Django Unchained is a film about love. Three kinds of love, really.
There’s the romantic love that pulls together two of the main characters: Jamie Foxx’s Django who is willing to travel through hell and risk his life to save his wife, Kerry Washington’s Broomhilda. As he travels toward her, Hildi appears in his daydreams looking luminous and gorgeous. We rarely see Black love portrayed in a Hollywood film in this way — a Black knight in shining armor battling dragons to rescue his radiant queen.
There’s also the bromantic love between Django and his liberator/mentor Dr. King Schultz, played by Christoph Waltz, who leads Django on a physical journey from Texas to Mississippi, and a psychic journey from slave to master of bounty hunting. Schultz abhors slavery, but he comes to care deeply for Django and to love him in a brotherly way.
But the sort of love that is most powerful in the film is the self-love of Django. Foxx applies a sheen of nobility to the character from the second he is freed and begins moving through the air with his shoulders back and his head high, his dignity shining. In a repeated motif, Django rides into towns atop a horse, his body language singing of pride and strength, a sight that causes people to rear back in shock, unused to seeing a Black person cloaked in dignity. In this way Django moves through the film like a single beam of light piercing through the dark.
In a critical moment Leonardo DiCaprio’s slavemaster Calvin Candie points out that there are more Blacks than whites on his plantation and wonders, “Why don’t they kill us?” He explains via phrenology — Black brains are lesser — which is now obviously and hysterically false.
But he is actually close to the truth. The answer isn’t in the brain, it’s in the mind. The colonized mind trapped in a white supremacist world; a world that believes in and is structured around the myth of Black intellectual inferiority.
Even when Candie is outsmarted by one of his slaves who must explain to Candie that he’s being played for a fool, his certainty in white intellectual superiority goes unchallenged. Early on, Django excises white supremacy from his mind and eventually destroys white supremacy in his tiny corner of the world. Yes, white supremacy relates to a national (if not global) matrix that no one man could conquer. There’s no telling what could happen to Django after the screen fades to black. But his self-love propels him through the universe of this film, making him heroic before he even begins killing slavemasters.