We already know what you’re thinking: Not another movie about slavery. And please, gawd, not another Hollywood silver-screen saga of “The Great White Hope” saving some poor black folk from their wretched, unhinged lives. Those were my exact sentiments (replete with a side eye and blank stare) when I first learned about Quentin “I-love-using-the-n-word-every-chance-I-get” Tarantino’s slavery epic, “Django Unchained.” But something weird happened: we enjoyed it, twice!
Before you damn me to cotton-picking hell as a no-good, brainwashed sellout that has caused the black race to regress 400 years for giving this nearly three-hour tale a thumbs-up, hear me out. “Django” is an off the chain love story meets shoot-’em-up, good old fashioned Western. Don’t get it twisted: I am not romanticizing the brutal enslavement of my ancestors, but at the film’s core, it’s about a man willing to risk his life in the name of love, period. Immortalized by Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, Django (“the ‘D’ is silent”) is a branded runaway slave punished, sold and separated from his German-speaking, house-slave wife Hildie (Kerry Washington) also known as Broomhilda. As expected in any slave narrative, the black man endures skin-scarring, keloid-inducing whips, bone-crushing, muscle-swelling shackles and emasculating torture. However, Django’s spirit is neither broken nor submissive and his bleak reality never deters him from finding and rescuing his woman. Call us crazy and naïve but with such ridiculous stats and reasons why black women can’t find a good black man, it’s refreshing (even in the context of this fantasy flick) to see a brother fighting for a sister by any means necessary. But I digress.
Naturally, as a pre-civil war slave, Django can’t tackle a risky search-and-rescue mission alone. That’s where a chance encounter with the brilliantly bold Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German-born dentist-turned-trigger-happy bounty hunter that detests slavery, recruits Django in exchange for his freedom and a percentage of his rewards to help him identify and capture (dead or alive) his former slave owners, three murderous overseer brothers. As the ride-or-die partners travel from Texas to Tennessee, they discover the outlaws hiding out at the Evergreen plantation, owned by Big Daddy (Don Johnson) and bloody chaos ensues when Django decides vengeance will be his.
Realizing Django’s a natural born killer that enjoys getting paid to kill white people, Schultz invites him to complete winter bounty-runs at season’s end promises to help him rescue his wife. It’s not until they locate Hildie at the infamous Candyland (random: yep I kept envisioning the children’s board game with every mention), the fourth largest plantation in Greenville, Mississippi, that the survival of the fittest is put to test. Django and Schultz’s run-in with Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the charming, young and virile owner of Candyland and Stephen (Samuel l. Jackson), the Candie family’s hand-me-down house negro and grand puba of all Uncle Toms, proves to be a life-threating situation. Things get pretty darn messy during a business dinner gone awry with Candie Man, who masterfully charms and disarms the masquerading, dynamic duo upon realizing their true intentions. Clearly, Stephen isn’t cut from the I’m-my-brothers-keeper cloth as his conniving meddling commences, the overt loathing and convert envy he has for Django’s freedom, courage and pride manifests as treacherous backstabbing.
Albeit slavery is no laughing matter, Tarantino manges to poke fun as its brutal absurdity through verbal and nonverbal social commentary from Django’s Little-Boy-Blue-meets-Cap-‘N’-Crunch outfit commemorating his pending freedom and a botched KKK-raid led by Big Daddy. Surprisingly, the relationship between Django and Schultz never has that nauseating savior complex undertone of good-natured master helping his slave, but rather comradery between unstoppable partners in crime. Even the film and character’s nuances — Dr. Schultz mustache smoothing gesture; his horse bowing on cue; a bobbling gold-filled, tooth atop dentist carriage; servant-girls donning Disney Minnie Mouse fashions; the servants’ synchronized preparation of the dinner table and delivery of nervous head nods as well as the head-splitting, flesh-tearing bullets–are the cinematic idiosyncrasies that Tarantino owns like no other director and his loyalists devour. Couple that with mission impossible mayhem, Django’s bad boy posturing of whipping overseers, busting caps in racists, his infinite love for his woman, a Rick-Ross-Tupac Shakur-James-Brown-John-Legend laced soundtrack and “Django’s” not only the glorious, good-triumphs-evil tale of an unbridled, vigilante slave but the big screen atonement that many black folks have been secretly longing to see.