helping the film become what it was.


Another reviewer Gabe Toro who gave the movie a B said "Django teaches his horse to pimp walk", is that true?


Not angered by your comments at all. I do look forward to seeing these actors and their character play and how it aligns with what you posit here. I am a bit perplexed by what you say of Broomhilda and how her character isn't fully fleshed out. Had Tarantino done so with Kerry's character, do you think it would have changed your take on the film? I see what could be done with her character as another narrative altogether. You mention DiCaprio's role as a slaveowner who breeds slaves for fighting and I instantly think of Lance Horner/Kyle Onstott and his/their work Mandingo. Tarantino spoke of wanting to pursue other slavery-era films? He's definitely a lot to draw from—even if to present a work that's more entertaining than the usual woeful, historical drama. Thanks for your thoughts.

Monroe Anderson

Good review, Sergio.

Charles Judson

Having seen the film last week I side with Sergio on a lot of what he says. Especially about this not being a White Savior film. Schultz's character doggedly adheres to the laws and mores of Slavery not to subvert or violate them, but to work within them to achieve his ends. Even when he offers to help get Broomhilda it's not initially a Dirty Dozen style proposition, it's pitched as the legal way to do it. It's also ably demonstrated several times that Django had a sense of self long before Schultz arrived and even as property created what life he could. There's a revealing moment when Schultz and Django don't see eye to eye that both illustrates Django's own code (every hero has to have one) and subtly hints at what kind of slave Django was. I don't think the film is perfect though. I started to feel the 165 minutes near the end, and it suffers from false-ending syndrome, and in terms of character, Schultz and Candie feel more fleshed out. HOWEVER. HUGE HOWEVER. Django is meant to be a nearly pure heroic archetype. He's Yojimbo, the Man with No Name, etc. He's a walking myth. He's to Shaft what the Lone Ranger was to The Green Hornet. As part of a long legacy of cinematic heroes, Django fits in easily.


I find it fascinating that the comments so far seem to be disappointed with the fact that Sergio didn't slam the movie, like Tambay apparently will, based on what Sergio seems to be hinting at. All I know is that I've also seen the movie, and I agree for the most part with Sergio: the flick is less a history lesson than it is a rollicking exercise in black hero building, even as the hero's presence seems to fade in and out of the picture as it rolls along… I personally loved it…

Django's suit speaks

Black hero in an pre civil war movie in an electric blue Steve Harvey suit with bows at the chin


Your characterization of Sam's character vs Leo is interesting.
He is more dispectable than the slaveowner?

Some of these reviews I have seen reveal more about how the reviewer feels about slavery than the film.


People are silly. People will go in droves to see Precious and For Colored Girls and watch stupid stereotypical characters like in True Blood but a movie about a slave who saves his wife actually played by a black woman this time around people have problems with. Now I know why Hollywhite doesn't finance black films, because we're always bitchin'.

Monique A Williams

People still crying about the script? Get over it! QT isn't Black, he doesn't have this burden of responsibility and maybe, just maybe, that allows him to make a more interesting film. For real.


@ Peter
Thanks for the on Inglorious Bastards link.
I hate it when people say black people raise issues about xyz and claim other groups don't.
When in fact they do


This was more of a review about what black people think about the movie than the movie it's self.
Where's the beef? This is the second review I have read like this. First Trey Ellis on the Huffington post. Both of you mentioned some people being ashamed of slavery.
There is something deeply wrong with the notion that a movie created in the mind of a white guy helps any black person to not be ashamed of slavery. I find that to be very odd.
People can't have it both ways. One second it's a fantasy film and the next people talk about it like it's a documentary.

I will see the film for free.

Andre Morton

While scripts do change during the writing and production process early drafts of of any project offer telling revelations of the author's intent and what themes are being wrestled with. As artists, students and scholars of the craft of cinema we cannot divorce the finished product from it's origins without limiting our own understanding of the work itself.

Tarantino's oeuvre from Reservoir Dogs to Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown has always displayed a very complicated often unflattering look at race relations that more often than not borders on fetishism and not so subtle derision. And while he has given Samuel Jackson some his most memorable roles and reminded the world of the power that is/was(?) Pam Grier it would be a long shot to hail him as a champion of diaspora.

The leaked script for Django revels in both fetishism and revulsion so deeply it is difficult for even the most open minded reader to not be disturbed. With the endless use of pejorative terms like "nigger, garboon, show ponies, black pudding, and mandingo" in the stage directions alone, is enough to make anyone ask "WTF Quentin?"

The larger issue isn't why the uproar about a black revenge film, after all the only thing QT has done for the past decade is revenge films, but isn't there a danger in revisionist historical fantasy for entertainment's sake when the source of that narrative is suspect at best?

After a thorough read of the script one has to believe the subconscious mind of Tarantino lies closer to the character of Calvin Candie than it does to King Shultz. His proclivity toward black objectification aligns him closer to benevolent slaver than it does to foreign emancipator.

Peter Labuza

Just to make one correction, there was a HUGE discussion over the role of "Jewish revenge" with Basterds. Probably most adamantly from Jonathan Rosenbaum:


What I'm hoping your review is not saying, is that they removed the references to black women as "show ponnies" and the over 200 uses of the "N" word and gratuitous rape scenes that were in the original script. True scripts do change drastically after much development, and since none of this has been present in the reviews or the trailer I've seen, then I'm hoping it's not in the film. You may want to go back and read that original script and see why people are ready to be up at arms about this movie. If it truly gives it's hero as much dignity as you describe, and as much as the Jewish people were allowed to have in "Inglorious Basterds," then I may actually watch it. If you're sugar coating it to trick people into watching yet another blaxploitation film, then shame on you.

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