Quentin Tarantino isn’t afraid to start some isht. The director who scalped Nazis in Inglourious Basterds and destroyed Japanese mob bosses in Kill Bill is tackling American slavery by unleashing his brand of wildly imaginative storytelling on audiences once again with latest film, Django Unchained.
Set in the pre-Civil War South, Django (starring Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington) is part dramady, part love story, part spaghetti western and a whole lotta badass.
And just like with many of his previous films, this one isn’t without controversy. After all, despite Django’s gritty, James Brown-squealing trailer, portraying slavery on the big screen is no laughing matter. On the other hand, if you think this is a Roots remake, think again.
Tarantino sits down over sake with EBONY’s Amy Elisa Keith to talk about popular misconceptions and getting checked by Sidney Poitier.
EBONY: What was your vision for Django Unchained?
Quentin Tarantino: I set out to write a really heart-wrenching story of slavery in the antebellum South, combined with an operatic, mythical spaghetti Western story of a Black man who is a slave. Then [we] see his mythical rise to not only become a man but to become a professional bounty hunter who would literally go into the mouth of hell to extract his princess.
EBONY: A lot of skeptics are critical of you taking on slavery.
QT: I haven’t liked any of the representations of slavery that I’ve seen on film. So being touchy about what you’ve seen in the past and what could come out based on that past, [the skepticism] is totally understandable. I get that.
EBONY: Are you more confident about Django after doing Inglourious Basterds?
QT: One of the characteristics of my work is that I make you laugh at f**ked-up sh*t. I show things that aren’t funny and are f**ked up… and then all of a sudden, against your will, I get you to laugh. Then the moment I get you to laugh, you’re a co-conspirator. [laughs]
EBONY: How do you make slavery humorous?
QT: To me, there is no humor in slavery. There is no humor in holocaust. However, there can be humor in the course of the situation of the story you’re telling.
EBONY: On a scale of 1 to 10, how many N-bombs are viewers in for?
QT: Since the N-bomb is just the parlance of the day, there’s no limit.
EBONY: And what about bloody violence?
I would be surprised if in five years that every Black person in America hasn’t seen my film. [laughs] Why wouldn’t you?
QT: This will be the bloodiest western since The Wild Bunch. Easily! Way more bloody.
EBONY: So level 10 for violence and a level 25 for the N-bombs?
QT: Yeah. Yeah. For sure.
EBONY: Who is your target audience?
QT: I would be surprised if, in five years, that every Black person in America hasn’t seen my film. I don’t know if they are all going to see it on opening weekend, but within five years, everyone will have seen this movie. [laughs] Why wouldn’t you?
EBONY: Any reservations about making this film?
QT: Asking a lot of Black folks to do something very painful. I thought about getting non-Americans to do it. What stopped me was, I went out to dinner with Sidney Poitier. I was telling him my thoughts and he says, “For whatever reason, I believe that you were meant to tell this story. You just need to not be afraid of your own movie. You need to get over being afraid.”
EBONY: Was that the check you needed?
QT: Yeah. That’s exactly what it was, and it worked. I had big talks with the cast and crew to let them know that I really appreciated what they were doing. We are illustrating a horrible, f**ked up part of history and [they were] helping us illustrate it. And it’s your instinct to do that to all the Black folks because of the subject matter, but the White folks were also going through some other emotions about these scenes too. I needed to thank them as well. It was not easy for any of us.
EBONY: Is the mojo still there with Sam Jackson?
QT: Completely. Sam is such a theatrical beast. He really is. He just devours everything in his path. He’s the bull in the china shop and everybody else is the china.
EBONY: Why release on Christmas?
QT: It puts us in a great position for the Oscars, because we want to win Best Picture. We want every award.
EBONY: Favorite scene?
QT: It’s the sequence at Don Johnson’s plantation, where Django tracks down the overseers who f**ked over him and his wife. To actually see a slave wipe out overseers is crazy cathartic.
EBONY: Any traditional slavery portrayals that you wanted to stay away from?
QT: Well, I am adverse to corniness. Me and [producer] Reggie Hudlin used to say, “We ain’t gonna have that Roots bulls**t where Chicken George gets the whip and there’s Lloyd Bridges, and then he says, “to whip you would make me as bad as you.” I’m saying to myself, “whip his ass!!” [yelling, laughing] Django whips his ass!