In our modern day society, we as humans have become more consciously aware of social issues. There is a much greater emphasis placed on equality, or a contribution to reaching equality across all races, genders, cultures, abilities, or preferences. Media plays a quintessential role in the mentality of our society, and thus the ability to change that mentality. Cinema is a common avenue for introducing social arguments. As Giannetti explains in Understanding Movies, “Virtually every movie presents us with role models, ideal ways of behaving, negative traits, and an implied morality based on the filmmakers sense of right and wrong”(Giannetti 403). One way to test a films contribution to change is with “The Representation Test”. This is a media literacy tool used to create awareness and encourage overall diversity in cinema. I have chosen to analyze Django Unchained, and its contribution to social change based off of the Representation Test.
Django Unchained is a comedy western film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino in 2012. The film follows a freed slave in his quest to find and free his wife. Based off of The Representation Test, Django received a grade of 2 or a “D”. The two areas where the film received points were “Does the film avoid perpetuating an extreme and unhealthy body ideal for men?” and “Does the film include one or more men of color, in speaking roles, who are NOT reduced to racial stereotypes?” Throughout the film, there is not a heavy emphasis placed on ideal physique of men. Although there are many fit individuals in the film, it is not a central focus. There are also several key characters with normal body types. Generally, most of the lead male roles are clothed for the movie, apart from Jamie Foxx. Even still, his body is not extreme or unhealthy. In this aspect, the film is successful in creating equality amongst physical differences in men.
One of the central points of Django, and a point it earned on the Representation Test was including a man of color in a speaking role who is not reduced to a stereotype. Django is this character, granted he began as a stereotype. Django begins the film as a slave with minimal say in what he is able to do. He is fearful of the white man, and does not want to overstep his bounds. He has deep, gruesome laceration scars on his back. He is portrayed as timid and helpless. This appeal to pathos helps to connect the viewer with Django, and enhance the argument. As Giannetti says, “Emotionally vulnerable characters appeal to our protective instincts” (Giannetti 406). The viewer will further side with equality in an attempt to be the protector of Django. Upon being freed, he is very fearful of his actions. Once he is freed, Django slowly begins to develop into a complex, non-stereotypical figure. He builds the confidence to say such things as “Kill white people and get paid for it? What’s not to like” and “the D is silent, Hillbilly.” These examples show the evolution of Django, and his comfort in speaking toward the white people. Django evolves into the protagonist of the film, and eventually kills a multitude of white people in order to save his wife. Although the violence does create some negative connotation toward Django, he does break social barriers through these actions. There are few films that have had a man of color in the dominant position over the white man. From this perspective, Django has posed an argument for social change, yet it still received a “D”.
I was very surprised by the results of the Representation Test. Upon watching Django, I believe it does argue significantly for a cultural and social issue. Django, a black protagonist, escapes slavery and becomes a complex, independent hero in essence. He also is portrayed as intellectually superior to his white counterparts. This defies many past social norms and insinuates a change in ideology amongst viewers. It is a strong implied thesis in the movie, and cannot go unnoticed, even thought the movie is a comedy.
The Representation Test is not a fair scoring system. The reason for this is that many films focus on a central issue, rather than a combination of many issues. Focusing on one issue creates a much stronger argument than focusing on many. For example, Django focuses on slavery, and the true complexity and capabilities of Django. This is the central idea and enables the audience to focus specifically on this idea. Had there also been a complex gay character, a complex handicapped character, and a complex female character, Django would have lost his importance in making an argument.
Another potential flaw in the Representation Test is the intentional creation of a stereotype. For example, in the film, the slaves are intended to be stereotypical slaves and the white slave-owners are intended to be stereotypical slave-owners. This conformity to stereotype plays a role in the success of the argument. If Django had the same personality as a slave as when he was a freed man, the audience would not connect the idea of slaveries danger to the human emotions. The stereotype allows for Django to make a statement about social change. If the slave-owners were portrayed as kind females with complex ideas, the film would have lost the legitimacy of its argument. There are times when stereotypes are necessary.
Django does successfully argue a social position to its audience, despite the “D” grade it received from The Representation Test. The Representation Test should be altered to account for a central theme as well as intentional stereotypes. Overall, I would suggest Django has a movie everyone should see. Even though it is a comedy, it does have historical and social legitimacy, and it does advocate for a change in behavior.