Django Unchained: The Fairy Tale

Early in the film, Django Unchained, Dr. Schultz tells Django the story of Brunhilde. She is a beautiful princess stolen away to the top of a tall mountain being guarded by a dragon and engulfed in flames. Siegfried goes to rescue his beloved. Django sits enraptured by this tale much like a child during storytime at Grandma’s knee. It is only fitting that he be inspired by the tale because it is also his story. Django is a man with one mission. Rescue the woman he loves. Not only the woman he loves but his wife. Broomhilda. He explains to Dr. Schultz that they were married even though it was forbidden. This is slavery. He has to find her because they had been sold apart for attempting to escape. This is slavery. She had been brutally whipped. This is slavery. Their faces were branded “r” for runaway. This is slavery. He doesn’t know where she is. This is slavery. He must find her. He must find his wife. This is love. Thus begins his journey. From slave to man to hero. Much of the next parts of the movie are Django and Dr. Schultz killing their way across the land as bounty hunters. Broomhilda appears to Django as vision, as dream, as mirage throughout his travels. Broomhilda alluring in a hot spring. Broomhilda alive as springtime in yellow. Broomhilda. Smiling. Broomhilda. Lovely. Broomhilda. In love with her man. It is these images that have many people irate. They complain that women were not utilized enough or strong enough in the film. It is this anger that confuses me because they complain that Kerry Washington performed no more purpose as Broomhilda than a piece of furniture on the set.  I see it much differently than this. Broomhilda was purpose, she was inspiration, she was encouragement, she was motivation, she was the drive that kept Django traveling a crooked line just to get straight to her. The knight in shining armor rides through fire and slays the dragon to rescue his damsel in distress.  Feminists and independent sisters will take issue with me at this analogy. They rail… Woman as victim! Woman as helpless! Woman as nothing without a man! Why did Broomhilda have to wait on him? Why couldn’t she save herself? I say she couldn’t save herself because where would Django’s power lie if she did? And the name of the film is Django Unchained. Not Broomhilda Did The Shit Her Own Damned Self. Women complain that men don’t step up to the responsibilities of manhood but when a man does exactly this he is told that he really wasn’t needed in the first place. In needing to save his wife Django also saves himself. He needs the love of his life. He needs her lovely and alluring to be able to face the brutality of his existence. He needs her smiling and spring to give him the strength he needs to slay the dragons. This is the power of womanhood as much as bringing home your own bacon and frying it up in your own pan. What would have been the purpose of his journey from slave to man to hero if when he arrived she was already free and like “Where your ass been? I already did it myself.” The whole arc of his journey becomes pointless and we have no hero. We have no knight in shining armor. We have no joyous moment when he opens the door and says, “It’s me baby”. Swoon.

Much speculation has been made as to whether or not Quentin Tarantino was inspired by the real life Django, Dangerfield Newby. Dangerfield was a free man whose wife was still a slave. He joined John Brown’s raid specifically to rescue her and their seven children. He was the first one killed at Harper’s Ferry.  After his murder letters from his wife were found on his body. One letter reads:

BRENTVILLE, August 16, 1859.
Dear Husband.
I want you to buy me as soon as possible for if you do not get me somebody else will. The servants are very disagreeable. They do all that they can to set my mistress against me. Dear Husband you are not the trouble I see these last two years. It has been like a troubled dream to me. It is said that the Master is in want of monney. If so I know not what time he may sell me. Then all my bright hopes of the future are blasted. For there has been one bright hope to cheer me in all my troubles, that is to be with you. For if I thought I should never see you on this earth, life would have no charm for me. Do all you can for me which I have no doubt you will. I want to see you so much. The children are all well. The baby cannot walk yet. The baby can step around any thing by holding on to it, very much like Agnes. I must bring my letter to close as I have no news to write. You must write soon and say when you think you can come

Your affectionate Wife

Knights in shining armor are very, very, very real.

  • Sabrina R Perkins

    I like your spin on the movie. Great take. I feel I am a feminist and find no fault with the movie for this reason but I choose not watch it for my own personal reasons. I do find it upsetting how so many black men and women are tearing Spike down over his RIGHT to not see it and discuss how he feels about it. He’s been in that Hollywood game long enough to know much more than we could know about its nature. Great post…

    • Maisha Shabazz Akbar

      Thanks for providing a framework that I hadn’t read or heard before. I, like Sabrina, am a (black) feminist who has not seen the movie. I guess the question that’s coming up for me is, “Should a love story between Black slaves be told within a Western (fairy tale) tradition? Wouldn’t it have been more CORRECT to incorporate African (American) worldview? I’m not sure if the Western tradition had been institutionalized in the moment in which this fairy tale was supposed to have taken place. I have to see it to determine if Tarantino achieves true integration or if it reiterates whiteness? Is it a reimagination of slavery if the Western romantic tradition wins since that’s who won in real life anyways? I will be sure to get back to you.

  • Biafra Denmark

    As an African American women from Oklahoma who grew up within the framework of western and cowboy culture and knows the history of blacks in the west and their contribution to the expansion of the United States the theme is more then fitting. This has always been one thing that saddens me. This idea that the African (American) worldview is a singular homogeneous experience shared by all black people in this country. My worldview as a child was the Western. It was horses and wide open plains and boots and wranglers and rodeos and cowboys and Indians. The white cowboy winning the West may be the story you know but it is not the only story and I, for one, am glad someone is exploring it. Also, who really has the last laugh in this narrative are the Indians because they are pow wowing all the way to the bank.

    • http://N/A poopsie

      Excellent observations Sis. I think it is shameful that it takes Quentin Tarantino to bring this to the attention of America! True, Spike did direct it, but I think it was QT who allowed him to push it through.

      I haven’t seen it yet, but I am intrigued by the story because like you say, the typical Western scenario that the majority of Americans are deluded by is not the truth.

  • Carla

    Good take on the movie. I don’t believe feminists nor independent sistas can take offense of your analogy, Ms. Biafra Denmark. If women can own up to being feminists and/or independent, then they are quite capable of appreciating diversity and differing of opinions. So often, African-American women are viewed in a one-dimensional light: “the strong black woman!” The major drawback of being held to such a paradigm seems to negate the offering of help, kindness, or rescue. African-American women are “strong,” without a doubt, but being strong doesn’t mean one is insusceptible to weakness. Django Unchained was violent, heart-wrenching, provocative, yet, when peeling back the layers of brutality (as flashbacks of the lovely Broomhilde plays in Djanglo’s memory) the endurance, the depth, and the willingness to “risk it all for love” shows through. We must keep in mind, LOVE is “strength.” Would the slave character, Django, risk his own life to save a woman that wasn’t worth saving? . . . who wasn’t worthy of protection?. . . who was able to rescue herself? Surely, if Broomhilde was some weak-kneed, docile, impassionate woman, Django wouldn’t bother trailing her to Mississippi (where the worst treatment of slaves was renowned) to rescue her? Yes, even a professional swimmer–after swimming through tempestuous seas– would welcome a lifesaver in lieu of drowning. So, feminists and independent women are strong enough to accept love, even if it is extended in its most basic form.