Ultimately Django Unchained (Tarantino, 2012) is the same movie as Inglourius Basterds. Regardless of their surface subject matter, all of Tarantino’s films are actually about movies. And both of his two most recent films are about how movies have been used to enact symbolic cultural revenge. (See my earlier post about Inglourious Basterds here.)
Django Unchained returns to an explicit discussion of acting roles first explored in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Think about the Commode Story in Reservoir Dogs: “An undercover cop’s gotta be Brando” and the build up to the initial confrontation in Pulp Fiction: “Let’s get into character”. Likewise, in Django Unchained, the main character goes undercover in the persona of a black slaver.
But Django creates a character that is more than just a necessity. His character allows him to act out his deepest fantasies and he gradually becomes that character – not the slaver part, but the baadasssss part. (Don’t miss the fact that his character allows modern audiences to vicariously act out their fantasies. Candie is speaking for the modern audience when he says “I would have cut his throat…”)
There is also the point that he is a black Siegfried (just as they also mention the Black Hercules). Tarantino is exploring the importance of mythic narratives to inspire heroic action. Consider the ways the black characters gaze at Django, especially in the scene where he kills the Australians. If the exceptional figure, 1 in 10,000 can arise, the hero can inspire others to follow.
Of course, there is a level here beyond what the characters are aware of. The movie follows the conventions of spaghetti westerns but also blaxpoitation films, films that presented black characters doing things on screen that no audience had ever seen before, symbolized in the film by a black man riding a horse. (See this nice overview.) These films inspired black power movement the way Django inspires those in the film.