December 13, 2013
‘Django Unchained’ takes place in 1858, three years prior to the Civil War* and five years prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.
Django is a film about an enslaved Black man willing to do anything to rescue his wife, Broomhilda, and free her from slavery, while mocking inadvertently and overtly slave masters, overseers, and the institution of slavery, revenge and violence. She is the property of Calvin Candie, owner of the notorious Candyland plantation, a devotee/breeder of slave-on-slave Mandingo fighting and an all around horrible human being.
Edna Greene Medford, a professor and the chair of Howard University's history department, on Mandingo fighting: "My area of expertise is slavery, Civil War, and reconstruction and I have never encountered something like that. It was rumored to have occurred. I don't know that it was called Mandingo Fighting, however, but there were all sorts of things going on in the South pitting people against one another. To the death, I've never encountered anything like that, no. That doesn't mean that it didn't happen in some backwater area, but I've never seen any evidence of it."1
This plot brings to life the reality of enslaved people having their families torn apart, children sold away from parents, wives and husbands split up, in pursuit of profit for the slave master and to punish people for not meekly submitting to the evils inflicted by slavery.
In the opening scene, Django is being marched from one plantation to be sold to another owner, with his feet chained together and chained to the feet of the other men being walked with him, and with chains on his hands. Later, white townspeople are shocked and horrified by the sight of a Black man on a horse. “Quentin Tarantino says the brutal abuse of black slaves pales in comparison to the violence that was commonplace during the slavery era. The director told reporters ahead of the launch of the movie in Germany that ‘the truth, or the reality, was a thousand times worse than what I showed.’”2
Two enslaved men are forced to fight for the enjoyment of their masters, and the winner is given a hammer to bash in the skull of the other slave he defeated. Broomhilda is put naked in the “hot box” for trying to escape from the plantation. Django is hung upside down and threatened with having his testicles cut off. Django voices fear that Broomhilda will be made a “comfort woman,” subject to being raped by any white man connected with the plantation.
Richard Brody wrote in The New Yorker, "Tarantino rightly depicts slavery as no mere administrative ownership but a grievous and monstrous infliction of cruelty. The movie shows slaves forced into fights to the death for the entertainment of owners, and one fighter ripped to death by dogs when he refuses another bout. Whipping, branding, cruel punishment, and casual murder are the lot of slaves and the caprice of owners..." According to legal historian Thomas D. Morris, “Whatever the variations the trend was clear. Unless slaves resisted or died under a moderate correction for some misconduct, their killing usually would be placed on a level with the homicide of whites. For example, the 1860 Mississippi case of Oliver v. State charged the defendant with murdering his own slave. Beginning in 1822, slaves in Mississippi were protected
by law from cruel and unusual punishment by their owners. However, it should be noted that there have been many documented cases of abuse.”3
In an early scene, bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz and Django travel to the plantation run by Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett. Schultz insists that Big Daddy’s people must treat Django, as a freed man and his personal valet, as an extension of Schultz. The order is given, but the slave it is given to is confused. Does that mean Django is to be treated as a white person? More confusion. Southern hospitality means