Acclaimed film director Quentin Tarantino and filmmaker Reginald Hudlin sat down for a very candid interview with the Daily Beast’s writer Allison Samuels. During the interview the creative pair behind the new film Django Unchained discussed Hollywood’s portrayal of slavery in films. What followed was a very thought provoking conversation.
Via The Daily Beast:
“I was always amazed so many Western films could get away with not dealing with slavery at all,” says Tarantino, sitting in Todd-AO studios in Los Angeles where he was attempting to whittle the film to under three hours just after Thanksgiving. “Hollywood didn’t want to deal with it because it was too ugly and too messy. But how can you ignore such a huge part of American history when telling a story in that time period? It made no sense.”
It didn’t make much sense to Hudlin either. The director of the popular ’90s films House Party and Boomerang says he was baffled by the sugarcoated and abbreviated tales. “I hated all those films about slavery over the years. Any time Hollywood did deem it OK to talk about slavery, they were not worth watching,” says Hudlin, who is Django Unchained’s executive producer. “My idea of a great slave movie was Spartacus. Until African-American slavery was treated in that same manner, I had no interest in hearing what Hollywood had to say about the issue.”
With only two years of age separating Tarantino and Hudlin, they watched the same slavery-themed films as young kids—and then grew to hate them as adults. Titles such as Mandingo and Uncle Tom’s Cabin roll off their tongues with joint eye rolls and audible sighs. The notable period film Glory, starring Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman as freed slaves serving in the U.S. Army, gets an honorable mention nod from Hudlin.
“I liked the black characters in Glory,” says Hudlin, whose great-grandfather was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. “Didn’t see the point of the white ones. The true story was the slaves in the film. They should have been the main focal point of the entire plot. But somehow no one figured that out.”
The faults of Glory aside, not much compares to the anger both men harbor toward the landmark television miniseries Roots. Written by Alex Haley and hailed in 1977 for telling the “complete” story of slavery, Roots remains the third most-watched miniseries of all time. It is also still considered the definitive mainstream portrait of slavery in the U.S.
“When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” says Tarantino. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”
While many white directors might shy away from criticizing such an iconic symbol of African-American culture, Tarantino doesn’t hold back. He’s confident in his knowledge of a time and subject most people know little about and would rather forget. He was also savvy enough to bring Hudlin on board. “There were times when I’d be filming a scene and really getting into it and Reg would just say, ‘Hey is this the story you wanted to tell?’ He’d bring the focus back if I got too carried away.”
Tarantino recalls a memorable scene where Jamie Foxx’s character is also given the opportunity to beat his former owner after he becomes a free man. “It was an emotional day on set and everyone was talking about how brutal it was because he beats the white off of his captor,” says Tarantino unapologetically. “There was no way that wasn’t going to be a part of the movie.”