Django Unchained: Why Jamie Foxx & Kerry Washington Agreed to Play Slaves
5 months ago
Actors could face friction with new roles
Quentin Tarantino's latest film "Django Unchained" will hit theaters Christmas Day, but don't expect to see a family-friendly, humorous holiday movie. Instead, the director has decided to tackle the story of pre-Civil War slavery -- in the shape of a Spaghetti Western. If it sounds unusual, it is. And though the lead actors -- Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson -- all took note, the film's unusual approach didn't stop them from willingly allying themselves with the ever-controversial director, and agreeing to all play slaves in the film.
Foxx plays the title character, a slave who is recruited by German-born bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz under the condition that Django will be freed if he leads Schultz to the South's most-wanted criminals, murderous Klan members, the Brittle Brothers. The men then embark on a journey to find and rescue Django's wife, Broomhilda, played by Washington, who is still owned by cruel planation owner Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
At a press junket in New York Sunday morning, Foxx -- who acknowledged that initially he hadn't heard of the project, wasn't asked to play the role, and subsequently had a "management change" once he learned someone else was slated to do so -- recalled reading the script for the first time.
"I'm from Texas, so being from the South—and I love the South, there's no other place I'd rather be from—there are racial components there, [like] me being called 'n****r' as a kid," he said. "So when I read the script, I didn't knee-jerk to the word 'n****r' like someone from maybe New York or Los Angeles would because that was something I experienced."
Washington, too, wasn't put off by what could be perceived as a demeaning role.
"I think people in the past may have felt nervous about playing a slave because so many of the narratives are about powerlessness," she said. "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 is a hero. And there's nothing shameful about that. I said to Quentin in our first meeting, 'I want to do this movie for my father' because he grew up in a world where there were no Black superheroes and that's what this is."
Jackson, however—who gained his first and only Academy Award nomination for another Tarantino film, the cult classic "Pulp Fiction"—takes on the role of a different type of slave; one that, after reading the script, prompted him to call Tarantino and ask, "So you want me to be the most despicable Negro in cinematic history?"