On Christmas Day, thousands of Americans will be sitting in a darkened theater watching Jamie Foxx exact revenge on slave traders and slave masters in such a way that Hollywood has never imagined. And rightly so, “Django Unchained” is an American Western taking place during slavery in America, a dark period in American history that, according to writer, director and Academy Award-winner Quentin Tarantino, a subject everyone, Whites as well as Blacks, have chosen to ignore.
Set in the South two years before the Civil War, “Django Unchained” stars Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx as Django, a slave whose brutal history with his former owners lands him face to face with German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz). Schultz is on the trail of the murderous Brittle brothers, and only Django can lead him to his bounty. The unorthodox Schultz acquires Django with a promise to free him upon the capture of the Brittles dead or alive.
The plot thickens so to speak when the two go after the slave owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who owns Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Candie’s trusted slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), upon meeting and observing Django and Schultz, smells a rat, and deepens the drama when he reports his beliefs to his master.
The casting is top-notch, and who’d a thunk — Samuel L. Jackson, a backstabbing house slave? Ingenious!
Tarantino says, “I always wanted to do a movie that deals with America’s horrific past with slavery. But the way I want to deal with it is as oppose to doing a straight historical movie with a capital H. I actually thought it could be better if it was wrapped up in genre. I mean the thing is, it seems to me that so many Westerns did actually take place during slavery times [but filmmakers] have just bent over backwards to avoid it as is America’s way.”
Tarantino believes most other countries have been forced to deal with the atrocities that they have committed. He continued, “It’s kind of everybody’s fault here in America — White, Black nobody wants to deal with it, nobody wants to stare at it.”
Tarantino lamented the “zillions” of stories, slave narratives basically gone untold. He says the common thinking in Hollywood is that there are no new stories. He disagrees, pointing out true and exciting American stories, some adventurous, or heartbreaking, and often triumphant that could be told. He said, “I want to be on the first ones out the gate with it.”
He is absolutely correct. I’ve been collecting and researching stories of courageous Black men and women who survived slavery and attained great heights — incredibly brave men like Bass Reeves. Born to slave parents in 1838 in Paris, Texas, Reeves would become the first Black U.S. deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River and one of the greatest frontier heroes in our nation’s history. But for the most part he is lost in the unclaimed archives of American history.
It is quite possible that if “Django Unchained” is a cinematic success, or if slave narratives become a new resource for Hollywood writers, Tarantino would have started something wonderful and would indeed become the first out of the gate. I’m hoping this creative, thoughtful and outspoken filmmaker has started a whole new chapter in Hollywood filmmaking.
“Django Unchained” is nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, including Best Picture. To learn more about “Django Unchained” visit the website at http://unchainedmovie.com/.
“Django Unchained” in theaters Christmas Day.
Gail can be reached at gail@hollywoodbychoice.com