If Django Unchained is expected to be controversial, it wasn’t evident during the latest press junket. An array of media members gathered in The Ritz hotel in New York City for Quentin Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson. Set in pre-Civil War America, Django (played by Foxx) tells the story of a freed slave’s journey to rescue his wife, “Broomhilda” (Washington) from “Calvin Candie” - a Mississippi plantation owner (DiCaprio) with a jones for “Mandingo wrestling.” Weighty subject matter aside, on this day the laughter kept flowing.
“I wasn’t [initially] asked to play [‘Django’],” said Jamie Foxx describing his first impression of the role. “I actually saw the movie was already [in production] and someone else was supposed to play it. I thought, ‘Wow, here’s another project that I hadn’t heard about.’ After that, I had a management change.” Foxx also explained that since he grew up in Terrell, Texas, he wasn’t phased by the film’s gratuitous use of the n-word:
“I love the South. There are racial components in the South. You get called nigger growing up as a kid. When I read the script, I didn’t knee-jerk to the word 'nigger' like someone from New York or [Los Angeles] would knee jerk because that was something I experienced. What I did gravitate to was the love story of ‘Django’ and ‘Broomhilda.’ We never get a chance to see the slave actually fight back. When we started to shoot the film, we started to comment that these are the things that you get to see for the first time. For me, it was about the work and we knew coming into it that there was going to be a whole lot of other things said about it. But it’s been a fantastic ride.”
“I always wanted to do a movie that deals with slavery,” said Tarantino, flanked by Foxx and Christoph Waltz, who plays “Dr. King Shultz, a bounty hunter who enlists “Django’s” help in apprehending the fugitive “Brittle Brothers” and releases him from slavery in the process. “It seems to me that so many Westerns that actually take place during slavery times have bent over backwards to avoid it - as is America’s way. Most other countries have been forced to deal with the atrocities they have committed and the world has made them deal with the atrocities they have committed. It’s kind of everybody’s fault here in America. White, Black - nobody wants to deal with slavery. Nobody wants to stare at it.”
The audience erupted when Samuel L. Jackson described his character, “Stephen” - Calvin Candie’s man servant - as the “Spook Cheney of Candie Land,” and said he complained to Tarantino about being 15 years too old to play “Django.” “[After] I was done with that,” said Jackson. “I read the script and called him back and said, ‘So you want me to be the most despicable Negro in cinema history?’ Then we kind of laughed together and said, ‘Yeah!’ He continued:
“Not only was [Django Unchained] a great artistic opportunity to create something that was iconic, and to take what people know as Uncle Tom and turn it on it’s head in a powerful way - it also gave me an opportunity to do really nasty shit to the person that got the role that I thought I should have [played]. And it was written beautifully, so I could do that.”
“I think a lot of times people in the past may have felt nervous about playing a slave because so many of the narratives that we saw on television about slavery are about powerlessness,” said Washington. “This is not a film about that. This is a film about a Black man who finds his freedom and rescues his wife. He is an agent of his own power. He is a liberator. He’s a hero. So there’s nothing shameful about that.”
Jamie Foxx is also credited with producing Django Unchained’s lead single, “100 Black Coffins” featuring Rick Ross. In 2005, he became the fourth artist to win both an Academy Award for acting (Ray, Best Actor) and have the #1 album (Unpredictable) in the United States - following Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Barbara Streisand. Foxx also collaborated with Kanye West and Twista on West’s breakthrough smash, “Slow Jamz” in 2004, and again on “Gold Digger” - the lead single to West’s sophomore release, Late Registration (2005). In 1997, the multi-talented actor, singer, and comedian played “Keith B-Real” during the interludes on Will Smith’s nine-times platinum album, Big Willie Style. Reportedly, Smith was originally considered for the lead role in Django.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Don Johnson, Jonah Hill, and Walton Goggins were also on hand during the uproarious press conference.
Django Unchained in theaters on December 25.
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