Django Unchained - Official Trailer (HD)
Django Explained: Westernization, Blaxploitation and Domination
Before we get into my take on the film, am I the only person that immediately thought about the Dave Chappelle skit Haters In Time? That was the skit where the “Haters” travel back in time to a southern plantation and murders a White overseer- watch it and holla back at me. Okay, the most recent cinematic effort by Quentin Tarantino is the “controversial” film Django Unchained. The film is set in the antebellum south and revolves around the former dentist, turned successful bounty hunter, Dr.King (yes, the German’s name was Dr. King and he freed Black people) Schultz (Christoph Waltz), freed slave, turned deputy bounty hunter, Django Freedman (Jamie Foxx), Django’s wife, Broomhilda von Shaft (Kerry Washington), “Candie Land’s” eccentrically racist plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the despicable Uncle Tom, Stephen (Samuel Jackson).
Django Unchained is an adaptation of the 1966 Italian Spaghetti Western film Django, directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero as Django. The original Django was a trigger-happy, lone gunman, known for dragging his mysterious wooden coffin through the desert, stopping only to go to war with two equally murderous factions: a posse of Mexican bandits, and the ex-Confederate Klu Klux Klansmen wreaking havoc in an aesthetically typical Spaghetti Western town, all while stealing the hearts of the unsuspecting women who crossed his path. As the original movie trailer states Django is an, “audacious man of action, capable of a tender hopeless love that could only last a day, but a day that was worth an eternity.” But, Tarantino is a cinematic interpretive bricoleur of sorts, as he employs a multitude of diverse film genres, tied together by his own personal history, standpoint, social class, race, gender and generation to make up his brand of elaborate pulp fictions.
So, we have established that Django is a contemporary Spaghetti Western, but what about the subgenre of the Spaghetti Western known as Zapata Westerns? In Zapata Westerns the two main characters of the film would be an uninformed Mexican peon who is ignorant about the politics/inner workings of the Mexican Revolution, and a gringo (White) outsider (normally European), who is in some way involved in the Mexican Revolution. In most of the Zapata Western films, the European gringo manipulates the Mexican peon into joining the revolution, for his own personal gain, for the benefit of an outside influence, or often for the outsider’s own amusement.
Wait a second, we can’t forget about the obvious Blaxploitation influences throughout Tarantino’s Django Unchained. I could write an entire piece on Blaxploitation films and their influences on the works of Mr. Tarantino, but I digress, we are focusing on Django Unchained. Before moving forward, l want to give a brief explanation of the Blaxploitation film genre.Blaxploitation is a genre of cinematic projects that emerged in the 1970s, and Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is credited as being the blueprint to the Blaxploitation film genre. Blaxploitation films were originally created, specifically for inner city Black audiences, armed with the capability of creating Black heroes on the big screen. In fact, the leader of the Black Panther Party (BPP), Huey P. Newton celebrated/welcomed Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song forits revolutionary implications, and Sweetback became required viewing for members of the BPP. The commercial success of Van Peebles’ film alerted Hollywood to the lucrative/previously untapped Black film going audience and Hollywood stepped in and exploited blackness, creating a slew of films centered on cartoon-like, one-dimensional characters, devoted to cheap, visceral thrills like sex, pimping and violence. Racial stereotypes abounded, often focusing on the white mythology of black hyper-sexuality in both men and women. As with the Spaghetti Western and the Zapata Western, Blaxploitation films had subsequent sub genres and one of those sub genres was the Blaxploitation Western. Tarantino’s Django Unchained evokes a trilogy of “Blaxploitation Westerns dating from the early 1970s, all starring the football-player-turned-actor Fred Williamson: The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972), The Soul of Nigger Charley (1973), and Boss Nigger(1975)” (Harris). Fred Williams The “Boss Nigger” and his sidekick are former slaves turned bounty hunters, paid to kill any White men wanted by the law- it was business and pleasure. Okay, now we have touched upon the 1960s with the Spaghetti Westerns and its sub genre the Zapata Westerns, leading to the 1970s with Blaxploitation films and its sub genre the Blaxploitation Western- now we will touch upon the 1980s and the prevalence of the interracial buddy films.
Though the interracial buddy cinematic concept wasn’t born in the 1980s, it surely became a blockbuster Hollywood draw during this decade. In the Interracial buddy film the Black performer functions as a sidekick to the White buddy who is always the buddy calling all of the shots. Here, allow me to refresh your memory…I want you to think about Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy, Richard Pryor and Scott Schwartz in The Toy, and damn near every film that Eddie Murphy was in during the 80s (Trading Places, 48 Hours, and Beverly Hills Cop). I wonder if we can consider ESPN’s First Take staring Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless to be a pseudo-journalistic version of the buddy film? Maybe I can write about that in a different blog- again I digress. We have added the Buddy Film explosion of the 1980s to the 1960s Spaghetti Westerns and the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s leading us to the 1990s “Indie Film” Movement, and the birth of Quentin Tarantino as an American movie making icon. But there is one “controversial” film genre that we have yet to cover when it comes to explaining Django Unchained.
Now, I mentioned the word “controversial”, but the question is what has made this film so “controversial”? Is it the film’s sheer focus on the always-touchy topic of the bloody history/legacy of slavery in America? Is it the fact that Quentin Tarantino is a white man making a film about slavery, thus defining slavery from a white man’s imagination? Could it be that Quentin Tarantino is adding his signature dark humor to the hellish conditions of slavery, thus reducing the perpetual pain of a people to quirky moments of laughter and irony? Maybe it’s the use of the word “Nigger” an estimated 112 times in the course of one film? Spike Lee took his views of the film to Twitter saying that, “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.” Could the film be viewed as “controversial” for it’s diversification of whiteness (Germans, Spanish, Americans, and Australian) involved in the film and their varied degrees of racialized ignorance? Maybe we should view the film as being “controversial” for Broomhilda running away from “Candie Land”, possibly to avoiding the fate of becoming a “comfort girl”, responsible for forced sexual satisfaction of the “Mandingo Fighters” as well as the slavers and the slave owners. This would be counter to the prevailing narrative of the time (and in many ways it still continues today) that African slave women were Jezebels that could not be raped, because they were sexual beasts that wanted to be penetrated at all times, by all men. Now that I think about it, could the controversy be couched in Django controlling his silent “D”, dangling in-between his legs when around White women, also presenting a counter narrative of the pussy craving predator, known as the Brute, that couldn’t control his libido around the lily white beauty of a Southern White woman, leading him to instinctual rape? Or could the “controversy” rest in the subverted film genre of BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism and Masochism) and its roots in slavery.
Okay, this is the point in the essay where you think to yourself, “This dude Left is buggin-out”, but hear me out and allow me to explain. BDSM represents a continuum of erotic and non-erotic practices, involving sensory stimulation, restraint and role-playing. Two of the common Western terminologies for the roles/power dynamics within BDSM relationships are Tops, (the dominant partner in the relationship or activity who are physically/mentally controlling the other partner) and Bottoms (the submissive partner in the relationship or activity who are being physically/mentally controlled by the Top). This hierarchical interaction between Tops and Bottoms (where the Bottom is succumbing to the physical and/or mental control of the Top) is also known as a power exchange. Tarantino most famously (and obviously) employs a BDSM sexual Scenein the film Pulp Fiction.
The “controversial” scene where Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) and Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) are abducted by Maynard (the pawn shop owner) and Zed (The man dressed in a police officer costume) and are forced into the Dungeon to participate in a bizarre Scene that they had no desire to ever enter. It is also at this point that we are introduced to The Gimp. “What is The Gimp?” you might ask? The word “gimp” is a colloquial term denoting disability of walking due to crippling of the legs or feet - and whilst this is part of sexual gimping it doesn’t adequately describe the whole concept of being a gimp. Within the bondage and fetish community, a gimp is a de-personalized and immobilized human. They are turned into a mere object to be used in whatever way the owner desires. Mostly they are used as “fuck toys.” A gimp is a slave. A gimp is de-humanized/de-personalized by being covered head to toe, with the body’s orphus’ easily accessible, either by being visible or concealed beneath a zip or removable patch. But this head to toe covering (like that of The Gimp in Pulp Fiction) also functions as a black skin that recreates/maintains New World historical master/slave domination continuity via situational subjugation and subordination while covered in an Old Guard leather gimp suit. With all of that said, I ask, who was the slave in this Scene, was it The Gimp or was it Marsellus Wallace? In thinking about The Gimp we can ask ourselves questions like: is The Gimp a willing participant in his subjugation and subordination? Is The Gimp a previously captured prisoner who is being trained like an animal and now normalizes the treatment he receives in his transformation into gimphood? Is The Gimp a captor (like Butch and Marsellus) who actually wants to escape but is obediently role playing waiting for the right time to liberate himself, making him a runaway sex slave? Or is The Gimp a ProDom (professional dominant) that is paid for his services as a Gimp? We are not sure, but what we are sure of is that Marsellus Wallace is a captured prisoner (that becomes a sodomized sexual slave) that wants to escape and his “Gimp Suit” is his actual Black skin. The scene also serves as a macabre metaphor for the police (Zed) always fucking “Niggas” over and (with the film being set in Los Angeles) lends a new meaning for the Hip-Hop classic N.W.A. record Fuck the Police. The Scene comes to a conclusion when Butch (a White male) escapes, knocks The Gimp unconscious (leaving the sex slave hanging as if he had been lynched) and comes to the aide of Marsellus (a Black male) by cutting/penetrating the DM (Maynard) with a samurai sword (befitting the BDSM trope Knife play) leading to the liberation/ eradication of the anal emasculation that was taking place for Mr. Wallace. Marsellus ends the Scene via castration/Genitorture of Zed with a double barrel shotgun (befitting the BDSM troupe Gunplay) while letting Butch, Zed (and the voyeur/movie going audience) know that he was, “going to call a couple of hard pipe hittin Niggas to go to work on”, Zed with, “a pair of pliers and a blowtorch…” The blowtorching that Mr. Wallace speaks is befitting the BDSM troupe Fire play, but it also is the moment where Marsellus (the formerly forced Bottom) becomes the Sadist Dominant Top, letting Butch, Zed and the voyeur/movie going audience know that he was about to get, “medieval” on Zed’s “ass.” The question now is, “how does this play into Django Unchained?” In this final section of this long ass blog piece I will tie it all together (BDSM bondage pun intended).
If we are viewing Django Unchained with BDSM in mind, we can look at a film set in the brutal and inhumane system of slavery in the Americas and being the space and origin/period for a host of BDSM’s terminologies. The master/slave relationship, the practice of being auctioned off, seasoning/Training, all are BDSM terminologies rooted in the slave trade and slaving culture. Lets look at the Scene in the film where the “Nigger Gal” referred to her Master as “Big Daddy”, we can see that the Master isn’t the “Nigger Gal’s” paternal father, this is what would be known in the BDSM world as Ageplay. This Ageplay can also be seen as having its roots in plantation paternalism and antebellum patriarchal domination. How about the sadistic erotic fetishism involved in the infliction of pain primarily Black men) throughout the film by way of Mandingo Fights, flagellation (Erotic spanking), mutilation and torturous murder (think about how excited/aroused the men were when the runaway Mandingo Fighter was ripped to pieces by dogs)? If we want to be specific, and put a face to the Dominant, Sadist master within this film, you need to look no further than Calvin Candie.
Calvin Candie is the films main antagonist. “Monsieur Candie” (as he preferred to be called) is the inheritor/owner of Mississippi’s, “Candie Land”, the most feared plantation in the South. Calvin Candie amasses his wealth from forcing male slaves to fight to the death in Mandingo fights and running a brothel in Greenville in his Cleopatra Club, thus making him (by professional trade) a pimp/slave master (I could go on a tangent about concubinage in the 1850s and quadroon balls, but I need to stay focused). Slave mastery, pimping and serving as a Mandingo Fighter GM (think Black football players, the gladiatorial nature of the sport, in conjunction with the buying/selling/trading of Black bodies in the NFL) is what we see on the surface, but what lies beneath that is the pleasure that Monsieur Candie took in the bloody entanglement of two Mandingos passionately fighting to the death. Do you remember the Scene where we are introduced to Calvin Candie and the Mandingo fighting in the film? Monsieur Candy was experiencing an Endorphin rush. He was caught up in the rapture of lust. He had a fetish for Black on Black male violence. The Scene climaxes when Monsieur Candie’s prized “fighting Nigger” (at Candie’s command) penetrates the eyes (orifices) of another “fighting Nigger” while on top of him, as he lay dominated on the bottom, defeated. The Scene is concluded with a phallic symbol (hammer) bashing the scull of the bottom- Calvin Candie was satisfied. The Training was complete.
I could do this all day, but I will conclude with the Scene where Django had just taken on the role of the submissive in the film, where he gives up his guns after a bloody gunfight with what seemed like every White man in Mississippi, it was literally a gang bang Scene. Django is entrapped in a Bondage Scene, where he is hanging upside down, partially naked in a barn-like area, wearing nothing but a tin mask (similar to that of African slaves in Brazil) and a contraption connected to his genitals. In walks Billy Crash (Walton Coggins). He awakens Django with a boot to the face and within seconds Billy Crash violently grabs the genitals of Django, threatening him with Cock and ball torture. This Genitorture was also in conjunction with the previously mentioned BDSM troupes of Fire Play, and Knife Play, as Billy placed his big black blade (yet another phallic symbol) in the flames, in preparation for a climactic castration. But Tease and denial was the fate of Billy Crash (not to mention eventually having his cock and balls blown off by Django), as Stephen (Samuel Jackson) came in and prevented Mr. Crash (and every other White man in “Candie Land”) from performing a Penectomy on Django.
Okay, I’m tired of writing and you’re tired of reading. You get the point. See you next time.