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Django Unchained: The Curious Case of Calvin Candie
An interesting take on the true nature and facade of DiCaprio's Calvin Candie.
Published on December 27, 2012 | Filed under editorial

Note: These are my personal observations and musings on certain themes and characters in Django Unchained. I have not read any other reviews or opinions that may mirror/conflict with my own. That being said, there’s a whole lotta spoilers ahead. So just don’t if you haven’t seen it.

Calvin Candie

Let me come right out with it. It’s my assertion that Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) was, in fact, a homosexual character who may (or may not) have been in a relationship with his male slave, Stephen (Sam Jackson). If I’m incorrect, or rather, too reaching in my reading, and there was no sexual relationship, then I have no problem amending that aspect of my of my statement (but not so much the part about Candie’s orientation). There were certainly “inappropriate” dealings between the two men.

Firstly, let me explain my Candie as a gay man thought process. While DiCaprio had occasion to deliver his dialogue in a cliche, almost lilting manner that could allude to more feminine leanings, and opted for a drink served in a coconut over something more inherently masculine, those are just surface qualities that could simply be attributed to his breeding. They’re still there, but they’re certainly not “proof.” More compelling is his hobby: Mandingo fighting. More compelling still is the statue of two rippling, entwined, male bodies situated behind his seat at the head of the table; always present just beyond him. The statue is actually lingered on as Candie departs for the library at Stephen’s behest.

Django Unchained

Ah, the library. The location of many a manly conversation. It’s a warm, scholarly place home to brandy snifters and fireplaces. In Django, it’s no different. When Candie arrives, Stephen is already sipping a drink, his tone immediately changed. He’s no longer that over the top caricature. He’s an equal and, dare I say, the brains of the operation.

The clandestine library meeting obviously doesn’t prove a sexual relationship, but it certainly hammers home the unusual nature of the pairing. The unexpected turn the relationship takes adds to the enigma that is Candie/Stephen as a single entity. Up until this point, the only curious thing is how much Candie allows him to get away with.

Candie isn’t a smart man. He is easily duped. He is a Francophile that doesn’t speak a lick of French. Beyond that, he gets angry when others do. He is a vain man with little vision. He’s not clever. Stephen is clever (see also, manipulative).

At this point in the film I was content with the turn that had taken place. And maybe, I thought, these queer themes were just my wishful thinking. And then Candie got shot.

Sam Jackson as Stephen

It’s a bloodbath of the highest order and Stephen’s reaction is amazing. He runs to his master’s side screaming “Calvin!” He cradles the dying man, and the embrace is, with out a doubt, intimate. One could argue that because of their obvious age difference, and Candie’s proclamation of having always been surrounded by “black faces,” that Stephen may have raised him; that his reaction was one of a bereaved parent. OK, I can buy that. But in the face of everything else we’re shown, my mind goes in other directions.

Whether they were in bed together literally, or just figuratively, Stephen was definitely playing a part. In the final moments of the film, when he casts his cane aside, he become another man entirely: confident, powerful, seemingly younger. This is the real Stephen; the Stephen Candie knew only too well.

The alliance between Schultz and Django was beautifully crafted and nurtured. But for my money, Stephen and Candie were the real centerpieces. Whatever you choose to believe, their interactions were loaded and layered. I can not rewatch this soon enough.

Author:
Christine enjoys obsessing over Paracinema magazine. She also loves well written hour long TV dramas. Her free time is spent with her many boyfriends: Brian De Palma, Edgar Wright & Alfred Hitchcock.

FROM AROUND THE WEB:
  • Doug Tilley

    I didn’t pick up on that at ALL, though it’s certainly an interesting theory – though one I don’t necessarily subscribe to. I actually think a romantic relationship with Candie would diminish the Stephen character, as it makes him less an Uncle Tom race traitor – and more a victim of his own heart. Stephen’s reaction of grief comes from seeing the man who controls his entire identity – and whom gave him his place in the household – being destroyed.

    I thought it was rather obvious, as well, that Candie was having an incestuous relationship with his own sister. It was certainly strongly implied.

    • Christine

      See, this is why I decided to write this. Because I knew it would instigate fantastic conversation.

      And I totally agree with your take. Seriously. I just couldn’t stop pondering this point and had to write it out. Thanks for reading.

    • Dylan

      Although I didn’t pick up on a homosexual relationship at first, the more I think about it, the more I see it.

      Separately, I was thinking about Candie’s relationship with his sister and it seemed a bit too on the nose. As you said it was pretty obvious, but to me it seemed way too obvious to be anything but a red herring. I can’t buy that a clever filmmaker like Tarantino would implement such a trope like the southern brother/sister relationship to be taken at face value.

      I saw Candie’s sister to be his beard. A woman he could focus on in front of other men, without having to actually engage in a sexual relationship. What was more objectionable at the time, to constantly identify your sister as an object of beauty, or to be in a homosexual relationship with one of your slaves?

      At one point, post library meeting someone says to Candie, (I’m paraphrasing) “Hey, what took you so long? I thought you two (Candie and Stephen) had run off together.” That comment, at the time went over my head. But it fits perfectly into Christine’s interpretation.

      • Doug Tilley

        I still think Tarantino is too smart to undermine his own characterization like that. And while the relationship with his sister IS on the nose, I don’t think it’s a film that is meaning to approach such subject matter with much delicacy. The very fact that it’s unspoken makes it more subtle than most of the elements that make up the film.

        • Emilio Gallardo

          Hey Doug,

          What would be your explanation on why Stephen was pretending to be an old man? He clearly wasn’t. It would be the perfect façade to cover up a homosexual relationship and by that the “Uncle Tom” side of the character doesn’t get undermined at all, according to me it just makes it richer. I also think that Tarantino is very smart. Loved the film!

    • http://www.facebook.com/adrienne.hodges1 Adrienne Porter Hodges

      Interesting, because I thought it was clear that Stephen was very much the alpha in that relationship.

  • http://www.goregoregirl.com/ Gore Gore Girl

    Super interesting take on that relationship! I read it as a particularly grotesque Uncle Tom type relationship, but I agree there were a couple of moments where something ambiguous seemed to be suggested. The broader point you make though, about homoeroticism and slavery, is certainly there. Undeniably so. This was something I particularly liked about the film: that they focused on the homoerotics of slavery rather than focusing on abuses of the female body, which is typically a more comfortable way of exploring trauma (problematically so). The fact that this film focuses on white male (sexual) use and abuse of black male bodies is pretty radical and unexpected, as well as problematic in some places. I’m still unsure how I feel about particular characters and scenes, but in general I think Tarantino did something pretty daring with this film in terms of the sexual politics and perversions of slavery.

  • shelley

    I thought this movie was very homo erotic. I didn’t think that Stephen and Candie had a relationship but thought it odd that men took care of men throughout the generations, especially in the South. I thought Candie watched the slaves fight for his own sensual pleasures not for the money

    • Christine

      Well I thank you for your input!

  • Risse

    I thought Stephen’s reaction to Candie’s death was of hurt as well Stephen’s anger towards Django, it was like you come in my house and take my “lover” Also, I think I noticed that after the funeral scene Stephen had Candie’s cigarette holder.

  • http://tokyovideo.tv/ sleestakk

    I read this when you initially posted (saw you tweeted again). This isn’t what I gleaned during my viewing but I can see how this could be the case. This is something I will keep in mind when I rewatch (hopefully soon). FWIW, my take-away was more surrogate father/son relationship.

    • Christine

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. The further removed I get from my initial viewing, the less certain I am about Candie/Stephen, but the more certain I become about Candie’s orientation.

      :)

      • Emilio Gallardo

        Why would Stephen pretend to be an old man if he wasn’t having a relationship with Calvin? Calvin also mentions the “N… fever” to Dr. Schultz when they are talking about Brunhilde. Why would he know about this (as he says it, you know that he has experienced it) if he’s in love with his sister?

  • Christmastiger

    I agree with you wholeheartedly, Christine, even if there may not have been a loving, monogamous relationship between Stephen and Calvin, there was still some relationship there. It appeared to me that Calvin was sexually interested in Django (he almost always addressed him even when talking to other people) because he was interested in the manly macho type like his mandingo fighters. Calvin even says to Stephen before he sees Django “You two oughta hate each other” and it could be taken as Calvin letting him know he found another possible lover. It also explains why Calvin got SO over-the-top angry when he found out about Broomhilda, he realized that Django is in fact straight and not interested in him.
    Also, the whole castration part seemed homoerotic–why would you logically punish someone for killing people by cutting off their balls?
    And apparently spaghetti westerns have had a long history of homosexual subtext, not Brokeback Mountain obvious but the emphasis on male camaraderie and whatnot.

    • Christine

      Thank you so much for the amazing comment. You bring up a lot of interesting points. Specifically, Calvin’s interest in Django.
      I really need to watch this again.

  • http://www.goregoregirl.com/ Gore Gore Girl

    Here’s a tangentially related article, in that Hobson addresses the invisibility of slave rape in favour of a focus on black masculinity: “Unspeakable Things Unseen” – Janell Hobson

    http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2013/01/10/django-unchained-unspeakable-things-unseen/

    • Christine

      Oh, thanks for that! It was a very illuminating read.

  • Iagreerighthere

    Finally! I just watched the movie and made the EXACT same observation and shared it with the people I watched the movie with and they didn’t seem to have caught it – viewing the character as simply “a wealthy bourgeois type.” Fair enough – this could have been the aim or DiCap’s interpretation that shone through.

    However, the surprising LACK of exploration/analysis, and depth into this theory of Candie’s character/role/portrayal is shocking. As a result, I cannot help but feel either very much mistaken, fooled, and frankly stupid….Or (on the flip-side), perhaps, it ACTUALLY means I’m just MORE cognizant of the subtleties in film (and definitely NOT just seeing what I – supposedly secretly – want to see). ********BTW this is NOT a”humblebrag” ….. I mean, if it WAS … I would of course have to mention the string of accusations leveled against me — a plot “psychic” and “inadvertent spoiler.” ;)
    Jokes aside —

    I also reflexively suspected that there was “something” between Calvin and Stephen. BUT! — I have since recanted that theory. Instead, I still truly believe that you are dead on about Calvin’s sexual orientation. There were many moments suggesting (well, at least, during the version I saw) of Calvin Candie’s his closeted homosexuality. HERE IS WHY I ALSO SAW THIS INTERPRETATION OF Leonardo Di Caprio’s Character:

    As you have previously noted, much of evidence for this theory can be seen in:
    -the (bleargh) Mandingo obsession
    -the seemingly Greco-Roman statue of two naked wrestling men in a pretty universally recognizeable gay sexual position (see Gay porn?)
    -Candie lives with his sister? … So, no wife, and no children, alrighty then … shoot I noticed it right? :P >>>>>> ALSO, HIS SISTER – whom he had GREAT admiration and love for was not CONVINCINGLY as beautiful as he repeatedly proclaimed … THOUGHT: Perhaps this was a reflection of CANDIE having only really admired feminine beauty through his sister growing up isolated and raised – as he notes – by “Black faces” [Stephen et. al]
    Also, She was one of the few, if not, one of the only sources of female interaction other than the enslaved. Oh, oh, oh!! – btw there was also no mention of his participation in the rape of the enslaved women during the discussions over Broomhilda.
    -Hrrmm……Also, the juxtaposition of his femininity to virtually every other Caucasian male/antagonist slave owner/general time period a$$hole… something that is reinforced by his revealed LACK of true nobility/education … the feigning of interest in all things French (obligatory smirk) … Perhaps, a front of intellectualism and bourgeois status masking superficiality in order to impress…. men?
    Then there were the lesser “signs” … take em as they are …
    -Fashion/style – weaker? I guess…
    -Name: Calvin Candie, Candyland (sweet yet destructive with excess)
    – His comic moments
    -Forgetting some more I’m sure of it….

    Anyway, I had to spam the comments section with my support of your piece!

    • Christine

      Ah! Thank you so much! You make so many amazing points. (Especially about his sister.) Thank you thank you thank you.

      What a wonderful read :)

  • Guest

    I discussed this very same thing with my wife – she picked up immediately that the Candie character was gay or at least bi, there was perhaps even something incestous with the sister – we thought that Candie’s partner was his lawyer.
    Stephen in our view was the surrogate father and wise advisor hence the reaction when Calvin is shot.
    A great film – thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • AmericanFellow

    oh wow, i thought i was the only person in the world who suspected some sexual underpinnings betw. candie and stephen. it was a delicious subtext which could have been expanded upon a bit more for at least interest’s sake – but then, doesn’t real art always spawn more questions than it answers? my roommate who saw the movie w/me was slightly taken aback when i inferred that slavery was an institution ingrained in this country’s very existence for over 400 years! (but then my roommate is a product of tennessee so my idea of anything goes slavery would nonplus him.) any activity between one human and another likely would have happened in a span of 400+ years — including gay slave owners, and an over the top profit-seeking slave plantation that dressed itself up into a ‘dollyland” whore house on the side. everything shown in the film probably did happen exactly this way a time or two, given the length of time humans as property shamed the arrogant and self-righteous americans who boast the founders this and the founders that.

  • Emilio Gallardo

    I watched the movie two days ago and the first thing I did yesterday was to look for a text like this to back up my theory. :) I totally agree with you, Christine and I hadn’t picked up the sculpture detail.

  • Someone

    I would be inclined to disagree with you about Stephen being Calvin’s lover. I would think that Moguy would be a much more likely ‘suspect’ — not least of all because of his talk of their years together, time at boarding school, and knowledge of his love of all things French but discomfort at being unable to speak French. Stephen’s knowing flirting with the female house slaves betrays a certain confidence in — even enjoyment of — his status on the plantation. My guess is that Stephen uses Calvin’s sexuality as a bargaining chip to maintain his status, with even the very accusation of being gay potentially spelling his downfall, if only in status. But then what does Candie desire if not status?

  • drescher_dude

    Instigating conversation or not you are coming off like a pompous and homophobic ignoramus ?? ” Stephen ” which is Jackson’s character was an Uncle Tom
    which means a black slave who’s overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals). Read about such matters and learn before saying stupid crap like that.

  • Tardyparty

    nope.. do not see it that way at all.
    The sculpture alludes to mandingo’s but is Kane and Able.
    As bad as it sounds, the extremely attractive female negro… is Candy’s sex toy. Otherwise what is the point of her being in the film?
    He remarks that King might have a case of ‘nigger-love’, which he himself clearly has.
    Finally, at the risk of stereotyping, homosexual men are not usually sadistic, cruel and ignorant.

  • Only_junk

    You need a dose of NyQuil

    • Dylan

      I agree.

  • Bas

    Wow this is really super exciting stuff! After watching the movie 4 times already I had not picked up on this at all but I see some very interesting points, either true or false, as mr. Waltz already said in an earlier Academy rewarded role ” I love rumors! Facts can be so misleading, where rumors, true or false, are often revealing. ”
    I think Candie is just a very twisted character who is pushed in a role which doesn’t come natural to him. You can see his interest in Django very much, but I think that is a certain jealousy for Django being a far more natural alpha male than Candie will ever be. Candie from birth being pushed in this sadistic and masachonistic role which doesn’t seem to fit him too much, and Django exposes a certain threat to or insecurity in him. Therefore him in the skull scene pointing out Django to be an ‘unexceptional nigger’. This is pure jealousy in my eyes, triggered by the betrayal. Ask yourself the following: “If he really was the alpha male he seems to be, would he be needing so much anger to dominate in the skull scene?”
    I believe that the purpose of a ‘trying to be but not really being alpha type’ will always be to overpower others under any given circumstance. A gorilla expanding and pounding his chest so to speak. In this insecurity, things like overpowering another man in sexual ways is also just another way of ventilating dominance at any cost.
    To summarize, I think he’s a guy who is pushed into a role that is not natural for him, nevertheless accepted by everyone around him, therefore he gets enough self confidence from his environment to keep this roll up. Still his pure evil is just his way of coping with a reality that is unformiliar for him. I have no idea what his natural role is, that would be to much of a guess, but I do believe he is being pushed in a role that isn’t a role that comes naturally to him, therefore maintaining that role by expressing very grotesque features, such as mandingo fighting and these kind of weird admirations. He is overscreaming himself to maintain his role as the alpha male which he actually is not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=783485122 Less Lee Moore

    With all of the evidence of white male slaveowner/black female slave sexual relationships we have, it’s certainly impossible that there were no male/male relationships between white owners and slaves. It would be statistically impossible. And just like liaisons with women, it would be easy to hide them in plain sight. No slave would publicly admit it, because no one would believe them and the owner would deny it forever! Are there other films that address this issue?

  • GINJARSNAP

    I think the intimacy between Calvin and Stephen was because Calvin was Stephen’s biological son. Remember when Calvin first returmed to CANDYLAND, Stephen was in the study paying bills and writing checks. In the 1850’s it would have been a crime to teach Stephen to read and write, let alone handle money for the plantation. Stephen owned Candyland, and he needed Calvin’s whitelite skin to do his business and gain access to places a slave could not have entered. And no white many would let amy black hag over hom the entire time he ate. Most certainly Stephen’s character could not amd would not have been permittedto participate in the conversations.. Calvin also would never have allowed Stephen to address hi as Calvin. It would have beem Mr Calvin or Master

  • Perry Constantine

    Coming to this late, but WOW! That is a really interesting theory! I knew there was something different about Calvin, but I thought perhaps it was an (admittedly more obvious) incestuous relationship with his sister. But this theory is making me rethink that completely. Certainly casts more light on Calvin’s “n—– love is a powerful thing” statement.

  • Rob Smith

    I find it, as a gay individual myself, kind of.. alarming to portray the “bad characters” as gay. Simply because with ignorance, people will subconsciously find hatred towards gay people (or any group of people). I mean Calvin Candie’s character has a devilish touch in the sense that his motives are pure selfish and evil (duh). And by having his character like this, one may include his sexuality as a evil part of him.

    Now yes i know, gay or straight- people are people and some will do good or bad things. In this movie the bad guys were likely gay. I think this was unnecessary to be included in the movie.

    I’ve been a victim of people’s ignorance. I see it all the time when they judge people (like me) before getting to know them. I might be taking this more personal than most, but the fact of the matter is that people will believe what is shown in their environment. I personally think it’s too soon to make gay people in movies and other forms of entertainment as the bad guy, when we have barely moved gay people from being stereotyped as overly feminine drag queens to good/main guys.

    However the way that Calvin acted with his sister, and the way that Stephen acted with one of the ladies in the kitchen, suggests to me that the whole gay relationship thing is up to one’s interpretation. I think we all can agree that in return for giving Stephen so much freedom, Calvin has ultimate loyalty from Stephen. And i mean it makes sense because Stephen is living the good life and would NOT want to work in the fields. I think it’s more likely that Stephen was like a father figure if anything. If Stephen was was Calvin’s lover, i honestly feel that Calvin wouldn’t be racist or at least not be a cruel slave owner. Plantation owners who in history had sex with slaves were not having truly emotional, loving relationships. If they were, they would be like that congressman dude from the movie Lincoln. At the end we all were shocked when his partner was a black woman. But then it all made sense as to why he was so strongly in support of racial equality.

    At any rate, i enjoyed the film very much. A little gruesome, but of course that was okay because it was adding more imagery of the evils of slavery.

  • Swagmama

    Candie also says at the dinner table something along the lines of “nigger love will catch you like a tar pit” to which Stephen agrees

  • alexis

    I think Tarantino kept it deliberately ambiguous. His motive was to make people watch the movie 3-4 times and to ” discover” something in every scene. Smart
    guy.

  • Peter Webster

    Ok I just have to say he has a girlfriend the black slave girl that is in with the Mandingo fighting scene. It is quite obvious.

  • popgasmstreet

    Candie is CLEARLY attracted to Django through out the film.

  • shawn

    Hmm I really fail to see your view. I think it seemed very obvious that calvin was sleeping with that black women that was always hanging around them. The one he told to stay in the room when the group first meets. She seems to have special privileges co no apparent reason. I think this is who he is talking about when he says he had the black fever once before or whatever it was along those lines. I fail to see any sort of hint at any kind of sexual relationship ship between calvin and steven. Not once. It was to subtle to be obvious it was going on. Regardless of orientation id say calvin is eccentric but I also dont see his love for the blood sport as homosexual. Its not a gay thing to be Interested in ufc as far as im concerned so I dunno cool article but I dont really agree much.

  • Ruth Crocker

    I’m surprised this is being considered a unique theory. If you watch the movie again, you’ll notice that there were several implications of effeminate behavior with more than one white male in the movie. This was depicted by the flamboyance of Big Daddy and Calvin Candy. Quinton was definitely making a statement about the kind of pampered lifestyle and ease that was being demanded by the hands of certain white males. The luxury and convenience they terrorized slaves in order to sustain for themselves was certainly a view being contrasted against the more popular idea that the slave masters were gentlemen, rather than savages. Neither Candy nor Big Daddy were married, and both were obsessed with the domination of the black male. In addition even Billy Crass appeared to have a lot of sugar in his tank. Notice the scene when he was told by Stephen that Ms. Laura needed to speak to him, he saunters away switching and swaying his hips in a way that puts one in the mindset of a homosexual male. I don’t think these scenes were meant at all to be subtle gestures, I believe they were made plain, because it was common knowledge that real men would not behave in this cowardly and inhumane manner.

    • http://paracinema.net/ Dylan S.

      Thank you for the comment, Ruth. After a few rewatches I feel this
      theory really still does stand up. You make a great point about Big
      Daddy too. Thanks for reading!