Writer-director Quentin Tarantino says his new slavery-themed, revenge picture-spaghetti western "Django Unchained" is meant to be an entertaining look at a shameful era in American history that Hollywood frequently ignores.
"I always wanted to make a movie that deals with America's horrific past with slavery, but the way I wanted to deal with it is -- as opposed to doing it as a huge historical movie with a capital 'H' -- I thought it could be better if it was wrapped up in genre," Tarantino told reporters in New York recently.
"It seems to me that so many westerns that actually take place during slavery times have just bent over backwards to avoid it, as is America's way," the "Pulp Fiction" and "Inglourious Basterds" filmmaker noted. "It's actually kind of interesting because most other countries have been forced to deal with the atrocities they've committed. Actually, the world has made them deal with the atrocities they've committed, but it's kind of everybody's fault here in America -- white or black, nobody wants to deal with it. Nobody wants to stare at it. I think, in the story of all the different types of slave narratives that could have existed in this 245 years of slavery in America, there are a zillion stories, a zillion dramatic, exciting, adventurous, heart-breaking, triumphant stories that could be told, and living in a world now where people say there are no new stories -- there's a whole bunch of them, and they're all American stories that could be told. So, I wanted to be one of the first ones out of the gate with it."
Nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and a likely contender when Oscar nominations are announced next month, the film stars Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz, a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter who frees Django, a slave played by Jamie Foxx, so he can help him exact revenge on his enemies. As part of the deal, Schultz aids Django in finding and freeing his slave wife Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington. The film co-stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill and Walton Goggins.
Asked at the news conference if he had any qualms about being asked to play a 19th-century slave in the film after another actor dropped out of the project, Foxx replied: "Well, I wasn't asked play anything. I actually saw that the movie was already going and someone else was supposed to play the role, and I thought, 'Wow, here's another project that I don't know about.' Actually, I had a management change. ...
"I said: 'I don't care what it is. It's Quentin Tarantino and all these people here.' These people here can tackle any subject matter through artistic ability, that's the first thing. Reading the script -- I'm from Texas, so being in the South, there's a racial component -- and I love the South, there's no other place I'd rather be from -- but there are racial components in the South. My being called [the N-word] growing up as a kid. So when I read the script, I didn't knee-jerk to the [N-word] like someone from New York or LA would knee-jerk, because that's something I experienced."
Foxx went on to say he was further drawn to the film's central love story between Django and Broomhilda.
"When you see movies about slavery, as Quentin has made mention to this, we never get the chance to see the slave fight back, actually do something for himself. In this movie, there's a lot of firsts," Foxx explained. "When we were shooting the movie we would comment on how these are some things people are going to see for the first time. For me, it was about the work and we knew that coming into it, there would be a lot of other things said about it, but it's been a fantastic ride."
Washington, sitting beside Tarantino and her co-stars, on the panel, observed: "I think a lot of times in the past people may have felt nervous about playing a slave because so many of the narratives that have been told in film and television about slavery are about powerlessness.
"This is not a film about that," she emphasized. "This is a film about a black man who gets his freedom and rescues his wife. He is an agent of his own power, he's a liberator, and he's a hero; so there's nothing shameful about that. It's really inspiring, exciting, and hopeful. I was very moved by the love story, particularly in a time of our history when black people weren't allowed to fall in love or get married because that kind of connection got it the way of the selling of human beings. So, to have a story between a man and his wife, at a time when a black people weren't allowed to be husband and wife, was not only educational, but again, hopeful. We've seen this love story a million times about star-crossed lovers. It's just that they don't come from two different Italian families like Romeo and Juliet. The thing that stands in the way of them being with each other is the institution of slavery. Django's out to get his woman, but he's got to take down the institution of slavery to do it. The other thing in terms of firsts was, I said to Quentin in our first meeting, I feel like I want to do this movie for my father, because my father grew up in a world where there were no black super heroes, and that's what this movie is."
Rated R, "Django Unchained" is in theaters now. It runs 2 hours and 45 minutes.