Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Quentin Tarantino|
|Written by||Quentin Tarantino|
|Edited by||Fred Raskin|
|Distributed by||The Weinstein Company (North America)
Columbia Pictures (other territories)
|Running time||165 minutes|
Django Unchained (//) is a 2012 American western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. It is a highly stylized variation of the spaghetti Western, which takes place in the Old West and Antebellum South. The film stars Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson, and was released December 25, 2012 in North America.
The story is set in early winter and then spring, during the antebellum era of the Deep South with preliminary scenes taking place in Old West Texas. The film follows an African-American slave, Django (Foxx), and an English-speaking, German bounty hunter posing as a traveling dentist (Waltz), named Dr. Schultz. In exchange for helping Schultz collect a large bounty on three outlaws (hiding-in-plain-sight in the south, working in the slave trade) that he has never seen – but Django has, while being trafficked – Schultz buys and then promises to free Django after they catch the outlaws the following spring. Schultz subsequently promises to teach Django bounty hunting, and split the bounties with him, if Django assists him in hunting down other outlaws throughout the winter. Django agrees – on the condition that they also locate and free his long-lost wife (Washington) from her cruel plantation owner (DiCaprio).
Despite its dark subject matter and brutal violence (relatively graphic depictions of America's 1800s slave trade), the film was a major critical and commercial success, being nominated for several film industry awards, including five Academy Awards (including for Best Picture, Cinematography, and Best Sound Editing). Christoph Waltz won several accolades for his performance, among them Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globe, BAFTA, and (his second) Academy Award (his first was for another Tarantino film, 2009's Inglourious Basterds). Tarantino won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (his second such Oscar since his 1995 win for co-writing Pulp Fiction), as well as the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA. The film grossed over $425 million worldwide in theaters against its $100 million budget, making it Tarantino's highest-grossing theatrical release to date.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Distribution
- 5 Reception
- 6 Miniseries
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Somewhere in Texas in the year 1858, several male African slaves are being 'driven' by the Speck Brothers, Ace and Dicky. Among the shackled slaves is Django, sold off and separated from his wife, Broomhilda. The Speck Brothers are stopped by Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist and bounty hunter from Düsseldorf. Schultz asks to buy one of the slaves, but while questioning Django about his knowledge of the Brittle Brothers, for whom Schultz is carrying a warrant, he irritates Ace who aims his shotgun at Schultz. Schultz quickly kills Ace and leaves Dicky at the mercy of the other newly freed slaves, who blow his head off. Since Django can identify the Brittle Brothers, Schultz offers Django his freedom in exchange for his help in tracking them down. After executing the Brittles, Django partners with Schultz through the winter and becomes his apprentice. Schultz explains that, being the first person he has ever given freedom to, he feels vaguely responsible for Django and is driven to help him in his quest to rescue Broomhilda.
Django, now fully trained, collects his first bounty, keeping the handbill as a good luck charm. In Mississippi, Schultz uncovers the identity of Broomhilda's owner: Calvin Candie, the charming but brutal owner of the Candyland plantation, where slaves are forced to fight to the death in wrestling matches called "Mandingo fights." Schultz, expecting Candie will demand an exorbitant amount if they are forthright, devises a ruse to purchase one of Candie's prized fighters, purchase Broomhilda on the side for a reasonable sum, then disappear before the deal is finalized. Schultz and Django meet Candie at a club in Greenville and submit their offer. His greed tickled, Candie invites them to Candyland. After he secretly briefs Broomhilda on the plan, Schultz moves to the next step, claiming to be charmed by the German-speaking Broomhilda.
During dinner, Candie's staunchly loyal house slave, Stephen, becomes suspicious. Deducing that Django and Broomhilda know each other and that the sale of the Mandingo fighter is just a misdirection, Stephen alerts Candie, who subsequently extorts the bounty hunters for the complete bid amount. Schultz yields and, after the money is paid and the paperwork signed, Candie demands a formal handshake from Schultz to finalize the deal. Schultz instead shoots him through the heart with a concealed derringer. He apologizes to Django before he is fatally shot by one of Candie's henchmen. In the ensuing gun battle, Django kills many of the remaining henchmen but surrenders once Broomhilda is taken hostage at gunpoint.
The next morning, Django is informed by Stephen that he will be sold to a mine to work for the remainder of his days. En route to the mine, Django proves to his escorts that he is a bounty hunter by showing them the handbill from his first kill. He then convinces them of a very large bounty for a man back at Candyland, of which they would receive the majority, should Django be released. Once Django is uncuffed and given a pistol, he swiftly kills his captors, takes their dynamite, and rides back to Candyland.
Returning to the plantation, Django discovers Schultz's body, takes Broomhilda's freedom papers and says goodbye to his fallen mentor. Django releases Broomhilda from her cell. When Candie's mourners return from his funeral, Django guns down Candie's remaining henchmen. He then kills Candie's sister Lara, releases the house servants, and kneecaps Stephen. As Stephen angrily curses him, Django ignites the dynamite he has planted throughout the mansion. He and Broomhilda watch from a distance as the mansion explodes, killing Stephen, before riding off.
- Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman
- Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz
- Leonardo DiCaprio as "Monsieur" Calvin J. Candie
- Kerry Washington as Broomhilda Von Shaft
- Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen
- Don Johnson as Spencer "Big Daddy" Bennett
- Walton Goggins as Billy Crash
- James Remar as Ace Speck / Butch Pooch
- Dennis Christopher as Leonide "Leo" Moguy
- James Russo as Dicky Speck
- David Steen as Mr. Stonecipher
- Tom Wopat as U.S. Marshall Gill Tatum
- Dana Michelle Gourrier as Cora
- Nichole Galicia as Sheba
- Laura Cayouette as Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly
- Ato Essandoh as D'Artagnan
- Sammi Rotibi as Rodney
- Clay Donahue as Fontenot
- Escalante Lundy as Big Fred
- Miriam F. Glover as Betina
- Omar J. Dorsey as Chicken Charlie
- Franco Nero as Amerigo Vessepi
Other roles include Russ Tamblyn as Son of a Gunfighter, Amber Tamblyn as Daughter of a Son of a Gunfighter, Don Stroud as Sheriff Bill Sharp, Bruce Dern as Old Man Carrucan, M. C. Gainey as Big John Brittle, Cooper Huckabee as Lil Raj Brittle, Doc Duhame as Ellis Brittle, Jonah Hill as Bag Head #2, Lee Horsley as Sheriff Gus (Snowy Snow), Rex Linn as Tennessee Harry, Misty Upham as Minnie, and Danièle Watts as Coco. Zoë Bell, Michael Bowen, Robert Carradine, Jake Garber, Ted Neeley, James Parks, and Tom Savini play Candyland trackers, while Michael Parks, John Jarratt, and Quentin Tarantino play the LeQuint Dickey Mining Co. employees. Tarantino also cameoed as Robert, a member of a Ku Klux Klan-like group.
In 2007, Tarantino discussed an idea for a form of spaghetti western set in the United States' pre-Civil War Deep South which he called "a southern", stating that he wanted "to do movies that deal with America's horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they're genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it's ashamed of it, and other countries don't really deal with because they don't feel they have the right to." Tarantino later explained the genesis of the idea: "I was writing a book about Sergio Corbucci when I came up with a way to tell the story. One of the things that's fun when you write about subtextual criticism ... you don't have to be right. It doesn't have to be what the director was thinking. It's what you're gathering from it. You're making a case. I was writing about how his movies have this evil Wild West, a horrible Wild West. It was surreal, it dealt a lot with fascism. So I'm writing this whole piece on this, and I'm thinking: 'I don't really know if Sergio was thinking [this] while he was doing this. But I know I'm thinking it now. And I can do it!"
Tarantino finished the script on April 26, 2011, and handed in the final draft to The Weinstein Company. In October 2012, frequent Tarantino collaborator RZA said that he and Tarantino had intended to crossover Django Unchained with RZA's Tarantino-presented martial-arts film The Man with the Iron Fists. The crossover would have seen a younger version of RZA's blacksmith character appear as a slave in an auction. However, scheduling conflicts prevented RZA's participation.
One inspiration for the film is Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti western Django, whose star Franco Nero has a cameo appearance in Django Unchained. Another inspiration is the 1975 film Mandingo, about a slave trained to fight other slaves. Tarantino included scenes in the snow as a homage to The Great Silence. "Silenzio takes place in the snow. I liked the action in the snow so much, Django Unchained has a big snow section in the middle," Tarantino said in an interview.
The title Django Unchained alludes to the titles of the 1966 Corbucci film Django; Hercules Unchained, the American title for the 1959 Italian epic fantasy film Ercole e la regina di Lidia, about the mythical hero's escape from enslavement to a wicked master; and to Angel Unchained, the 1970 American biker film about a biker exacting revenge on a large group of rednecks.
Among those considered for the title role of Django, Michael K. Williams and Will Smith were mentioned as possibilities, but in the end Jamie Foxx was cast in the role. Smith later said he turned down the role because it "wasn't the lead". Tyrese Gibson sent in an audition tape as the character. Franco Nero, the original Django from the 1966 Italian film, was rumored for the role of Calvin Candie, but instead was given a cameo appearance as a minor character. Nero suggested that he play a mysterious horseman who haunts Django in visions, and is revealed in an ending flashback to be Django's father; Tarantino opted not to use the idea. Kevin Costner was in negotiations to join as Ace Woody, a slave trainer, mandingo expert and Candie's right-hand man, but Costner dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Kurt Russell was cast instead but also later left the role. When Kurt Russell dropped out, the role of Ace Woody was not recast; instead the character was merged with Walton Goggins' character, Billy Crash.
Jonah Hill was offered the role of Scotty Harmony, a gambler who loses Broomhilda to Candie in a poker game, but turned it down due to scheduling conflicts with The Watch. Sacha Baron Cohen was also offered the role, but declined in order to appear in Les Misérables. Neither Scotty nor the poker game appear in the final cut of the film. On June 15, 2012, it was announced that Hill had become available to join the cast, but in a different role. On April 4, 2012, Joseph Gordon-Levitt announced that he would be unable to appear in the film because of a prior commitment to make his directorial debut on Don Jon. Gordon-Levitt explained, "I would have loved, loved to have done it. He's one of my very favorite filmmakers."
In a January 2013 interview with Vanity Fair, costume designer Sharen Davis said much of the film's wardrobe was inspired by spaghetti westerns and other works of art. For Django's wardrobe, Davis and Tarantino watched the television series Bonanza and referred to it frequently. The pair even hired the hatmaker who designed the hat worn by the show's Little Joe, played by Michael Landon. Davis described Django's look as a "rock-n-roll take on the character". Django's sunglasses were inspired by Charles Bronson's character in The White Buffalo (1977). Davis used Thomas Gainsborough's 1770 oil painting The Blue Boy as a reference for Django's valet outfit.
In the final scene, Broomhilda wears a dress similar to that of Ida Galli's character in Blood for a Silver Dollar (1965). Davis said the idea of Calvin Candie's costume came partly from Rhett Butler, and that Don Johnson's signature Miami Vice look inspired his (Big Daddy's) cream-colored linen suit in the film. King Schultz's faux chinchilla coat was inspired by Telly Savalas in Kojak. Davis also revealed that many of her costume ideas did not make the final cut of the film, leaving some unexplained characters such as Zoë Bell's tracker, who was intended to drop her bandana to reveal an absent jaw.
Principal photography for Django Unchained started in California in November 2011, in Wyoming in February 2012, and at the National Historic Landmark Evergreen Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana, outside of New Orleans, in March 2012. The film was shot in the anamorphic format on 35 mm film. Although originally scripted, a sub-plot centering on Zoë Bell's masked Tracker was cut, and remained unfilmed, due to time constraints. After 130 shooting days, the film wrapped up principal photography in late July 2012.
Django Unchained was the first Tarantino film not edited by Sally Menke, who died in 2010. Editing duties were instead handled by Fred Raskin, who had worked as an assistant editor on Tarantino's Kill Bill. Raskin was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Editing but lost against William Goldenberg of Argo.
The film features both original and existing music tracks. Tracks composed specifically for the film include "100 Black Coffins" by Rick Ross and produced by and featuring Jamie Foxx, "Who Did That To You?" by John Legend, "Ancora Qui" by Ennio Morricone and Elisa, and "Freedom" by Anthony Hamilton and Elayna Boynton. The theme, "Django", was also the theme song of the 1966 film. Musician Frank Ocean wrote an original song for the film's soundtrack, but it was rejected by Tarantino, who explained that "Ocean wrote a fantastic ballad that was truly lovely and poetic in every way, there just wasn't a scene for it." Frank Ocean later published the song, entitled Wiseman, on his Tumblr blog. The film also features a few famous pieces of western classical music such as Beethoven's Für Elise (which was not yet discovered in 1858) and Dies irae from Verdi's Requiem (written in 1873, which therefore also is an anachronism in 1858). Tarantino has stated that he avoids using full scores of original music: "I just don't like the idea of giving that much power to anybody on one of my movies." The film's soundtrack album was released on December 18, 2012.
The first teaser poster was inspired by a fan-art poster by Italian artist Federico Mancosu. His artwork was published in May 2011, a few days after the synopsis and the official title release. In August 2012, at director Quentin Tarantino's request, the production companies bought the concept artwork from Mancosu to use for promotional purposes as well as on the crew passes and clothing for staff during filming.
Django Unchained was released on December 25, 2012, in the United States by The Weinstein Company and released on January 18, 2013, by Sony Pictures Releasing International in the United Kingdom. The film was screened for the first time at the Directors Guild of America on December 1, 2012, with additional screening events having been held for critics leading up to the film's wide release. The premiere of Django Unchained was canceled following the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.
In March 2013, Django Unchained was announced to be the first Tarantino film approved for official distribution in China’s strictly controlled film market. However, on April 11, 2013, the debut of the film in China was cancelled for what was said to be technical reasons. The film was re-released in Chinese theatres on May 12, 2013. Lily Kuo, on Quartz, wrote that "the film depicts one of America’s darker periods, when slavery was legal, which Chinese officials like to use to push back against criticism from the United States."
The film has been acclaimed by critics and has garnered a rating of 88% on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 245 critical reviews with an average rating of 8 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "Bold, bloody, and stylistically daring, Django Unchained is another incendiary masterpiece from Quentin Tarantino." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 81, indicating "universal acclaim".
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars out of four and said: "The film offers one sensational sequence after another, all set around these two intriguing characters who seem opposites but share pragmatic, financial and personal issues." Peter Bradshaw, film critic for The Guardian, awarded the film five stars, writing: "I can only say Django delivers, wholesale, that particular narcotic and delirious pleasure that Tarantino still knows how to confect in the cinema, something to do with the manipulation of surfaces. It's as unwholesome, deplorable and delicious as a forbidden cigarette." Writing in The New York Times, critic A. O. Scott compared Django to Tarantino's earlier Inglourious Basterds: "Like Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained is crazily entertaining, brazenly irresponsible and also ethically serious in a way that is entirely consistent with its playfulness." Parmita Borah, on EF News International, wrote, "Unlike other Tarantino flicks, Django Unchained has a linear narrative, excluding a few flashback scenes." Designating the film a Times 'critics' pick, Scott said Django is "a troubling and important movie about slavery and racism." Filmmaker Michael Moore praised Django, tweeting that the movie "is one of the best film satires ever. A rare American movie on slavery and the origins of our sick racist history."
To the contrary, Owen Gleiberman, film critic for the Entertainment Weekly, wrote that "Django isn't nearly the film that Inglourious was. It's less clever, and it doesn't have enough major characters – or enough of Tarantino's trademark structural ingenuity – to earn its two-hour-and-45-minute running time." In his review for the Indy Week, David Fellerath wrote: "Django Unchained shows signs that Tarantino did little research beyond repeated viewings of Sergio Corbucci's 1966 spaghetti Western Django and a blaxploitation from 1975 called Boss Nigger, written by and starring Fred Williamson." New Yorker's Anthony Lane was "disturbed by their [Tarantino's fans] yelps of triumphant laughter, at the screening I attended, as a white woman was blown away by Django’s guns."
Writing on BuzzFeed, author Roxane Gay challenged the premise of Django Unchained as a "black man's slavery revenge fantasy" film by arguing that it is "a white man’s slavery revenge fantasy, and one in which white people figure heavily and where black people are, largely, incidental. Django is allowed to regain his dignity because he is freed by a white man. He reunites with his wife, again, with the help of a white man. Django Unchained isn't about a black man reclaiming his freedom. It’s about a white man working through his own racial demons and white guilt."
Some commentators have felt the film's heavy usage of the word "nigger" is inappropriate, affecting them to an even greater extent than the depicted violence against the slaves. Other reviewers have defended the usage of the language in the historic context of race and slavery in the United States.
Filmmaker Spike Lee, in an interview with Vibe, said he would not see the film, explaining "All I'm going to say is that it's disrespectful to my ancestors. That's just me...I'm not speaking on behalf of anybody else." Lee later wrote, "American slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It was a Holocaust. My ancestors are slaves stolen from Africa. I will honor them." Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, interpreted the movie as "preparation for race war."
Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe compared Samuel L. Jackson's Stephen character to black Republicans like Clarence Thomas or Herman Cain. Samuel L. Jackson said that he believed his character to have "the same moral compass as Clarence Thomas does."
Jackson defended heavy use of the word nigger, claiming: "Saying Tarantino said 'nigger' too many times is like complaining they said 'kyke' too many times in a movie about Nazis."
Marc Lamont Hill, a professor at Columbia University, compared the fugitive ex–Los Angeles cop Christopher Dorner to a real-life Django, saying "It’s almost like watching ‘Django Unchained’ in real life. It’s kind of exciting." Writing in the Los Angeles Times, journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan noted the difference between Tarantino's Jackie Brown and Django Unchained: "It is an institution whose horrors need no exaggerating, yet Django does exactly that, either to enlighten or entertain. A white director slinging around the n-word in a homage to '70s blaxploitation à la Jackie Brown is one thing, but the same director turning the savageness of slavery into pulp fiction is quite another."
While hosting NBC's Saturday Night Live, Jamie Foxx joked about being excited "to kill all the white people in the movie". Columnist Jeff Kuhner wrote a reaction to the SNL skit for The Washington Times, saying: "Anti-white bigotry has become embedded in our postmodern culture. Take Django Unchained. The movie boils down to one central theme: the white man as devil—a moral scourge who must be eradicated like a lethal virus."
Use of violence
Some reviews criticized the film for being too violent. The originally planned premiere of Django was postponed following the Sandy Hook school shooting on December 14, 2012. Thomas Frank criticized the film’s use of violence as follows:
Not surprisingly, Quentin Tarantino has lately become the focus for this sort of criticism (about the relationship between the movies and acts of violence).The fact that Django Unchained arrived in theaters right around the time of the Sandy Hook massacre didn't help. Yet he has refused to give an inch in discussing the link between movie violence and real life. Obviously I don’t think one has to do with the other. Movies are about make-believe. It’s about imagination. Part of the thing is trying to create a realistic experience, but we are faking it. Is it possible that anyone in our cynical world credits a self-serving sophistry like this? Of course an industry under fire will claim that its hands are clean, just as the NRA has done – and of course a favorite son, be it Tarantino or LaPierre, can be counted on to make the claim louder than anyone else. But do they really believe that imaginative expression is without consequence?
The Independent said the movie was part of "the new sadism in cinema" and added, "There is something disconcerting about sitting in a crowded cinema as an audience guffaws at the latest garroting or falls about in hysterics as someone is beheaded or has a limb lopped off".
Although Tarantino has said about Mandingo fighting, "I was always aware those things existed", there is no definitive historical evidence that slave owners ever staged gladiator-like fights to the death between male slaves like that depicted in the movie. To the contrary, historian Edna Greene Medford notes that there are only undocumented rumors that such fights took place. David Blight, the director of Yale’s center for the study of slavery, said it was not a matter of moral or ethical reservations that prevented slave owners from pitting slaves against each other in combat, but rather economic self-interest: slave owners would not have wanted to put their substantial financial investments at risk in gladiatorial battles.
The non-historical term "a Mandingo" for a fine fighting or breeding slave comes not from Tarantino, but the earlier film Mandingo.
Writing in The New Yorker, William Jelani Cobb observed that Tarantino's occasional historical elasticity sometimes worked to the film's advantage. "There are moments," Cobb wrote, "where this convex history works brilliantly, like when Tarantino depicts the Ku Klux Klan a decade prior to its actual formation in order to thoroughly ridicule its members’ veiled racism." The marauding masked group depicted in the film were known as "The Regulators" and were depicted as spiritual forebears of the later post-civil war KKK and not as the actual KKK.
On the account of historical accuracy Christopher Caldwell wrote in the Financial Times: "Of course, we must not mistake a feature film for a public television documentary" pointing out that the film should be treated as entertainment and in no way a historical account of the time period it is set in. "Django uses slavery the way a pornographic film might use a nurses’ convention: as a pretext for what is really meant to entertain us. What is really meant to entertain us in Django is violence." To the contrary, 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..."
Django Unchained has garnered several awards and nominations. The American Film Institute named it one of their Top Ten Movies of the Year in December 2012. The film received three nominations from the Golden Globe Awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay for Tarantino. The Film won Best Original Screenplay, written by Tarantino. Christoph Waltz received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actor, his second time receiving all three awards, having previously won for his role in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009). The NAACP Image Awards gave the film four nominations, while the National Board of Review named DiCaprio their Best Supporting Actor. Django Unchained earned a nomination for Best Theatrical Motion Picture from the Producers Guild of America.
Tarantino told in an interview that he has 90 minutes' worth of material of the film on the cutting room floor and considered re-editing Django Unchained into a four-hour, four-night cable miniseries. Tarantino said that breaking the story into four parts would be more satisfying to audiences than a four-hour movie: "...it wouldn't be an endurance test. It would be a mini-series. And people love those." 
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