Tarantino’s new film leads the way for McQueen’s highly-anticipated feature this year, which stars Brad Pitt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Beasts of the Southern Wild breakout Quvenzhané Wallis. The movie is based on the true story of a New York citizen who is kidnapped, sold into slavery, and made to work on a plantation in Louisiana in the 1800s.
“What McQueen’s gonna do is going to be completely different,” Tillman predicts.
With the newfound spotlight on slavery then, the real question may be whether star power is required in order for a slave narrative to get the green light. How much does the ‘who’ matter in getting the attention of Hollywood studio executives?
“Only Tarantino could have gotten this movie made,” Ernest Dickerson, director of films Juice and Bulletproof, and the television series, The Wire suggests. “Now that’s not to say that other filmmakers who don’t have as much power as him can’t use other aspects of the black experience to make films. I hope that happens. I hope that other filmmakers, especially African-American filmmakers, will look at the success of Django, and figure there are other ways to tell the story that makes it an exciting movie. That they don’t just have to be pigeonholed into one type of film.”
He adds, “Hopefully this will show filmmakers that the black experience is varied, and it’s more than just hood movies.”
Dickerson concurs with Tillman that slavery has previously not been well recognized in Hollywood because African-American stories are more difficult to get financed, and that even though he enjoyed the movie, Django Unchained provides more of a backdrop to slavery then a biography of bondage.
“There are a lot of stories about the black experience in America that have not been told,” he comments. “So many filmmakers have never used the venues African-Americans have worked in. I think the success of [Django Unchained], I don’t think it’s necessarily because it’s about slavery. I think what Tarantino did is what he always does – he’s taking an old form and putting it in a new bottle…That’s something that can apply to a lot of different films, a lot of different stories of the black experience.”
Accordingly, Tillman says his hope is to see more works showing the origins of enslavement in the future.
“How slaves were taken and how we were sold off the voyage; how long it took and how many died before we got here; how families were taken and named different – I think that idea really hits to the heart of ‘why,’” he says. “Not till really the late ‘60s did we start seeing a black lead being a hero. From there, you know, you’ve got Denzel Washington…so we’re striving. We’re moving forward. It doesn’t seem fast enough, but I just think we’ve got to go through something like [Django Unchained], and we have to have different positions and different sides to keep moving forward.”
Adds Dickerson, “At times, we feel guilty about enjoying ourselves, but it is a revenge fantasy – this is a revenge fantasy for black folks. I imagine a lot of my ancestors would have loved to see a movie like Django because it’s great to see an African-American character like Django, himself, who’s able to rise above his tradition of being a slave to become a man of action.”
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