Updated: Apr 26, 2021
By Shakeiya Culzac
Critical Essay Winner, 2018 VSU Student Writing Contest
In Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, set in 1858, in the south of America two years before the civil war, a slave named Django is sold into slavery, and loses his wife named Broomhilda. While being transported through the woods in the cold, Django is encountered by a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz. Schultz offers Django a taste of freedom, in exchange for help with capturing wanted people such as, the Brittle Brothers. The two partner up and spend months working as bounty hunters killing white slavers. Throughout their journey together these two characters who seem opposites, but share financial and personal issues, depict many stereotypes throughout the film.
This film entirely displays cultural criticism, many of the black slaves played in the movie are shown being submissive to their masters, and follow the stereotypes set in stone about slaves. However, I enjoyed watching this film because Tarantino does a great job in using the main character Django to subvert these racial stereotypes through his rise to power. This film caught and held my attention for many different reasons. I’m accustomed to watching slave films that show only white superiority, but that is not the case in Django Unchained. Tarantino depicts a black man, not only as an equal to a white man, but as a black man with many privileges that other black man did not have at the time, such as killing white people. Tarantino also shows Schultz as one white man that doesn’t like slavery, and wants to help a few of them like Django. In one particular scene of the film, while beginning their journey, Dr. King Schultz accompanied by Django, ride through a town on horses catching everyone in the towns attention. The other characters watching both black and white, have trouble coming to terms with Django’s position on top of a horse, and not chained behind it. Blacks were not allowed to do these things at this time. In this scene showed Schultz looks at Django, and asks “What is everybody staring at,” (Django Unchained). Django replies, “they ain’t never seen no nigger on a horse before.’’ This was one of my favorite scenes in the film due to the comment made by Django. Tarantino depicts a black man with power that other black slaves were not allowed to have at this time. Tarantino does an excellent job in subverting the racial stereotypes against blacks throughout the film.
Blacks are we’re also stereotyped as dumb and uneducated in the film. It was seen as wrong for blacks to be educated and learn how to read or write. However, Tarantino subverts this idea with the use of Django who is able to read, and his wife Broomhilda that speaks German. This surprises many of the white characters in the movie. In another scene of the film Django is captured by three white men; however, he is able to outsmart them and convince them that he is a bounty hunter. This is where Django’s intelligence becomes important because they foolishly let him go. His intelligence plays a key part in the subversion of racial stereotype. The idea of a black man outsmarting the slave drivers would have been as outrageous at this time due to the stereotypes.
One thing that I didn’t like that Tarantino did with this film is the rapidly moving plot, many of the scenes happen so quickly, and then jump right into another. In his review, “A critical review of Django Unchained,” Todd Kushigemachi states in his review, “Critics were split on the film’s 165-minute running time, with some citing the length as exhausting and others finding it generous. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune suggested Tarantino is “a lousy self-editor” who “struggles with pacing and excess and detours.” I agree with this comment about Tarantino’s pacing in this film because he doesn’t really stay on one scene for to long, and may be hard to grasp for some people. Although, Tarantino isn’t afraid to hide the ugly truth in his film, and he exposes the reality of how people felt during this time.
This is a great movie for people who are interested in violence to watch. If you like to watch men shooting guns, seeing things blow up, and little comedy I recommend you watch this movie. Tarantino does a great job with his action scenes in the film, it’s almost hard to stay still in your seat with such gruesome details. Due to all the violence in this movie, I wouldn’t recommend children watching this film. This film is set in a historical time period; however, it is not historically fact. Therefore, don’t expect what you see to be true, or have actually taken place.
Stereotypes are widely used throughout films and real life. Tarantino subverts the myths and stereotypes that we as an audience are used to witnessing in cinema. It is our goal to become enlightened witnesses being more critically vigilant about the world we live in because it is not right that we are being stereotyped and demonized as the minority.
Django Unchained. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, performed by Jamie Fox, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Waltz, and Samuel L. Jackson. 2012
Kushigemachi, Todd. “A Critical Review of Django Unchained.” Variety 11 Feb. 2013. http://variety.com/2013/film/news/a-critical-review- of-django-unchained-1118065929/