As a newly minted Academy Award nominee (as one of nine producers on Django Unchained), Reginald Hudlin has once again demonstrated his strength as a creative force in Hollywood. Beginning his career as the director of the classic hip-hop comedy House Party, Hudlin has gone on to showcase his considerable talents by directing other hit films like Boomerang and The Great White Hype, and as a writer and producer for several successful TV shows. A former president of entertainment for BET, the Harvard University graduate has been a consistent power player, widely respected throughout the industry for his commitment to his craft.
EBONY.com recently caught up with Hudlin to discuss his success on Django Unchained and his incredible career.
EBONY: How does it feel to make history as only the fourth African-American to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category?
Reginald Hudlin: It’s an incredible honor! Hopefully some time soon, there will be so many Black folks nominated in this category that we’ll stop counting.
EBONY: What are your thoughts regarding the various controversies with Django Unchained?
RH: This movie is not only QT’s biggest film, but it is on track to be the most successful Western in movie history. That’s right: a Black Western starring Jamie Foxx. A huge part of that box office success has been Black viewers. They were almost half the audience on opening day, and Black viewers have consistently remained around 30 percent of the box office thus far. So the people are clearly voting with their dollars. To quote Jay-Z, “Men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t lie.”
Our success is clearly more than just people going to see the film. All types of educators, critics, intellectuals, social activists and parents have contacted me in one form or another for helping to make the film happen. Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, has seen it four times. Dick Gregory has seen it 12 times. We never expected to please everybody, but once you remove the distortion effect of the media, it’s pretty clear that we are pleasing most people.
EBONY: How did you get involved with the film?
RH: Quentin and I have been friends for over 15 years. It’s a natural and easy friendship because we are pretty obsessive with our love of pop culture, whether it be film, music or comic books. We also don’t see any division between high and low art. Sometimes the most relevant expressions of pop culture are in mediums or genres that are dismissed by the mainstream, but they end up having a bigger long-term cultural impact.
Over a decade ago, Quentin and I were talking about movies about slavery and I brought up my frustration with most of them. I had no interest in seeing yet another movie about noble suffering. I wanted to see foot to ass. There were all kinds of Black people who stood up and fought back, including members of my own family. I wanted to see stories about them. It was one of many conversations we had about movies, so I didn’t think much of it until April of 2011, when he handed me the script and reminded me of that conversation and how that had been the seed for Django Unchained. There are not a lot of people in Hollywood who would acknowledge that, or bring you on as a producer to help ensure the spirit of the project. But Quentin is a rare individual.
EBONY: Do you have any comments regarding Quentin’s Best Director nomination omission among Oscar voters?
RH: I think everyone on the film did superlative work. I think Quentin is a masterful director as well as a brilliant writer. I think Sharen Davis is an incredible costume designer. I think the original music by John Legend and Jamie Foxx is incredible. I think Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson gave performances that will be remembered in film history. I can go on and on because I feel so proud of my colleagues and so protective of them. But you can’t complain about what you don’t have. I’m very proud of Quentin and Christoph winning Golden Globes, and I hope that’s the start of a trend.
EBONY: What would you say is the takeaway for moviegoers seeing Django?
RH: The film has spurred a national conversation about slavery, which is America’s original sin. It’s a conversation that is long overdue if we as a nation are going to make the most of the 21st century.
The film also tells us that a love story between a Black man and a Black women can have tremendous success at the box office, and that people of all races and ages will support it.
Lastly, the film gives us a kickass Black hero in the spirit of Stagolee and other mythic characters. Django stands in for true-life heroes whose stories may never be told, like my great-great-grandfather, who was a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
Gil Robertson IV is a noted A&E and Black lifestyle journalist, author and producer. President and co-founder of the African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), he resides in Los Angeles and Atlanta. Follow the AAFCA on Twitter @theaafca.