Quentin Tarantino" Film Django Unchained: a Study of Racism and Slavery

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The Untold Graphic Story on Slavery

When people watch movies it is usually for entertainment, but most movies usually bring up a social issue. A social issue helps to show people the main problem that is occurring in the movie or the point of the movie. For example, in Avatar, the social issue is the destruction of the environment. In the movie, humans are taking over and destroying the home of the native people, the Nav’i, in order to extract rare resources (industrialization). A movie can enhance people’s understanding of a social issue by presenting the issue from a different perspective. Many movies explore issues of racism and discrimination. Django Unchained is a great social commentary on racism and slavery because the film shows the extreme punishments that slaves received, it provides examples of physical discrimination against people of a certain race by a race that believes it is superior, and it tugs on the viewers emotions by using marriage to help the audience relate to the characters in order to emphasize the brutal emotional abuse they went through because of their race.

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In the film, Django Unchained, it showed slaves that were brutally treated both physically and mentally in the antebellum American South. The film starts off by showing four African slaves, including Django, walking in chains. Two white men were escorting them on horses. The slaves were walking through the Texas wilderness in the winter night with nearly no clothes and no shoes. Who knows what they could step on while walking through the mountains as well as catching hypothermia? They were forced to walk a long distance, but their fear of being physically abused if they stopped meant they did not need the motivation to walk the distance. Django Unchained includes some extremely graphic and violent scenes. Some critics state that it displays scenes that are exaggerated, but the film is actually fairly accurate with its depiction of the treatment of slaves. Slaves that ran away were punished severely; some were even put to death in front of other slaves. At one point in the film, it shows a slave who did not want to take part in anymore Mandingo Fighting so he ran away. Mandingo fighting is a fight to the death between two black slaves, similar to the slave fought gladiator battles of ancient Rome, and it was viewed as a sport in the eyes of slave masters. He was eventually caught. The young slave tried begging to Mr. Candie, his master, to not let him fight anymore. However, Mr. Candie showed no remorse. The slave’s punishment for attempting to escape was to have vicious dogs let loose on him, who then mauled, and ripped the slave apart until he was dead. In order to show the rationale of the main character’s hatred of slave owners, Quentin Tarantino spent many scenes of the movie showing some of the different punishments slaves endured, whipping being one of the most common. There is one specific hard-hitting scene because a young slave girl is dragged from the barn to a tree, where she is then tied to the tree, and then she is whipped. The scene shows each whiplash one at a time and the anguish of the slave increase with each strike. The camera even focuses on her back after each whiplash then to her face and then to the task manager. Another type of punishment was called the “hotbox”; it is a small metal box in the front lawn in which the slave is put into for a number of days, in the hot southern sun. The hot box is extremely horrible because the slaves are put in naked with just enough space to curl up while the sweat drips onto metal as hot as a frying pan burning the slave’s skin. These punishments are shocking in today’s standards but at that period in time not many people thought anything of them, they were common practices.

Although punishments were a big part of the film, so was discrimination. By showing the effects of discrimination from southerners, the audience receives a better understanding of what it was like to be looked down and viewed as a lesser being. Slavery in and of itself is the driving force behind all of the events in the movie. Slavery, as a system, promotes the discrimination of all those who meet the decided criteria to be a slave. In the first few scenes of the movie, Django is shown riding into town on a horse and is met with a swarm of disgusted, dirty, strange looks, because everyone believed black people shouldn’t be allowed to do things that whites did such as ride a horse. As the scene continued Django and Dr. Shultz entered the tavern and the owner was appalled that Django, by now a freed man, entered the bar. When Django didn’t leave the owner was shocked and so mad that he went in search of the sheriff to arrest Django for not following the law. African Americans were never meant to be equal in the eyes of the southerners, which is why slavery was accepted. Southerners viewed blacks as so inferior and so bound to the will of superior people, such as whites, that they used them as tools of entertainment for violent sports such as Mandingo fighting.

As if being punished, looked down upon, and doing hard labor wasn’t bad enough these slaves also received emotional abuse. The film does a great job of showing this because it gives us a main character whose wife, Broomhilda, was taken from him as punishment for an attempted escape. According to a critic review, “Broomhilda von Shaft is a powerful presence in Django Unchained”(Bobo); she is so critical since her and her relationship with Django creates relatability between the audience and the film. Django and Broomhilda are both slaves at a plantation who met and fell in love with each other. Marrying between slaves did not exist which is why they wanted to run away together. However, that didn’t work out for them. They were both caught and sentenced to punishment, for running away they were both branded with an “R” on their cheek to stand for runaway. Since Broomhilda was a house slave and should have known better, she was flogged on top of this. The scene shows her being whipped while Django tries to plead with the taskmaster to stop. It really grasps the attention of the audience, especially those who are couples because it makes them think what they would do if they were put in this situation. Afterward, the two were sold off separately to different masters. Django’s love of his life is taken away from him and he has no idea how to find her or if he will ever see her again. This is the whole storyline of the movie, him working to find and reunite with his wife. Django and Dr. Shultz work on a plan to find her. They end up finding out that a slave master called Mr. Candi owns her. When they arrive at the plantation, Django discovers that she tried to run away and was sentenced to the hot box. This just increases his anger, which most people can understand why, but he has to force himself to show no emotion when he hears of her else he would expose himself. After having to live apart without even a goodbye you can just imagine how hard it was to keep their excitement to themselves and eventually the head house slave, Stephan, found out. The whole plan was ruined. After a large shootout and several deaths, the two are separated again. These scenes just make the audience feel even worse for the two, they were so close to a happy ending and then everything fell apart. Django is sold off again, filled with anger he goes back willing to risk his life in order to rescue his wife. The whites in this film have done everything they can do besides killing the two in order to keep them apart; they even almost castrated Django. This really affects the characters emotional side because it creates the thought that no African American could live a happy life because the whites ruined everything. However, in the end, he and his wife go off into the sunset as free. The two endured enough emotional suffering and can now be a happily married couple.

Some people believe that Django Unchained was cheesy or just over the top but it still had the background information correct. Of course there was no bounty hunter who bought a slave, went on missions together, and ended up trying to find the man’s wife but the depiction of slavery and the mindset of the people was right. Just with any film, there will always be criticism, both good and bad. Django Unchained especially since it is on a very touchy issue. A famous director, Spike Lee, was very opposed to this film and said in an interview “the only thing I can say is, it’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film. It was a Holocaust. My ancestors are slaves. Stolen from Africa. I will honor them” (Samuels). This is why he himself never went to see the film. However, others loved the movie. Stephen Marche in Esquire, comparing the film to Lincoln and Red Tails, stated that Django Unchained “[is] a film that is in its own way as serious — perhaps even more serious in intent — than either Spielberg's or Lucas's [films].” It is because Django Unchained is not based on a true story like the other two films but the issues it presents could be argued as more serious than the other films. Stephen Marche goes further in his criticism by claiming, “one of this film's most brilliant tricks is that, while you are watching the filmic violence, the fact that these horrors really happened keeps intruding. The monstrosity of real history in the United States surpasses any pretend violence.” I felt the same way when I watched the movie, when you see scenes like the Mandingo fighting, dogs eating people, and even just how bad African Americans were looked down upon it makes you think there is no way this is true. However, as the movie continues it is hard not to believe it was this bad or possibly worse. Some people criticized the movie by saying the director is exaggerating the punishments but in fact he wasn’t. The only reason people said this is because no other film has shown us the graphic side of slavery, we all assume it was horrible but Tarantino gave gruesome examples of why it was truly terrible. He even justified the horrific scenes by saying, “I'm here to tell you, that however bad things get in the movie, a lot worse shit actually happened.” (Lang).

Django Unchained was a great film to show the issues of slavery and discrimination in the Deep South. People in America have seen movies regarding slavery but none are to the extent of this movie. This film truly gave viewers an inside on how slaves were viewed, especially punished and treated. It makes the audience feel some discomfort because of how graphic and horrific some scenes were, other films try to soften slavery but Django Unchained exploits it. Films like Django Unchained help change and reform social issues because it gives people different views in a more entertaining way to learn about various issues.

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