TR: For the number of people who really enjoyed this movie, there’s a sizable group who did not — with many of the detractors citing the use of the n-word as reason. Does this surprise you?
RH: The fact is that the movie is very honest about the horrors of slavery, and the linguistic violence is the least of what’s shocking and hurtful and provocative in this film. So when people latch on to that, I just presume that they haven’t seen the movie, which means they don’t know what they’re talking about. And I can’t be concerned with people who talk and don’t know what they’re talking about, because if you’re talking about something that you don’t know, then you’re embarrassing yourself.
I feel that the film does a service to people because it recouples the word with its original intent, which was to belittle and demean black humanity. One of the reasons there’s so much debate over the use of the word [in the film] is because there’s so much debate over the word, period. And obviously there’s a long legacy of hurt with the word. There’s also a large movement of people who are about transforming or defanging the word. In the past generation, kind of from Richard Pryor up through hip-hop, [there’s been debate between those who embrace its usage and those who oppose it], and both sides feel pretty strongly about their attitudes about it. And Django is yet another field of skirmish on a very longstanding battle within the black community over the use of a term.
TR: Louis Gossett Jr. told The Root that he lived in a time when the n-word was used for malice, and that the word still bothers him.
RH: It should disturb you. You should not feel comfortable — that was never the intent. It’s a horrible word, and there’s a horrible spirit behind it. That’s very much the intent when you have a character like Calvin Candie played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s very handsome, very charming, and at the same time you see the evil that that character’s capable of. That’s the lesson for all of us, because that’s the world we live in.
TR: Some people feel Django Unchained was able to be made because a white man, Tarantino, told the story. Do you think a black man could have done a movie like this where the victimhood is taken out of slavery?
RH: Sure they could have. Look at the movie The Legend of Nigger Charley (1972) with Fred Williamson. That’s a movie I saw when I was kid, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson is not a victim. He whooped ass all through that film. It’s not a film on the same scale of Django Unchained, but he wanted to get it made, and he got it made. And it was successful enough to be made into a sequel — The Soul of Nigger Charley (1973) — which they even had a quasi-sequel to that, Boss Nigger (1975). I have to note, if you may have noticed all three of those films have the word “nigger” in the title, yet somehow black people — who are really the only people who went to see those films — supported them enough for there to be three of them.
I guess some people would say we are more sensitive [today]; some people would say we’re soft. I don’t know. I think the point is that we are at a different place as a culture than where we were back then.