Django: Is John Ellis Based on a Real Union Soldier?

Western drama series, ‘Django,’ takes the audience back to the Wild West, where we follow several characters, all of whom are intricately connected to each other. One of the main characters is John Ellis, the co-founder of New Babylon, a town where anyone can be whatever they want. The show takes place in the late 1800s and references the American Civil War to further the plot, revealing John’s history as a Union Army soldier who fought to abolish slavery. This might make you wonder if the show was inspired by a real-life soldier to create John’s character. Here’s everything we know about it.

The Inspiration Behind John Ellis in Django

‘Django’ is loosely inspired by the 1966 Spaghetti Western of the same name, directed by Sergio Corbucci, starring Franco Nero in the lead role. While the TV show borrows some aspects of the film, including the title character’s name, their stories have significant plot differences, and they fork into different directions. Except for Django, aka Julian Wright, almost every character in the TV show is an original, created by writers Leonardo Fasoli, Maddalena Ravagli, and Max Hurwitz. John Ellis is one of them.

Image Credit: Cos Aelenei/Sky Studios

Played by British actor Nicholas Pinnock, John Ellis is a former slave who became a soldier for the Union Army during the Civil War. Later, he becomes the co-founder of New Babylon, which he establishes on the land given to him by his father and former master. While New Babylon and John’s story are fictional, the show’s creators seemed to have been influenced by a real-life story with a similar background.

According to the Texas State Historical Association, a town called Babylon in Texas was established in 1895 by a group of former slaves. It was located between Dawson and Purdon in Navarro County and had its own church and school. Over the years, however, the town’s population dwindled, and most of its residents left it following the Second World War, leaving it as a ghost town.

Reportedly, Babylon, named after the biblical city, was founded after Peter Hopkins offered an acre of his land to build a school and a Methodist church. Several other people, mostly African-Americans, pitched in to expand the place and turn it into a town where they could become a community for people to find a fresh start. In ‘Django,’ John Ellis and Sarah create New Babylon with the same mindset. While it cannot be confirmed whether the real-life town had the same lawlessness and chaos as the show’s New Babylon, the writers might have been inspired by the real-life counterpart.

Apart from this small historical tidbit and the town’s name, the show doesn’t seem to have borrowed anything else from reality. The same goes for the character of John Ellis, who is completely original and written as a complex and layered character who is not purely good or bad but walks a delicate moral line, trying to keep the darkness inside him at bay.

Image Credit: Cattleya Srl/ Sky Studios

In playing John, actor Nicholas Pinnock tried to find that balance while using the opportunity to subvert the cliches of the Western genre. Looking back at his childhood, the actor revealed that watching Westerns was “very much a part of [his] upbringing.” “I had done a deep dive many, many years ago into the Western genre and realized that only 20 percent of that genre had been told. And that was part of my other fascination, you know, the African Americans, the natives, the Mexicans, the females in these stories had never really been told because it has all been told from a Western viewpoint,” he said.

Apart from this, Pinnock was also drawn to ‘Django’ because almost all the characters in the show don’t stick to the binary agenda of good and evil, which made the actor sign the role as soon as he read it. “There were all the things that I had been wanting to see in that genre and things that I had been exploring. So it was wonderful to come across this and have them present me with something that was just what I was looking for,” he added.

To bring John Ellis to the screen, Pinnock worked on his accent, took to horse-riding (which he’d learned for a previous project), and had extensive conversations with his fellow actors, directors, and writers of the show to give John as much depth as possible. With all this in mind, it’s clear that even though John Ellis is a fictional character, he has been written and performed to appear as realistic as possible.

Read More: What Does John Say to Sarah at the End of Django? Theories