Editor’s note: This is the second of six installments of the characters of the Quentin Tarantino movie “Django Unchained. Hopefully the subsequent four will arrive more quickly than the first two. JLL
This character of Dr. King Schultz is one of utmost peculiarity. Naturally so, the peculiarity of King Schultz has as much to do with the actor as it had to do with the character itself. For the sake of how I viewed Schultz’s character, it was almost totally caught up in the actor himself, Christoph Waltz. Waltz burst onto the acting scene in a wave of glory from Quentin Tarantino’s last blockbuster hit that retold history against the backdrop of a Nazi run Germany and the Holocaust. The eccentricity of Dr. Schultz, waltzing onto the scene with a large molar tooth bobbing on the top of his stage coach set the ground work for a rather interesting ride.
Schultz is immediately branded as an ardent anti-slavery individual. In the first scene we have this image of slave catchers or slave bounty hunters participating in the transport of black male slaves across this varying terrain in the west. However the opening scene shows Schultz as civilized compared to the two bounty hunters. His speech pattern is grossly above that of his white counterparts and perhaps this correlates with him having the power to liberate Django and effectively unchain him. Schultz, aside from Django himself, is the key player in the liberation and the unchaining of Django’s body and of his mind, and I’d go so far as to say Schultz undergoes a process of liberation as well until his own demise.
As this movie jumps in and out of historical fact and historical fiction, we see Schultz’s character playing a major role in that process. Schultz, even without the accompaniment of a black former slave such as Django, would have raised the eyebrow of anyone if he just was passing through a town. The bobbing tooth would be an immediate eye-catcher, his clothes and to how he spoke would certainly make anyone pay attention. Now there’s nothing suggesting that Schultz has had to overcome a life of great difficulty that resulted in him being so confident in his peculiarity, however, he rode through random towns quite often and seemingly with no effort.
One of my colleagues, the same one referenced in the first installment, made mention of how Schultz, however, still succumbed to some of the idiosyncrasies of being a white male and interacting with a black man. I didn’t notice it in the two times I’ve watched it, but my colleague noted that Schultz “ticked” at Django to take his hat off the table as they sit down for beer in much the same way Schultz would tick at his horse.
In cultures ancient and modern, and across the wide spectrum from Asia to the Pacific Islands, to the African continent and even in the western hemisphere, it is considered common cultural practice to offer the stranger water when you first meet them. Even in many cultures here in the United States, when you first meet someone or invite them into your house, you offer them something to drink or even fix them something to eat. Without fail, when I go see one of my aunts and can drop by unexpectedly, within the first 2 minutes of me entering the house, she asks can she make me something to eat. I see that cultural practice occurring more in that scene than what my colleague saw: Schultz is inviting Django into a freed man’s culture and giving him the privileges thereunto. Even more than that, to sit down and have a meal at a table with someone, or even a drink, the same drink is a signal that that person sees the other as an equal.
Now while Schultz was aiding in Django’s liberation, through the process of being with Django, in some sense liberated him as well. The implications of a white man seen so frequently with a white man no doubt led to some cross-racial implications unheard of for 1858. With the historical tenderbox ripened for explosion by the Dred Scott decision sparked by a very similar situation, a white slave owner traveling to free states with his black slave, it was no doubt that as they traveled they would have run into problems very similar to the opening scene in Daughtry, Texas in the saloon.
It must be noted that Schultz, just like Django, were characters created as an archetype and not based on an amalgamation of stereotypes. There was no sustaining narrative that existed for a freed black slave that went through hell to get a romantic interest and live to tell about it, in much the same way there is no sustaining narrative of a white man who existed and abhorred slavery and befriended a former slave and participated in his freedom. Out of thin air it seems this character was created as we the viewers are left to machinate a story for him ex nihilo.
Dr. Schultz character, however, I can’t help but wonder was it designed to be the character on which whites can lay their white guilt. When the specter of slavery is raised the the horrors that accompany it, without fail whites tend to point to the history of white abolitionists that stood against the institution of slavery. But it’s one of those things that gets pointed out so quickly in much the same way the historical fact that some African tribal nations on the west coast of the continent did sell captive people to European slave traders. The problem is that whites can use a “King Schultz” character to feel better about themselves whereas blacks seem to tacitly be forced to feel worse about their history.
Schultz is like this German derivation of John Brown or something. He despises slavery to the point of almost physical disgust watching the brutal execution of a mandingo fighter and even has the pointed pleasure of killing Calvin Candie himself–not Django. If this character is the one on whom white guilt can be laid, this dichotomy metes itself interestingly.
What I did think was interesting was that there was no level of sexuality associated with Schultz’s character. His interest in Broom Hilde, obviously, was a ploy and there was still no other romantic interest that existed for his character in any shape or form. And by romantic interest, it should be noted that I mean his character was rendered asexual. This while the other major male characters (aside from Stephen) are sexualized: Candie had his harem and even Big Daddy had these sexualized house slaves that were obviously kept around for his sexual pleasure.
As I said before, I purposely am reading a lot into these character analyses and these are subject to the whims of my own opinion. Make sure to leave a comment below.
Keep it uppity and keep it radical, JLL