Black and White Masculinity in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2015

15 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Django Unchained and the goals of this paper

2. Black and White Masculinity in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained
2.1. Black and White Masculinity – An Approach of Definition
2.2. Django Freeman, the Black Superhero
2.3. Main Issues of Masculinity in the Movie
2.3.1. Violence
2.3.2. Family
2.3.3. Friendship, Love and Sexuality
2.3.4. Passivity
2.3.5. Emotionality and Honor
2.4. The Two Buddy Pairs of Django Unchained
2.4.1. Calvin Candie and Stephen as the Evil Pair
2.4.2. Dr. King Schultz and Django Freeman as the Good Pair

3. Django Unchained, Slavery and the relations to masculinity


1. Django Unchained and the goals of this paper

Django Unchained, a movie directed by Quentin Tarantino, was released in December 2012 and won several prices. The film was discussed a lot in public mostly because of the issue of slavery the director is dealing with in the movie and about how he does it. The film had to endure many critical reviews, bad ones and good ones obviously, as many people thought of the depiction of violence as fitting considered the brutality towards slaves in the antebellum south, others thought it to be extremely exaggerated. Also the controversial use of the N-word, as named in literature and interviews, was a major part of the public discussion about Django Unchained. Ultimately it is the viewer himself who has to decide if in his opinion Tarantino uses the right words and pictures to get even with the institution of slavery and the relationship between white farmers and black slaves.

In this paper, the discussion will go further than the one that was in the media when the film was published already. The goal is to look at the portrayal of masculinity in the movie, black as well as white. Issues of masculinity and their depiction in the movie also in comparison to other works of film and literature will be discussed first, followed by a close look on the outstanding masculine characters of Django Unchained and their ways of achieving masculinity. A closer look is going to determine the two Buddy Pairs that are part of the movie and how they affect each other. Within these pairs the issues of the mentor and the disciple will be discussed as well as changes that the characters go through with the development of the plot. Before a closer look on the movie and its main characters can be taken, a definition of masculinity is given, as well as the genre of the movie, which of course affects the characters and the overall theme of the movie, will be discussed shortly. Lastly this paper will end with a conclusion on what the most important meaning of the movie, as well as its message to the viewer should be and if it is just for entertainment or if the viewer is getting the chance of reliving the horrible times of slavery the United States in an appropriate way and to face up to the horrors that happened during this time.

2. Black and White Masculinity in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

2.1. Black and White Masculinity – An Approach of Definition

Defining Black and White Masculinity is a difficult task. On the one hand Black Masculinity shown in the movie goes back to the era of Blaxploitation films. Before that “African-Americans have generally been portrayed in patronizing and derogatory ways” (Ross 249). It is the picture of the loyal slave, the Uncle Tom or Sambo who was “docile but irresponsible, loyal but lazy, humble but chronically lying and stealing” (qtd. in Crowdus 41). For the white masters the best slave was the one they did not have to fear by word or action, who would not even think about rebelling but who would appreciate the live the whites were giving them, by providing them food and clothing as well as a chance to be part of the great white system that had been established by the white man. (Forret 23-25)

Tarantino in his movie though, uses a different kind of Black Masculinity which, as already mentioned, came up with the Blaxploitation movies. Tarantino makes the character Django the hero of his story and gives him many attributes white people during the time of the movie, 1858 shortly before the Civil War takes place, many whites would not have attributed to a slave. This issue will further be discussed in the point on the genre of the movie following this part.

White Masculinity on the other hand was the one we would attribute to a gentleman or a hero. A man that would protect his family at any cost and provide for them, who would act according to virtues of manliness, as well as to virtues of religion and honor. (Forret 23-25)

So as it is difficult to define what Black and White Masculinity really is, it is very clear that Tarantino does not necessarily use these stereotypical views in his movie. He defines these masculinities in his own way and his own style, which makes the characters in the movie even more interesting and admirable. This will also be discussed further, when the paper takes a look on the main male characters of the movie and their relationships towards each other.

2.2. Django Freeman, the Black Superhero

First of all a definition of the black movie should be made first. What is a black movie exactly? Cripps defines Black Film as an own genre of film with basically any participation of a black individual (3-4), but it is not that easy to just say Django Unchained is a Black Film. Tarantino mixes up several genres of movies to create his own new genre. It generally takes place in an spaghetti western framework which gives the viewer the idea of having another white hero, the Cowboy that has come out of this movie genre who fights for justice and mostly for himself. Although Django Unchained can definitely be called a western movie, this white hero does not emerge. The hero of this story is black. In his article about the movie Clark defines him as “the ideal of modern black masculinity, thrust back in time to correct the wrongs of the past: the “black Terminator” of our daydreams”. This new Black Masculinity as mentioned before comes from the era of Blaxploitation but has never occurred in a western movie before. Even though western movies mostly take place during the high times of slavery in the United States the issue is rarely even touched in the spaghetti western genre. Accordingly to Christoph Waltz, who is playing the role of Dr. King Schultz in the movie, Tarantino mixes up all kinds of genres in his movie and creates a genre of his own which is even more powerful and interesting than the other genres in isolation. (Waltz)

So is Django Unchained a black movie? Is it a love story about Django and his wife Broomhilda? Or is it a spaghetti western with a black hero? In fact it is nothing of it and all of it at the same time. As Waltz stated Tarantino takes the best of every genre and brings all these elements of film together in one movie. So Django Unchained basically is a “bloody slave-revenge western” (Charania) with elements of a love story movie, a black superhero movie and an over violent splatter film. “[T]he triumphant formation of black heroism against white brutality” as Charania writes is exactly what the movie is about, it is not necessarily about the issue of slavery or love or revenge but it is a mixture of all these aspects and to what they can lead, if they are expressed in one character. So Django is overall a kind of black superhero who deals with the atrocities of life during the slavery period before the civil war with the help of his mentor Dr. King Schultz and mainly because of his love for his wife Broomhilda.

2.3. Main Issues of Masculinity in the Movie

In this part of the paper some main issues of masculinity, black and white, will be discussed. The construct of masculinity consists of many different aspects which are have to sometimes be treated as opposing for black and white men in the movie, but some of these aspects are also important for both sides, meaning for basically all men in the movie. It cannot generally be said, that only one side, either blacks or whites, is expressing their masculinity through any of the following attributes or issues, but that they are represented in different ways most of the time.

Also important to mention is that most of these themes are examples taken directly from the movie itself, so it is necessary to have seen to movie to understand most of the examples given in this paragraph. Furthermore it is to state that the word Nigger is going to be mentioned several times in this section of the paper and that this is not to be taken as an offense to black people, but only as a depiction of the movie scenes as they are in Django Unchained. Also might the interpretations given be mostly the opinion of the author of this paper, therefore they might be formulated provocative on purpose, but they do not show the authors actual perception of slavery or slaves during the time this institution was part of the United States.

2.3.1. Violence

Violence plays a very important part in the movie. Forret points out that violence has always been a way for men to express their masculine identity (23-25). This is seen when black and white men in the movie act violent to achieve their goals. Right at the start of the movie when Django gets freed by Dr. King Schultz a lot of violence is shown. One part of this is violence of the white people towards the blacks who they see as inferior creatures that have to learn their place. This is why slaves were often punished and the remains of these punishments can be seen on the backs of the slaves who are freed together with Django in the opening scene. But also black violence immediately plays a role in this scene. After Dr. King Schultz leaves with Django the remaining slaves shoot the second slaver who is lying under his horse with probably at least a broken leg already. Of course this violence of blacks is far better understandable for the viewers as they know how slaves were treated in southern parts of the United States during this period of time, which is perceived common knowledge.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Black and White Masculinity in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained"
University of Würzburg  (Neuphilologisches Institut)
Spezialgebiet Amerikanische Literatur 2
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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black, white, masculinity, quentin, tarantino, django, unchained
Quote paper
Maximilian Bauer (Author), 2015, Black and White Masculinity in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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