Django and his Damsel in Distress

So I saw Django Unchained this past weekend. And while overall I liked it, there was one aspect that made me want to turn on the capslock of RAGE AND FURY. (Not saying this is the only aspect of the movie that could be critiqued–it’s just the one that got to me).

I don’t think I can do this without spoilers, so: Spoilers! Don’t want ’em, stop reading here.

My problem is with the character of Broomhilda. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s such a Damsel in Distress when she and Django are outright compared to Siegfried and Brunhilda, and that legend is explicitly retold within the movie as ‘hero goes through hell to rescue fair maid.’

Except! Broomhilda is also given the backstory of a “troublemaker” who tried to escape several times. Now “troublemaker” and “Damsel in Distress” are completely contradictory–but even that wouldn’t have bothered me if it had been portrayed consistently that way–I have no problem with a man riding heroically to a woman’s defense, as long as the woman is doing her damnedest to survive/better her situation in the meantime, not passively awaiting male help. (There are stories where I think this works really well–THE GRASS KING’S CONCUBINE by Kari Sperring being the first that comes to mind. Jehan is coming to rescue Aude; Aude hopes for help but doesn’t know help is coming, so she keeps actively trying to escape.)

But here’s the thing. Every single time Broomhilda is on screen, she is passive. SAYING that she tried to escape means nothing; Django calling her “little troublemaker” (especially since the ‘little’ makes it diminutive) does absolutely nothing to make her a female character with agency when we NEVER see her have any agency at all. She is always passive, and you can tell us about her badass backstory all you want, it means shit if she never acts like that.

I have to say, I noticed this throughout the movie but it didn’t make me truly rageful until the very ending. To have her there sitting on her horse acting like a little girl plugging her ears, then simpering at Django… seriously!? Ugh. And then, to add insult to injury, their silhouettes ride off into the night, and she hoists a rifle on her hip. Way too little, way too late–cause at that point it seems unbelievable that she could shoot, or do anything other than hide behind Django. (Not to mention that a silhouette shot is not really empowering her as a character, since it erases identity).

The really sad thing is this could have been fixed so easily (and who knows, maybe there’s a deleted scene that does this)–all you’d have to do is give her some agency somewhere. Because then her backstory would mean something. Hell, show her helping Django lay the dynamite. Or show her asking questions about Django/Schultz’s plan to rescue her. But nope, all she does is faint. Granted, her faint is actually one of the few over the top Damsel moments I wouldn’t want to change, since imo it leads to pretty much the funniest line of the movie. But still, show her waking up and taking some active interest in her own damn rescue attempt.

There. I’ve ranted myself out. Like I said, overall enjoyed the movie but with some major reservations. If you’ve seen it, what did you think?

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