Tarantino 'Unchained,' Part 2: On the N-Word

In the second of a Q&A series, he talks critics and Django's depiction of slavery with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

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I think my idea initially -- very, very initially -- was I was gonna show Django's little origin story in a couple of scenes and then hop to after the Civil War. And have it be a Sam Jackson, older character. And then I decided, no, I can't do that. I'm missing the most important part of the story. So I decided to stay with the younger character.

So as I'm talking to Sam Jackson on the phone, I go, "As you can see, I kind of went a different way with the character. You're about 15 years too old for him."

[In a Sam Jackson voice.] "Yeah, I noticed that."

"So what do you think about Stephen?"

"What do you mean, what do I think about him?"

I go, "Do you have any problem playing him?"

"Do I have any problem playing the most despicable black motherf--ker in the history of the world?" [Pause.] "No, I ain't got no problem with that. No, man, I'm already in it. I'm working with my makeup guy now about the hair, the skin tone. I want this man to be fresh off the boat."

HLG: Why was it important for you to set up an opposition between the baddest black cowboy in the West, as Django, and the biggest Uncle Tom in the history of film, as Stephen? Why is that binary opposition important to your narrative structure?

QT: I've been dealing with this whole Western adventure idea [in the plot], which has been playing out for a while -- and it's been playing out pretty good -- and then we go through that almost Heart of Darkness section, the procession to the Candieland plantation, and then getting to the Big House. But then when we get to the Big House, my idea is of the plantation owner at that time that had a big industrial, architectural plantation. I mean, the fourth-largest cotton plantation in Mississippi, which is what Candie's is -- that's like owning Dole Pineapple or something today. It's a big, moneymaking, commercial enterprise. And a plantation could be 40 miles long or 65 miles long or something.

HLG: Oh, the greatest economic boom in the history of the United States up until that time was from the cotton plantations in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.