I think people are over-doing it with the comparisons of Samuel L. Jackson's character (Stephen) in Django Unchained to Uncle Tom. I mean, have the people drawing these parallels ever read Uncle Tom's Cabin? I'm guessing no. If they had, they'd know that Uncle Tom was tortured to death because he refused to tell Simon Legree where two of Legree's runaway slaves, Cassy and Emmeline, were. That is, the Uncle Tom of Stowe's novel has more in common with Django Freeman than with Stephen. There were a few slaves in Stowe's novel who were complicit with Legree -- Sambo and Quimbo -- though they later repented their role in torturing Uncle Tom. And therein makes me wonder about Stephen planting the idea in the mind of the white people at Candyland about what to do with Django. I wonder if Stephen's suggestion that Django be sold to the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company might have been a way of saving Django in some way? It certainly spared him from immediate mutiliation and death shortly afterwards and ended up being the means for his escape. I'm just wondering if there is something buried deep in Stephen that was trying to help out Django in some way. Maybe not -- I confess that I could too optimistic in my interpreation here.
All of this leads me to wonder, though, which sources did Tarantino read when he was writing Django? (The title of this post leans on Stowe's A Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin, which she published to discuss the sources she drew upon for the novel.) I'm guessing Uncle Tom's Cabin, because Calvin Candie's statement that "Under the laws of Chicakasaw County, Broomhilda is my property. And I can do anything with my property I so desire" he's paralleling Legree's statement that "isn't he MINE? Can't I do what I like with him? Who's to hinder, I wonder?" (More on Uncle Tom's Cabin here.) And maybe some of the other antebellum literature, like William Goodell's non-fiction American Slave Code in Theory and Practice. If you're looking for evidence of the brutality of slavery and the legal system, that's one place to start.
What about secondary sources? I'm guessing a big no to U.B. Phillips' American Negro Slavery. And I'm going to have to say no to the portrayal of slavery from Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's Time on the Cross. I think Tarantino drew a bunch on works about slave life that emphasize brutality but also the strength of enslaved people. What about Eugene Genovese's Roll, Jordan, Roll? And though it's been largely rejected by literature written in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, I'm wondering if Stanley Elkins' Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life might have been a basis for some of Stephen's character? That's been a classic for generations. Walter Johnson's Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market's a distinct possibility. Maybe Ariela Gross's Double Character because there's all that talk about warranties and contracts for sale of slaves. Someone who knows a fair amount about law obviously consulted on this. I continue to be deeply interested in Schutlz' adherence to law -- in part that's obviously self-interest -- and his final act in violation of the law. This part of the movie correlates with themes in Melville's Billy Budd and Stowe's Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (and debates over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850).
And what about slaves and mining? I'm wondering if Taratino drew upon the evidence of the California Slavery-Era Insurance Registry, which reveals that mine owners were frequent customrs of life insurance companies for their slaves.
All of this reminds me, though, of a suggestion of a friend of mine who's a fabulous historian of slavery that there's some excellent work to be done on "loyal slaves." Perhaps the character of Stephen will provide an impetus to work on that important and strangely neglected topic.
The illustration of this post is the cover of Maurie McInnis' fabulous book, Slaves Waiting for Sale.