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.

A scene from Django Unchained (Weinstein Co.); Quentin Tarantino (Getty Images)

Exactly like the way a king can own their subjects and put them to death, they can do that with complete impunity when it comes to the slaves and pretty much do that with the poor whites, just without complete impunity. They have to come up with a way to do it. But they can still do it nevertheless. 

And so the thing about it is in a fairy-tale term, they’re going to the evil kingdom. And Broomhilda [Django’s wife, played by Kerry Washington] is the princess in the tower.

HLG: And you named that explicitly by including the tale within the tale, the myth within the myth.

QT: But when I actually got to Candieland, if we were going to really do this subject justice, we had to deal with the social strata that happens inside the plantation versus the field — the kind of upstairs-downstairs aspect of how things work between the house slaves and the field slaves.

And in the script I wrote a big description for Stephen, and I said, “He’s sort of like the characters that Basil Rathbone would play in adventures and swashbucklers, where he’s the evil guy who has the king’s ear. And he sits at the king’s side whispering in the king’s ear, holding on to his little fiefdom, and manipulating everybody through intrigues of the court.”

HLG: I remember those characters and hated them. So creepy.

QT: Exactly. And in Hong Kong movies, they’re the eunuchs. They had the power over the emperor in that way. And literally, after describing this entire thing, I wrote, “That’s Stephen to a T. He’s the Basil Rathbone of house niggers.”

HLG: Well, it is an award-winning performance. It is so diabolically evil and selfish and self-loathing.

QT: If I couldn’t deal with the actual social strata inside the institution of lifelong slavery itself, then I wasn’t really dealing with the story.

HLG: Let me ask you this, though. What about making Django Superman? How did he manage to dodge all those bullets and ride off unscathed? Obviously that’s the mythic ending. Why was it important to keep him alive and make him a superhero rather than, as you say, killing him off?