“Django Unchained” … from History …


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… with the Oscar awards coming up on Sunday night, I thought this would be a good time to comment on …

… the historical anachronisms in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained … we are not big Tarantino fans, but Candy & I went to see this because it is Oscar-nominated … and we both liked it more than we thought we would …

… nevertheless, several blatant anachronisms were strikingly obvious … and upon further reflection, several others not as obvious appeared …

… the most obvious, because of its central role in the movie (including the handling thereof by Tarantino himself in a bit part) was the use of dynamite to blow stuff up … of course, blowing stuff up is the primary raison d’etre for Tarantino’s movies, so his use of dynamite in this one is no surprise … however … the movie (according to the introduction) is set in 1858 … and dynamite wasn’t even invented until 1866 … furthermore, despite the use of the technique as a plot device, dynamite cannot be exploded by shooting into it … dynamite, by the way, was invented by Alfred Nobel, who patented his invention in 1867 … yes, the same Nobel after whom the Peace Prize is named … obviously, he would not have won it himself for that particular invention …

… another obvious anachronism was the appearance of a group of hooded terror-riders … though not specifically identified as Ku Klux Klan, this rather inept group was obviously intended to evoke the Klan … even though the Klan wasn’t founded until, coincidentally, 1866 … however much whites may have subjugated and abused blacks in the antebellum era, they didn’t do it by riding around on horses while wearing white hoods … the Ku (not Klu) Klux Klan was founded by former confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest and several other equally delusional ex-CSA officers …  by 1869, the Klan had essentially disappeared, only to be revived in 1915 … by 1920, the Klan was advertising its opposition to “niggers, Catholics, Jews … dope, bootlegging, graft, nightclubs and road houses, violations of the Sabbath, unfair business dealings, sex and scandalous behavior” … despite deep-seated hatred on the part of some, the Klan had once again pretty much died off by the 1950’s and is now an historical irrelevancy …

… other less obvious anachronisms …

… several of the weapons used in the movie were not produced until after the Civil War … including the Derringer pistols used by Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) … the Sharps rifle used by Django, which was first produced in 1874 … and the Henry 1860 repeating rifles used by Schultz and Django which was first produced in, well, 1860 …

… sunglasses of the type worn in the movie by Django and Old Man Carrucan (Bruce Dern) were invented by Sam Foster, founder of Foster Grant, in 1929 …

… Dr. Schultz (and others) refer to his home country as “Germany”, which didn’t exist until 1871 … someone from Dusseldorf, Schultz’s ostensible hometown in the movie, would have said he was from Prussia, which was the national identity of the region at the time … Germany, as a country, was founded in 1871 by Otto von Bismarck, after whom the World War II German battleship was named …

… Django and Schultz meet Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) at the “Cleopatra Club” … which features as its emblem a bust of Nefertiti … but Nefertiti’s bust wasn’t discovered until 1912, when it was found in Thutmose’s workshop in Amarna, Egypt, by a German archaeological team lead by Ludwig Borchardt …

… high quality straws of the type used by Candie were not invented until at least 1888, depending on whether it is paper or plastic … paper straws were invented in 1888 by Marvin Stone … plastic straws were invented in 1938 by Joseph Friedman … prior to 1888, straws were generally made from hollow grass stems, reeds or metal tubes …

… Candie’s sister was playing “Fur Elise” on the harp … but “Fur Elise” was written and published by Ludwig von Beethoven in 1867 …

… Schultz exclaims “Sold American!” when he finds Django at the beginning of the film … but that phrase was introduced as an advertising catchphrase for Lucky Strike cigarettes in the 1930’s …

… similarly, the term “Mandingo”, used in the film, didn’t come into common usage until publication of the 1957 novel of the same name by Kyle Onstott and the 1975 movie based on the novel … the book was set in the 1830’s, but Onstott used the term “Mandingo” as a variation of the tribal name Mandinka, the ethnic heritage of Ganymede, the primary slave character in the book … interestingly, Kunta Kinte, the primary character in Alex Haley’s “Roots”, was also a Mandinka …

… even the pervasive use throughout the film of the word “nigger” as a racial pejorative is historically inaccurate … although the word, and its alternatives, niggur and niggra, were in common use during the mid-1800’s, it was generally used as a descriptive rather than pejorative term and was used with respect to all dark-skinned people, not just African slaves … in popular literature from the second half of the 19th century, such as Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876) and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (1884), both of which were set in the 1840’s, the term is used in a non-pejorative sense … even as late as the 1897 Joseph Conrad novella “The Nigger of ‘Narcissus'”, the term was used without derogatory racial connotation … it wasn’t until the 1900’s that the word came into widespread use as a racial epithet.

So, if you are a Tarantino fan, enjoy the movie for what he’s good at (blowing stuff up), but don’t rely on it for historical research or accuracy.

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