Sunday, January 27, 2013

'Django Unchained', a Tarrantino movie that distanced itself from the true facts of slavery

I went to see Django Unchained a couple of weeks ago. I avoided critics and what others were saying about the movie. I wanted to get my own impression of  Django Unchained. I love Jamie Foxx and Samuel Jackson, two characters in the movie. Having already watched a couple of Quentin Tarrantino movies I expected to see necessary violence, coupled with gratuitous violence. Taking a line from Langston Hughes’ poem, Mother to Son: “I’se still climbin’, And for me it ain’t been no crystal stair.” From my reading of history I knew that life for slaves was “no crystal stair.” Their life was nowhere close to what Tarrantino depicts in this movie. 

Jamie Foxx as Django, wearing sunshades
I am not a regular moviegoer, so when I Goggled the word “Django” I was surprised to see that a previous Django movie was produced in 1966. The film, an Italian western, was directed by Sergio Corbucci.

“Jamie Foxx is Django, whom we meet when he’s being transported with other slaves. He’s rescued by a somewhat abolitionist-minded German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who schools him in the ways of tracking down and killing men. Django becomes the Robin to his Batman, but he wants one thing in return: to go back to the Mississippi plantation where his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), is still enslaved and free her.” (Forth Worth Star Telegram review).

Christoph Waltz ( Dr. Schultz) and Jamie Foxx in town
What caught my attention, soon after Schultz purchased Django from paddyrollers was them riding into town. The town's people were aghast. A slave riding a horse like he was a free White man! And he was pistol strapped, wearing a hat and regular clothing!

Prior to coming to town Schultz and Django shot the paddyrollers, leaving captured run-a-ways to escape to a freedom that did not exist for slaves. Django took clothes and boots off one the dead men. By coincidence they fit him. The time period was 1858, three years before the "Proclamation Emancipation" was issued by President Abraham Lincoln.

As a slave Django had no access to a barber; therefore, it was reasonable that his hair was nappy and bushy. In a scene following a quick shootout between Schultz and some gangsters wanted dead or alive, they went into the town’s salon. The owner did not make a fuss about serving a slave. He did not say, “I don’t serve no nigger slave in here!” Or “What you doin’ with that nigger slave in here?” Nor did he demand that they leave. By the time the two left town that day, the exslave was sporting a fade haircut! Remember this is 1858, and Foxx’s character had dropped his watered down slave dialect.

Call me picky, but obvious dangler after dangler caught my attention, like  Moses wearing a red wrist band in The Ten Commandments. Schultz and Django went to Candyland, the biggest plantation in the South, where slaves called DiCaprio’s character “Big Daddy”. Before riding up to the big house, Django spotted an overseer beating a slave. He quickly sprinted toward the overseer, snatched the whip and commenced beating him. He shoots the overseer six or seven times as slaves look on in admiration and amazement. 

Later in the movie, the The KKK scene was comedy  pure relief. Klansmen argued about the skewed eye cutouts in the cloth bags covering their heads. I didn't and don't understand what this particular scene added to the movie. Remember, the KKK was organized in 1865, soon after slaves were freed.

Throughout the movie, the sound track was absolutely contemporary, including rap! I could not believe it! Tarrantino did not bother to write an original soundtrack for Django Unchained.

Calvin Candie played by Leonardo DiCaprio
Django learned to read quickly, and just as quickly, he evolved into an expert marksman. I stared in disbelief when one of Candie’s guests asked Django how he pronounced his name. The Foxx character told him, explaining that the “D is silent.” A slave with knowledge of silent letters! Not even slave owners knew about consonants and silent vowels.

One of Candie’s in-house female slaves (see photo to the left) was dressed in a short black and white uniform, replete with heels, black stockings, pressed hair, neatly styled and decorated with a big white bow. She stood in the doorway as two slaves fought for the pleasure of Candie and his male guests. The winner hits the loser in his head with a hammer, killing him. This happened as the loser lay on the floor, moaning from his wounds. Candie and his guests demands that the victor take the loser out of his misery. DiCaprio’s character gives him a hammer to complete the deed. This slave is later mauled to death by hunting dogs. He does not want to fight anymore, but that is not his decision to make. Candie talks him down out of the tree, promising he won't have to fight anymore, which was a lie.

In addition to the movie going against everything related to the brutality of bondage, male slaves wore t-shirts, regular shirts and pants and haircuts. However, they were barefoot. Finally Stephen, the in-house Negro played by Samuel Jackson, comes on the scene when Schultz introduces Django to Candie, who instructs his help to treat Django like a “White man.” Of course this surprises Candie's White guests and the slaves standing around. Sam Jackson is unadulterated Pulp Fiction, talking loud and cursing strong. Like Django, he does not speak with a slave dialect. For some reason, Stephen hates Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington. When Schultz and Broomhilda, (Django's wife) and the property of Candie, sneaked a moment of privacy, they converse in German (with subtitles), even though both can speak English. The three of them do not let on that she is Django’s wife, who Schultz plans to buy back from Candie.

Stephen disrespected everyone in the dining room where Candie’s guests were dining. No way under God’s blue sky would a slave be allowed to rant, curse and bloviate like Jackson’s character. Such disrespect would have demanded a flogging to teach all the slaves a lesson about respect and knowing their place. In one scene, where Broomhilda is held at gun point by a slaver, an angry Stephen shouted at Django: “I don’t give a good goddamn about you! Believe that! We’re gonna blow this bitch’s brains out! Believe it!” Really, Tarrantino?

Stephen (Sam Jackson) and Broomhilda (Kerry Washington)
A gun fight breaks out inside the plantation. White men suddenly burst in the door. Bullets fly and all hell breaks loose. Blood sprouted from bodies like bleeding hydrants. Django survives, but is captured by an overseer, who hangs him upside down by his ankles in a barn, butt naked. The character was getting ready to castrate him when a Stephen entered the barn, saving a scared Django.  He gets dressed and goes back inside the plantation, killing the overseer that captured him. Still angry, he shoots Stephen in both knees, before blowing up the plantation. Blow up, mind you! Not set the plantation on fire! However, there is a subsequent fire. The movie ends with Django and Broomhilda on horses, both elaborately dressed.   

Django Unchained did not resemble the true horrors of slavery in America. Maybe I was looking for too much reality to take the movie seriously. It did well at the box office and in many cases, got good reviews from critics. There is even talk of an Academy Award. I have to agree with Spike Lee, despite my going to see the movie. Django Unchained was akin to a spaghetti western that disengaged itself from the horrors of slavery and the plight of  imported Africans who lived the horrors up close and personal.

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