One of the most anticipated films of 2012, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained—starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington—has received more than its fair share of media coverage, mainly due to the cast’s mega-watt star power. Director Tarantino recently revealed the other Black actors who were up for the title role of Django, a freed enslaved man who teams up with a White bounty hunter to travel America in search of his kidnapped, enslaved wife.
“I met six different actors and had extensive meetings with all of them, and I went in-depth on all of their work,” Tarantino told Playboy in its December issue. “Idris Elba, Chris Tucker, Terrence Howard, M. K. Williams [of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire], Tyrese. They all appreciated the material, and I was going to put them through the paces, make them go off against one another and kind of put up an obstacle course. And then I met Jamie and realized I didn’t need to do that.”
In the end, Academy-Award winner Foxx beat out the other acclaimed actors because of his background. “He was the cowboy… Forget the fact that he has his own horse—and that is actually his horse in the movie,” Tarantino said. “He’s from Texas; he understands… He understood what it’s like to be thought of as an ‘other.’ ”
Yet while Foxx apparently fit Tarantino’s image of Django, Hollywood’s leading man Will Smith had actually been the director’s first choice when writing the script. Smith told Esquire this past summer that although Django was “one of the most amazing screenplays that [he] had ever seen,” a scheduling conflict with Men in Black III lead him to pass on the role. “That thing’s going to be ridiculous,” Smith said.
“We spent quite a few hours together over a weekend when he was in New York doing Men in Black III,” Tarantino added in Playboy. “I think half the process was an excuse for us to hang out and spend time with one another… It just wasn’t 100 percent right, and we didn’t have time to try to make it that way.”
Actress Kerry Washington, who’ll play Django’s wife Broomhilda von Shaft, has also been making the media rounds regarding her role. According to the Scandal actress, portraying an enslaved woman has proved a volatile experience that requires a delicate and informed approach, and rightly so.
“It’s kind of hard to articulate the level of preparation that we all had to do for this film because so much of it was emotional and psychological preparation,” Washington told Women’s Health in a cover story interview. “It’s hard to talk about because we all had to go into a part of American history that is so dark and complicated and fraught with the past sins of this country.”
The film’s controversial subject matter (American slavery) has sparked several pieces of commentary regarding the appropriateness of a slave narrative being packaged in an action-packed blockbuster. “I worry about rendering enslaved Black men as eunuchs restored, and enslaved Black women as merely the field upon which that restoration is demonstrated,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor at The Atlantic. “The fact is that is that very few enslaved Black women had the luxury of waiting on freedom via Black men.”
Foxx has also spoken out a number of times about the sensitive subject, but contrary to Coates, insisted that Django Unchained is an accurate portrayal of slavery that will inform audiences. “This actually gives us an opportunity to entertain and to educate people that are wondering what slavery is about,” Foxx told The Los Angeles Times. “Young kids, Black and White, but especially Black kids, they don’t know about slavery today. So before the movie comes out, I hope we can talk about what happened in this country. I think we are grown enough to do it now.”
Django Unchained, also starring Samuel L. Jackson and RZA, hits theaters this Christmas on Dec. 25.
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Patrice Peck is a writer and journalist whose work explores the intersection of race, culture, and identity. Her work lives at www.patricepeck.com.