“Django Unchained” offered Jamie Foxx one of his best roles, and given his lived experience with racism, it’s understandable why he would view the movie the way he does. Yet “Django” is also part of a larger cultural conversation about who gets to tell what kind of cinematic stories. Quentin Tarantino obviously has much love for his characters and his own words as a writer, but in the case of the well-intentioned Dr. King Schultz, maybe it’s too much love.
A clear pattern emerges when you compare Django’s two adventures with some of Tarantino’s other Black characters, such as Marsellus Wallace in “Pulp Fiction” and Major Marquis Warren in “The Hateful Eight,” both of whom have white men come to their rescue. Tarantino once told TV host Charlie Rose, “I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write.” But there can also be unconscious psychological drives at play in a writer’s work, and sometimes, the failure to listen, the entitlement to speak, is part of the problem.
“Django/Zorro” substitutes the Archduke of Arizona for Calvin Candie, and it has Django cast off all pretense of posing as a mean slaver, doing Zorro’s bidding with the words, “Yassuh! Much obliged, suh.” Meanwhile, the N-word shows up all of five times. Some might say that’s five more times than necessary, but at the very least, it shows that Tarantino was capable of telling a Django story without 110 instances of the word.
“A white gentleman has no need of a black bodyguard,” someone tells Django, but that cuts both ways. By the end of “Django Unchained,” he’s outgrown the need for a white savior, and you could argue that he never really needed one in the first place.