Quentin Tarantino’s new film Django: Unchained has stirred a lot of different thoughts, feelings, opinions and emotions in people–about slavery, Django killing so many white people on screen, gun control, etc., but the feedback I found the most interesting was some of the commentary regarding the Broomhilda character played by Kerry Washington from black women. I want to address three questions/comments that are a conglomeration of the multitude of comments regarding this key character.
1. Why was she behaving like a damsel in distress acting so helpless?
Ok my pet peeve with this question is that the women who made this comment about Kerry’s portrayal of Broomhilda are unfairly judging a character who lived in the 19th century with a 21st century mind. We have to remember the time in which slave women like Broomhilda lived in. She was helpless, she was a slave living in a hostile environment. She had no rights, her value equal with that of a breedhorse. She was at the mercy of those that owned her, which made her subject to abuse and sexual exploitation. Given the time in which she lived, what was she supposed to do start singing “Independent Women” by Destiny’s Child and wag her finger in Mr. Candy’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) face like NeNe Lakes and walk off the plantation? Call up Gloria Allred and sue for mistreatment? Tweet about it? Talk to Oprah? You get the point. Broomhilda’s situation was not one she wanted to be in, she was indeed a damsel in distress. Her situation was precarious. The very word distress means extreme anxiety, sorrow, or pain. If that does not describe Broomhilda’s situation, I don’t know what does. “Incidents in the life of a slave girl” and “Bullwhip Days” are recommended reading for anyone who wants to grasp a deeper understanding of what life was really like for slaves in the 19th century. These are actual documented accounts of former slaves.
2. Why was she waiting on her man to save her?
As much as we as black women complain about men not being there to help us, here we have on the big screen a black slave who was the subject of a very dramatic rescue and what are the complaints? Why was she waiting for some man to save her? Again 21st century minds are verbally chastising a 19th century woman for obviously not doing enough to save herself, she had to wait on some man to do it. To Broomhilda’s credit she did try to escape TWICE; once with her husband Django and the second time from Candy’s plantation on her own. She was whipped when she tried to escape with Django from another plantation and was put naked in a hotbox as punishment for trying to escape from Candy’s plantation. She was supposed to be there for 10 days, but luckily for her Django and his Partner Dr. King Schultz arrived and she was let out to entertain Dr. Schultz. Wikepedia describes the hotbox like this:
The box, also known as a hot box or sweatbox, is a method of solitary confinement used in humid and arid regions as a method of punishment. Anyone placed in one would experience extreme heat, dehydration, heat exhaustion, even death, depending on when and how long one was kept in one.
A woman that was willing to risk that severe of a punishment to escape is a woman with a fight in her. So despite her circumstance she did try unsuccessfully to escape her situation. Which brings me to another point, what is wrong with Broomhilda being rescued? Would she had been a failure as a black woman has she not made some effort to save herself? Should she have turned in her Strong Black Woman card should she had dared to hope that against the odds Django would find her and save her? I am afraid this attitude has so infiltrated the minds of many black women that even when a man no matter what his race rises up to come to her aid she will not allow it and she criticizes those who dare to accept the invitation to be rescued when it is offered by some one of the opposite sex.
3. We don’t know alot about Broomhilda, all we know is that she was just a pretty house slave. We want to know why Django wanted to rescue her.
I know with all the fanfare surrounding Kerry Washington’s participation in the film, there was expressed disappointment that some of Kerry’s scenes were cut, limiting her screentime. I personally had no problem with how much time Broomhilda was on the screen, I understood how crucial she was to the story line without her having to be on the screen every five minutes, but I understand some wanted to see more of her. My question is however, why do we need Broomhilda’s character resume’? Why do we need to know the intimate details of her history before we can settle in our minds why she was worthy of such a dramatic rescue? Must we know some redeeming quality about her that will make us breathe a sigh of relief and say to ourselves, “ok now we understand why he wanted to rescue her”. Can it not just be sufficient that he loved his wife and was willing to risk everything he had to save her? We did know that she spoke german and english,she was lovely and not much more. She could have been a horrible cook, a terrible lover, and wrong as two left shoes, but the fact he was willing to risk his life and newly gained freedom to save her should give us pause. Can’t we just stop and enjoy that for a moment without trying to figure it out?
Broomhilda was always on Django’s mind and in his memory; we saw it when he was begging their captors not to whip her after their failed escape attempt, when he was bathing in that ice cold lake and her “saw” her there, when she was wearing that yellow regency era gown giving him a shy and alluring smile. From those scenes we know that he ate slept and breathed her. She was his life and he wanted her back. His passion must have run deep because even Dr. Schultz was on board to help Django rescue her and it cost him his life. So while we may not know how she made the biscuts or poured the sweet tea, we know she was important to the central character. Can we let the mystery of who she is suffice and just enjoy the fact that she, a simple house slave was the subject of a explosive shoot ‘em up rescue? Many lives were sacrificed to secure her rescue, including Dr. Schultz.
We as black women are never the subject of high value and worthy of saving on screen in films today. In fact when some “Hunger Games” fans found out one of the key characters was a little black girl, they tweeted their disappointment at the fact she was black and were no longer sad when she died on screen as she had in the book. I found it quite refreshing that a black woman for once was the “damsel in distress” whose unchained prince fought many human dragons to save her. If I sound a little overly dramatic, I do not care, the time is long overdue for recognition that black women are worthy to be loved, adored and RESCUED.