The Vagenda

Django Unchained


I’m not yet sure whether or not I’m surprised at Tarantino’s failure to produce any semblance of a female human in Django Unchained. See, ‘Q’ has long been applauded for bringing an exciting, manifold freshness to mainstream cinema; one aspect of which has been his placement of, on average, at least one woman per film with direction, vocal-chords, and an inexplicable aversion to falling in love with the lead character. His representation of women certainly has texture, but ultimately still manages to be a huge pain in the tits, because I get my hopes up that he’ll build on what he’s already started by writing numerous female leads. The timeline of female characters in his films invoke a feminist-critique-emotional-rollercoaster of delight through despair, delectation through disappointment, and now finally, to Django Unchained (the D is silent.)
I’m not angry, Q, I’m disappointed. Nah just joking, I’m angry. Those feelings may subside if you argued that there was a historically relevant reason for underwriting and neglecting the character of Broomhilda Von Shaft. Perhaps: female slaves, especially sex slaves, were persecuted and downtrodden under such layers of brutality that they were essentially invisible (like those trafficked today) or experienced an understandable paralysis of spirit. (The only permissible reason I can invent to console myself). This would be a reason rather than an excuse, but a reason nonetheless. Yet wouldn’t this be an impetus to explore and countermand this process? Via some lines of dialogue, action and screentime? You haven’t, as yet, discussed Broomhilda’s near-silence and under-representation; but then, I haven’t seen you asked, or even heard it mentioned…(Kermode? Krishnan Murphy? ANYONE?)
Thankfully, Kerry Washington (sorry it took me so long to get to you). Washington deserves massive kudos for bringing an engaging wholeness of spirit to her limited screen-time. The performance itself was brilliant; I felt her pain, her anger and her fear. (Such identification was a joy.) Yet, while Tarantino is known for bringing out these cinematic performances from the actors he works with, in this instance he wrote and directed against her spirit and character. Of a film pushing three hours, she appeared for (from memory) about twenty minutes, uttering around ten short lines. Now, granted, the range of those short appearances was immense. Broomhilda is whipped for attempting escape, appears chastely-naked in a river (in Django’s imagination), coyly waves at Django (in Django’s imagination), naked in a hole in the ground (that was real), and is finally dressed up like one of those scary dolls that people collect (apt, in context), serving dinner to her white masters. All of which were relevant to the particular points in Django’s personal narrative. But as for her narrative…that was her narrative. A slave who was pretty and abused. (Oh, and the lead female character. Sadly it doesn’t feel too unfamiliar.)
Tarantino’s fascination with exploitation films surely contributed to a neglect of his leading woman’s personhood. The comedy violence of the latter bloodbaths (problematic in tandem with the raw brutality of Broomhilda’s punishment and the horrific, grief-stricken Mandingo fight scene) is a clear nod to the lurid conventions of the exploitation genre, as are the names Django and Mandingo. And like his previous foray into the genre, the feminist-enticing-but-ultimately-a-slap-in-the-face Death Proof, the conventions of exploitation films require its females to be hyper-sexualised, and more often than not, violated and brutalized. So Tarantino’s newer marriage of said genre with loosely-Hollywood conventions gave us no chance at subjectified representation (but on the bright side, didn’t require a ‘titillating’ rape scene. Cheers, ladies.)
Broomhilda, while an object of Django’s love, was utilised as just that; an object, a narrative device. Her existence drove the narrative, but she wasn’t an agent of it. No fighting for her liberation, no speaking out of turn, no interesting lines or actions or character revelations. She is simply the archetypal desired Beauty, who is visually the property of All until she is collected by One. I’ll see her next time I go to the cinema also, no doubt. With the imagination and knowledge of cinema that Tarantino seems to have, you’d think he’d have more nouse than to also use Broomhilda as a ‘comfort girl’.
While there are many contentious angles to consider Tarantino’s Django Unchained from, the feminist angle is most disappointing. To top it all off, I’ll leave you with the final scene: Django blows up the plantation where Broomhilda has been imprisoned, his silhouette standing defiantly amongst burning fragments of ‘Merican justice. She watches from the safety of the getaway-horse, and a close up reveals her flawless face, which giggles a bit. She coyly applauds Django, as if to say “Yay, honey! No more rape, how exciting!” and they ride triumphantly away to celebrate Broomhilda’s new status as four-fifths of a human being. As the ending music swells, you’d be forgiven for missing her longest and quietest line of dialogue: “Well. Now that’s done, shall I make you a sandwich, or would you like a blow-job first?”

15 thoughts on “Django Unchained

  1. I completely missed that last line when I saw the movie. Now, I’m even more annoyed then I was by the sidelining of what could have been a strong female character.
    Also, I would have been interested in seeing how Zoe Bell’s tracker character would have been developed.
    Something tells me it would have been better then the bloated last 45mins of the film.

  2. Finally someone is criticizing this movie! I think there are important points to consider about QT’s treatment of Calvin Candie’s sister as well–such as how violence against her doesn’t carry the gravity of violence against a white slaver and is actually played for comedy–and it is DEFINITELY a problematic portrayal of black masculinity. Still, great criticism.

    I’m feeling really frustrated with the lack of criticism of Django’s racial impllications (aside from Spike Lee’s boycotting)–I don’t suppose anyone could direct me towards some interesting reviews?

  3. I am so shocked by the amount of people who liked this piece of garbage. Setting aside accusations of racism and sexism it was horribly structured, poorly acted, terrible continuity, boring as hell, and completely confusing in tone. Seriously, worst film of the year.

  4. Seriously, that was the final line? Wow…either a very meta finger-poke by Tarantino at the shallow nature of damsels in distress even in 2013, or he’s just a total douche. I think he’s massively overrated, so I’m definitely going with the latter.

  5. This review is ridiculous, if QT wanted to make about a love interest between 2 slaves it would have been a completely different film. In fact, if he wanted to make a film about slavery it would have been a completely different film. Broomhilda was merely a plot devise, her character was there to provide a goal, a climax, a resolution. Without Broomhilda the relationship between Schultz and Django wouldn’t have been as compelling, that is after all, what this film is about, the father-son, mentor-apprentice companionship between the two male leads.
    If a story is about the journey of two men and a woman get’s less screen time that doesn’t necessarily mean the director had any sort of sexist malice in mind.

    However, I would like to point out that I agree Kerry Washington should have had more screen time, I felt that with all the killing and excessive gore it was easy to lose track of what they were fighting for. The hallucinations of Django were a pleasant, well needed reminder but it wasn’t enough. Washington played the role of Broomhilda extremely convincingly and in my opinion was one of the most charming believable characters in the film. I believe not allowing her in more scenes was poor cinematic judgement but not in anyway a sexist one.


  6. I understand the critiques this movie has received and quite frankly I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see it because of what I had heard. I am glad that I saw it though. Of course being a Kerry Washington fan I wanted to see more of her, but the film was based on Django’s journey, not Broomhilda’s. There was one thing at the end that I did like and not a lot of people may have noticed. As they were riding away, Broomhilda has her own shotgun:

    I know some may say, that’s not enough, but I think showing that was a way of saying yes, Django rescued her, but from here on out, she will be n charge of protecting herself.

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