Django: Unchained – What If Will Smith Played Django

Django: Unchained - What If Will Smith Played Django

Before the part went to Jamie Foxx, Will Smith was originally considered for the role of Django in Quentin Tarantino’s Django: Unchained. Foxx turned in a typically charismatic performance; however, it’s intriguing to think about the possibility of Will Smith performing in a Tarantino film, especially considering how Quentin Tarantino is well-known for intensifying famous actors’ performances. While Smith and Tarantino could have combined to make something great, Smith demanded that changes were made to Django: Unchained, which was something that Tarantino couldn’t agree on.

In the Jamie Foxx version, Django is a man freed from slavery by Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a part-time father figure, and a full-time bounty hunter. The pair join forces to make money and eventually, try to save Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who is enslaved at the Candieland plantation. Django: Unchained does not shy away from the ugly truth of America’s history of slavery, as there are numerous scenes of torture and violence against its Black characters. Like Tarantino’s other work, the film operates at the extremes of the mainstream consciousness.

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That may not have been the case if Will Smith was cast in the role of Django. Smith is careful about the roles he chooses and how they reflect upon him, and Django was one role he deemed too extreme. While Django is a heroic character, he is also capable of extreme violence. Although Django: Unchained is about saving Broomhilda, it is also about Django enacting vengeance. Django: Unchained is a fantastic film in its own right. However, it’s interesting to think about how different it could have been if Tarantino had agreed to Will Smith’s creative demands.

Django Unchained’s Theme Would’ve Been About Love, Not Vengeance

Broomhilda talking to Stephen in Django Unchained.

In 2015, at the annual The Hollywood Reporter’s actors roundtable, Smith explained that if he did Django the film would have to be “a love story, not a vengeance story.” Smith certainly agreed with some of Tarantino’s vision for the film, confessing that the story’s crux of Django learning how to be a bounty hunter to save his wife from slavery was “perfect.” However, Smith probably thought that Django: Unchained’s final act was a bridge too far. In the film, Django returns to Candieland after saving Broomhilda and murders many of the people who worked for Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). If the film was changed to meet Smith’s demands and became a “love story,” then it is unlikely that Django’s final act of vengeance would have happened. Instead, Broomhilda’s rescue would have been followed by a final ride into the sunset, not a ride away from a burning building.

Although the romance is central to the film’s plot, the act of vengeance is what leaves the final taste in the mouth of viewers. For the film’s central theme to be about love, there must have been an element of forgiveness from Django. Smith explained that he wanted “love to be the answer” to Django’s conflict. If Tarantino had changed this, Django would be solely motivated by being reunited with his wife. The reunion would complete Django’s arc, and he would abandon the violence he had to employ once he had achieved his desire.

Django Unchained Wouldn’t Have Been As Violent As Tarantino’s Other Movies

Jamie Foxx holding a gun in Django Unchained

Violence is synonymous with the work of Quentin Tarantino: within ten minutes of his first movie, Reservoir Dogs, Tim Roth’s Mr. Orange lies in a pile of his own blood after being shot. Throughout the years, Tarantino’s creative and often gory use of violence has both endeared audiences to his work and welcomed many critics. Despite those critics, Tarantino has never changed his style, and Django: Unchained is evidence of that. The film features hallway shoot-outs where dead bodies are used as shields, scenes where characters are whipped, and even a scene where one character finishes another off with a hammer to the head.

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Will Smith is not opposed to being in violent films. He has featured in Bad Boys, I Am Legend, and DC’s Suicide Squad. However, none of those films are as graphic or as visceral as Django: Unchained. Smith didn’t believe in Django’s narrative where “violence begets violence.” Had Tarantino agreed, the amount of blood and gore in Django would have been limited. Smith wanted to play “a superhero” when he was a younger actor and if Django was more like a stereotypical superhero (i.e., more principled and romanticized), he would only kill to protect those he loves. He would not have killed Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) or Calvin Candie’s family, and the film would have only included violence when it was necessary, like when Django must learn to be a bounty hunter to defeat Calvin Candie. While this would mean that the film would seem restrained in comparison to Kill Bill, it would also result in Django being a character that isn’t too dissimilar from Smith’s previous leading roles.

Will Smith’s Django Would’ve Killed Calvin Candie Instead

A crucial turning point in Django: Unchained occurs when Dr. Schultz refuses to take one last insult from Calvin Candie, and instead of shaking Candie’s hand, he shoots him with a gun hidden up his sleeve. This causes a chaotic ripple effect where a gunfight breaks out, Schultz also dies, and Django is defeated and imprisoned by those left standing at Candieland. It is the ultimate false defeat before Django’s escape and vengeance in the final act. However, if Will Smith was starring it would have gone very differently.

When speaking to EW in 2013, Smith revealed that he passed on Django: Unchained because he “needed to be the lead.” In the film, Dr. Schultz killed the villain Calvin Candie and in Smith’s opinion that meant that Django was not the main character. If Tarantino had changed the script to allow Django to kill Calvin Candie, it would have been extremely cathartic. Django, a man that was once enslaved, would topple the embodiment of evil and slavery, while simultaneously rescuing his wife through this single act of violence. It could have also meant that Django dies immediately after like Schultz does in the movie. The film would have been resolved with Django’s sacrifice to save his wife and again, reinforce the theme of love that Smith desperately wanted to prevail.

Would Django Unchained Have Had Less Slavery?

Woman tied to a tree in Django Unchained

Although Will Smith turned down the role of Django, he will star in the upcoming slavery drama Emancipation. In an interview discussing the two films, Smith said that he had “always avoided making films about slavery” because his philosophy of depicting Black people in films was to display “Black excellence alongside [his] white counterparts.”  This philosophy has worked well for Smith throughout his career, displaying Black excellence in huge hits, such as Independence Day and Men In Black. Nonetheless, Smith’s willingness to be in Emancipation, a film about slavery, proves that it was not the topic that made him turn down Django, but the message. While Emancipation appears to be a more grounded take on slavery than Django: Unchained, it will also not be a story about vengeance like Tarantino’s movie. Smith’s choice proves that he was devoted to the idea of Django being a love story, one where slavery is not tackled with violence but by the love between Django and Broomhilda. Smith revealed that he chose to make Emancipation because it was a film that was about “the power of Black love.” If this was also the case in a Will Smith-led version of Django, there could have been more scenes to emphasize the bond between Django and Broomhilda. Instead of the scenes where they attempt to escape, there could have been more scenes before they were enslaved to depict the potential life they could live together after Broomhilda is rescued. In essence, their relationship outside of the context of slavery could have been strengthened, rather than the struggles they faced while enslaved.

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Christoph Waltz’s Performance Might Have Been Underplayed

Christoph Waltz’s depiction of Dr. King Schultz was simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, and even earned him his second Best Supporting Actor win at The Academy Awards. While the quality of Waltz’s performance would not have suffered if Will Smith played Django, his screentime might have. This is because Smith wanted the script to focus more on Django’s character and to assert him as the main protagonist. A version of Django: Unchained that included Will Smith would have had Django taking the lead in the plan to rescue Broomhilda. In the film, Django is eventually the one to save the day, as he originally goes ahead with the plan Schultz proposes after Schultz leads the negotiations during the tense dining room scene with Calvin Candie. If Django was the lead like Smith demanded, he could have been the one to create an escape plan, or he could be the one to coax Candie into letting them purchase Broomhilda – which Smith would have no doubt excelled at with his leading man charisma. Scenes with Smith’s Django are exciting to imagine. However, Django: Unchained is a triumph and Jamie Foxx is an excellent Django. Maybe if something isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it.

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About The Author

George Lawley
(17 Articles Published)

George Lawley is a writer for Screen Rant, specialising in Film and TV.

Based in Manchester, England, George aspires to be a screenwriter and is often distracted by football.

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