Reginald Hudlin’s comic adaptation of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012) contains some scenes that did not make it into the final cut of the film. One of these sequences involves how Broomhilda Von Shaft came to be Calvin Candie’s property. The sequence provides an important narrative plot point in the comic, and it also provides a space for some very important discussions about the lives of enslaved women and the system that kept them enslaved. Today, I want to focus on this sequence and discuss some of the ways that we need to read it in connection with texts as disparate as Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Ernest Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. Each of these texts, and more, help to inform our readings of the sequence in Django Unchained.
Arriving in Greenville, Mississippi, to search for Broomhilda, Django and King Schultz enter the records office and a slave auction. All of this causes Django to “look into his past” as he thinks about “when he was on the auction block.” These memories lead him to ponder, “Who owns Broomhilda now?” From here. we get a 27 page flashback detailing what has happened to Broomhilda since her forced separation from Django.
Carson Harmony buys Broomhilda for his son, Scotty, a 24 year-old who cannot seem to find love with white women. Scotty and Broomhilda essentially start a relationship. There is no visual indication of rape. In fact, the only scene of sexual interaction is a silhouette with Broomhilda straddling Scotty. This does not, however, diminish the forced sexual interactions between the two, thus highlighting the violence that Broomhilda endured and continues to endure in the Harmony household. Scotty seems gentle and genuinely interested in Broomhilda. She becomes, in essence, part of the family, yet she is still very much Scotty’s property.
When Scotty and Broomhilda head into town for a romantic getaway, something that makes me think about the placage system in Louisiana, the two end up at Candie’s Cleopatra Club. Scotty starts playing cards with Candie, and eventually they reach the point where they do not have any more money to bet. So, Candie suggests that they bet their “property,” Broomhilda and Candie’s Sheba. Candie forces Scotty to bet, and Scotty loses the hand. Scotty protests, Candie kills him, then Candie barges into Broomhilda’s hotel room and rapes her. This is the last image we see.
From the outset of the sequence, we see the ways that enslaved women endured sexual violence. Broomhilda stands on the auction block as the auctioneer exposes her breasts and states, “Fellas, you ain’t felt gentle till you felt nigger gal gentle.” Scotty looks on lustfully. The next panel shifts the focus from sexual exploitation to physical violence as the auctioneer displays Broomhilda’s scarred back and the “r” on her cheek. These images cause Scotty to “react with repulsion.” These six panels display, in full detail, the sexual violence that enslaved women endured. As Alice Walker shows,
For centuries the black woman has served as the primary pornographic “outlet” for white men in Europe and America. We need only think of the black women used as breeders, raped for the pleasure and profit of their owners. We need only think of the license the “master” of the slave woman enjoyed.
Broomhilda understands this well. Standing on the auction block, she looks out at the men who begin to bid on her. After each man bids, we see closeups on Broomhilda’s face as she peers at them in disgust and fear. When Harmony bids, and wins, Broomhilda’s face displays more sadness than fear.
After the auction, Scotty and Broomhilda ride to the plantation in a wagon. Scotty offers her jelly beans and even invites her to sit beside him in the front of the wagon. However, once they arrive at the house, everything changes. Scotty’s mother tells Broomhilda, “Boy’s twenty-four. He still ain’t a man yet. That’s why you’re here.” Scotty’s parents see Broomhilda as nothing more than property and a sexual object for their son, yet Scotty views her as a friend and a romantic companion. In this manner, the interaction between Scotty and Broomhilda reminds me some of Tee Bob and Mary Agnes from Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Tee Bob wants a romantic relationship with Mary Agnes, but the societal “rules” state that he relationship cannot proceed in that manner. If he wants to take her on the side of the road, in the ditch, then that is ok, but he cannot, in any manner, have an open relationship with because she is Creole and he is white. As a result, Tee Bob kills himself and Mary Agnes leaves the region.
The main similarity that appears between the texts is that Scotty, unwittingly so, challenges the preestablished “rules” regulating relationships between masters and enslaved women who are their property. Scotty’s feelings and actions with Broomhilda show that he cares for her. Broomhilda, on the other hand, knows the “rules” and like Mary Agnes does not joyfully reciprocate Scotty’s feelings. Ultimately, she is still property, and as property, she can be bought and sold on a whim. Scotty’s realization of this fact occurs during his card game with Candie.
When Candie bets Sheba, he demands that Scotty bet Broomhilda. Scotty refuses, at first, but Candie persists. Candie tells Scotty, “In Chickasaw County, [Broomhilda’s] money. Pony her up or fold.” Scotty signs a bill of sale, then the men show their cards. Candie wins with a flush, and Scotty knows that Candie cheated. He sent Sheba over to kiss Scotty, thus spying on his opponent’s hand. Scotty calls Candie out, and pleads to get Broomhilda back. Candie denies the request, telling Scotty, “You lost that girl, fat boy.” Candie then shoots Scotty. After getting shot, Scotty’s falls on the table and blood splatters on the bill of sale for Broomhilda. Candie walks, with the bloody bill sale, across the street to the hotel, asks what room Scott Harmony was staying in, and violently breaks down the door while Broomhilda sleeps.
Two panels show the bloody bill of sale, and each of these panels recall the opening of the sequence. In one panel, we see Scotty’s body draped over the table with blood splattered on the bill of sale which sits on the left side. Here, the innocent, naive Scotty from the beginning of the sequence who does not quite grasp how the “rules” work, lies dead and his blood stains the paper representing the woman he loves. Rather than a marriage license, we get a bill of sale showing their relationship. The next panel shows Canide’s feet walking through the door of the hotel as he holds the bill of sale between his fingers. Blood drops from the bill of sale and gathers on the floor. Again, the bill represents Broomhilda, and the symbolic nature of the blood brings to minds the fact that her body is enslaved and sexual violence again awaits her with Candie.
Ultimately, Broomhilda becomes the bill of sale, nothing more than a piece of paper. Stripped of her identity and individuality, she exists as nothing more than property. While Scotty may love her, in his way, he owns her. He sees her for what his father purchased her for, a birthday present. Thus, she exists to please him and nothing more. Candie wants her because he knows that she can add to his stock. He leers after her and sees her as nothing more than sexual piece of chattel for Candyland. Both men ignore Broomhilda’s wants and desires and ultimately her humanity. In fact, throughout the entire sequence, Broomhilda rarely speaks, uttering probably no more than 5-6 lines throughout. (Most are only one word or two.) This is something else that should be looked at in more detail. Eisa Nefetari Ulen has written about Broomhilda’s identity and agency in the film, and that discussion would benefit us for the comic as well.
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