(The Root) — Django Unchained sounds like a pretty hard sell. Django (Jamie Foxx), a black slave-turned-superhero, slays every racist dragon in his gun-smoked path? But veteran writer-producer Reginald Hudlin (House Party, The Bernie Mac Show, Boomerang) didn’t so much as blink when his good friend, writer-director Quentin Tarantino, asked him to help bring Django’s story to the big screen. In a conversation with The Root, Hudlin explains why he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The Root: How’d you get involved in Django Unchained?
Reginald Hudlin: Quentin and I’ve been friends for a long time. We met, actually, through Pam Grier when they were making Jackie Brown. We got into the conversation, maybe 15 years ago, about movies about slavery. I hated most of them because for the most part they’re about victimology. There’s only one great movie about slavery, Spartacus. Until someone made a movie like that about the American experience, I wasn’t interested. Quentin called me April of last year and reminded me of that conversation we’d had years ago: “Yeah, I’ve written a script. You planted the seed, this is the tree.”
TR: So the obviously controversial subject matter, the backdrop of slavery, didn’t give you pause at all.
RH: No, because first of all, part of our problem as Americans — black and white — is that we don’t understand slavery. If you don’t have an understanding of America’s original sin, then we can’t move forward as a people. Jewish people have a saying about the Holocaust, “Never forget,” and it serves them very well as a culture. It reminds them that they have to stay sharp so that something like that will never happen again, and it reminds the world of the kind of evil it’s capable of. We need to do the same thing. I’ve been trying to make a movie about the Middle Passage for 20 years and couldn’t get it done.
TR: What made Foxx such a perfect fit for the role?
RH: Jamie’s an incredible actor. He’s from the South. And the fact that Jamie really is a cowboy. When we cast Jamie, we didn’t just cast him; we cast his horse, Cheetah, too. You haven’t seen a combination actor-and-horse casting since Roy Rogers and Trigger. That level of authenticity makes all the difference in a film like this. I mean, he did two takes riding bareback. It was crazy.
His quick-draw skills? There’s no sped-up camera tricks. It’s all him. When you look at Jamie’s work in the movie, between the emotional range of the character from slave to superhero and the physical challenges of the movie, there’s never been a role for a black man as demanding as Django.
TR: According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film makes use of the n-word more than 100 times. Was there a conversation with Tarantino about that?
RH: We knew it was going to be an issue for folks. It was going to be one of many issues for people. But for me, it’s kind of a tempest in a teapot. I’ve yet to talk to anyone who’s seen the film who, after they saw the movie, that’s what they talked about. They talked about the movie. They’re caught up in much bigger issues. As much as the right wing tried to latch on to Jamie as racist because he talked about killing white people, I’ve seen hundreds of white people cheer as Django kills these slave owners, because they’re bad. In that same way, when people see the world of the antebellum South and slavery, “nigger” is the least of their concerns.