Hudlin: 'Django' Has Clear Morals
The film vet says his latest production is controversial but gives an honest vision of right and wrong.
There's every kind of violence in the film, and linguistic violence is the least of it. There's really been no huge pop-culture event about this period until now. So if this leads to people taking another look at the word, then it's good. But I hope that's not the only thing they're talking about.
TR: Speaking of the violence that far surpassed linguistic violence, there were scenes in the film that were almost impossible to watch. Were you concerned with how much audiences could handle?
RH: I always want to tell people, "Don't close your eyes; it's worse because the sound makes it insane." I was, for a short period of time, an African-American-studies major at Harvard, and I felt like a fairly educated person on the subject. I can tell you, whatever you see in the film, there are 10 examples that are 100 times worse.
The balancing act of the filmmaker is to make sure the audience understands slavery is an awful, evil institution, but balance that with how much the audience can take. We told a great story, and part of that was Quentin's idea of making it a Western where there are clear moral boundaries. You know there's going to be restitution, and there's going to be payback. So audiences can engage and cheer in a way that other films on the topic did not allow them to.
TR: Django Unchained has already been nominated for four NAACP awards, including best picture, which was won last by The Help. Are you prepared for some of the same criticisms about black films only winning awards if they depict black actors and actresses as "the help"?
RH: As a people, right now we don't agree on anything. There's no consensus. Whether it's by class, by gender, by region or educational background, black folks are in conflict. We don't agree that Cosby is a good thing, that Tyler Perry's a good thing or that Jay-Z's a good thing. Are there going to be some people who are like, "Nah, I don't like that"? Sure.
We can't feel that way. Part of slavery's history is that we always fought back, and we always stood up. The film is about celebrating the people who did. And hopefully that will make us as a people come to terms with that difficult part of our heritage.
TR: Do you think only certain people should be allowed to tell certain stories?
RH: The person who gets to tell it is the person who gets to tell it. There are no rules. I certainly don't want to be restricted to only telling stories about black people. I don't think race necessarily is an inherent advantage. It's one of many factors that determine whether you're the right person for the job. Almost no one could get a movie like this made -- black, white or otherwise. Out of the five people who could have gotten this done, Quentin's the only guy who wanted to do it.
TR: Is this a "message film" at all? Is there something you want people to take away from it?
RH: The movie is profound on a lot of levels. It hits on so many issues. There's many a Ph.D. thesis on deconstructing the semiotics of Django, from class conflicts in the black community, our relationships with sports, white liberalism and black nationalism -- the range of topics the film touched upon is extraordinary. People don't always see all those things because it's put in an entertainment context. How can it be profound if I'm entertained? I don't buy in to that worldview.