By DeBorah B. Pryor
shadow and act.com
Reginald Hudlin and Quentin Tarantino first spoke about making a movie together on the topic of slavery over a decade ago – 15 years to be exact.
Hudlin told him that until a movie with the impact of a Spartacus (the Stanley Kubric directed epic that starred Kirk Douglas as a rebellious Roman slave and won four Oscars) could be done, he wasn’t interested.
But when Tarantino came to him years later and handed him a large script (“Django Unchained”) saying, “You planted the seed, now here’s the tree,” he couldn’t resist.
“A week later we were on location in Louisiana,” Hudlin tells EURweb publisher, Lee Bailey. He and director Quentin Tarantino came together to scout locations for the film.
“It’s a Quentin Tarantino film through and through,” the producer tells Bailey, who knighted him as the “genesis” of the film. He continues, “…it’s his writing, it’s his ideas, his characters. I just found it very impressive, you know, that this guy would think, ‘you know, I’m gonna honor the fact that, that conversation put me on a road.’ That just said a lot to me about who he is as a person,” says Hudlin.
Although the film didn’t open until Christmas Day, it was a highly anticipated work in Hollywood for quite some time, and there has been a LOT of buzz from insiders who have already seen it. Bailey asks Hudlin to identify some of the challenges of doing a film about this highly sensitive topic.
“Because it’s a Quentin Tarantino film some of the biggest challenges, which was to get financing, were very easy…Because we had a fantastic script…[and] world-class actors who wanted to appear in the film. But now you have the challenge of recreating a world and doing it in a way that it had never been done before; and shooting it across multiple states and managing the time and the logistics of a bunch of people – each of whom are movie stars – and now they’re acting in the same film. [We also had to] make sure we’re historically accurate and…the actual logistics of making sure the horses are safe. It’s an endless list of challenges you have to produce.”
In expressing to Tarantino in those early talks everything he didn’t like [about slave movies], Hudlin laughs as he recalls the only example he could think of to describe what he did like: Fred Williamson in “The Legend of Nigger Charley,” (a 1972 blaxploitation western directed by Martin Goldman) a film Hudlin saw when he was roughly 8-years-old.
“I remember leaving the theater feeling great! And I said, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t leave the theater feeling great. I want a catharsis!! And that’s what Django delivers,” Hudlin says. Bailey laughs out loud upon hearing this; and feeling the need to explain the outburst adds that Django is “hilarious,” and he can’t understand why because it is about such a horrendous time. Hudlin breaks it down to him in an almost prophetic fashion.
“A lot of people don’t understand the difference between serious and solemn,” Hudlin explains. “You can be serious without being solemn and that’s what Quentin does beautifully in all his work. And it was an incredible total balancing act that he pulls off because he knows how to tell a story well.”
The producer says that Tarantino’s focus is always on telling a great story; not so much on the time or history that the story is drenched in. He adds that telling a great story involves humor, which makes it a story you want to see, not one you feel obligated to see as some kind of cultural duty.
But even with good storytelling, bad timing is quite frankly, a bitch!
The reality of such an undeniably violent movie heading to theaters NOW, as the country remains shocked to its core over the horrific recent violence in Newtown; where families continue to bury the 20 children and six adults killed at the hands of a lone gunman only days ago can’t be shoved aside. In fact, due to the tragedy, Hollywood had the sensibility to cancel the premiers of two major movies – one being Django Unchained. Lest we forget the unfortunate timing that presented an opportunity to recall Jamie Foxx as host on SNL just one week prior where, in the context of his 3-minute-plus “How Black is That” opening monologue, tells the audience, “No worries, I get to kill all the white people in the movie. How black is that?” Though no doubt an “in bad taste” remark, irregardless of the fact that it is what he gets to do, these same words would probably have stopped at the nervous laughter it generated from a few audience members; had it not been spoken just one week prior to such a devastating and violent act.
Bailey asks Hudlin what effect he thinks the Newtown shooting incident will have on the film, and if he thinks Hollywood filmmaking will change as a result of it.
“I can’t speak for Hollywood,” Hudlin responds, “but I’ll just say in relation to our film, I think movies that deliver an exploration of who we are as a people and as a culture ultimately decrease violence, not increase it. And this film takes a really hard look at who we are as Americans; black and white, and the social and economic forces that shaped us. And I feel that if we understand who we are better, we will have better mental health as a people. Slavery is America’s original sin and we avoid it, blacks and whites alike. We’re all ashamed of our heritage of slavery, but if you avoid the past then you can’t heal, you can’t transcend. And that’s what we’ve got to do.”
Hudlin, who is justifiably credited with being a pioneer of the modern black film movement, reveals an unmistakeable pride in working on Django Unchained, and a real admiration for Quentin Tarantino and the cast. He had the opportunity to go into theaters across the country and witness the response of audiences of diverse cultures watching Django. He thought it was great that everyone cheered at the same time, cried at the same time, was terrified at the same time, and laughed at the same time. And to those responses he concludes,
“It speaks to how far we have come together. That we can watch a movie as sensitive as this, and everyone literally be on the same page.”