As a producer on the Django Unchained film, Reginald Hudlin is winning plenty of accolades, but has also found himself in the strange position of defending his work against charges of racism.
The African American filmmaker is now taking his support of Django Unchained a step further. He's helping Quentin Tarantino adapt the original screenplay for the film in the Vertigo limited series of the same name.The Django Unchained comic, which made its debut in December with art by R.M. Guéra (Scalped), is already a success, with the first issue selling out and publisher DC Comics announcing a second printing. The second issue is due on Feb. 13.
The movie centers on a black slave-turned-superhero who kills every racist jerk in his way. The film always had the potential for controversy, as it uses humor and imaginary revenge violence to address the inherently serious subject of slavery. But Hudlin told Newsarama that he thinks the work stands up to criticism because of its quality.
While the comic tells the same basic story as the film, it's also filled with different scenes. The comic adaptation is true to the original screenplay by Tarantino — instead of the movie, so it's turning out a little different.
Hudlin is no stranger to writing comics. Best known for his recent work on Black Panther for Marvel Comics, his encouragement is one of the reasons Tarantino finally made the foray into comic books.
Newsarama talked to the filmmaker/writer about his work on Django Unchained and why he stands by the its controversial subject matter — and we also found out there may be more Quentin Tarantino comics on the horizon.
Newsarama: Reggie, what's the idea behind the Django Unchained comic, and why did you decide to help out with the project?
Reggie Hudlin: As a producer on the film, you know, we get proposals from a lot of people about Django related projects. So we were contacted by a publisher who wanted to do a sort of illustrated screenplay. And Quentin wasn't interested in that. He likes publishing his screenplays, but without any visual aids. He thinks the writing should stand on its own.
And I said I was actually thrown by the proposal, because I thought it was going to be some type of graphic novel. And he said, "Yeah! Well, we can talk about doing a comic book! I'd love to do that!"
So I said, "Well, then, why don't we do that? It's ridiculous that you haven't done anything in the comic book medium, as much as you love comics."
So I talked to some publishers and there were a lot of folks really excited about doing it. And we set it up.
The approach Quentin wanted to take was, take the original screenplay, which is very long and very detailed, and tell that original story without any cuts, without any changes, so people could say, "Well, here's what the original story was."
And then you can see the movie and see the kind of changes we've made along the way.
Nrama: So this comic includes scenes that got left on the cutting room floor, or maybe never even got filmed before?
Hudlin: Absolutely. So there are scenes that never got shot, things that didn't make it into the film, but then there are things that we added to the movie that are no in [the comic book] either.
So it's it's own document.Nrama: As you, Quentin and R.M. Guéra are putting together the comic book, are you really trying to come at it from a different direction from the movie? Or are you keeping the movie in mind as you work on it?
Hudlin: We're actually trying to not keep the movie in mind. There are certain things we're keeping. But actually, Guéra still hasn't seen the movie, because he kind of wants to be pure about it. And the idea is that we're doing this comic book and it's a stand-alone thing. It's obviously related to the movie, but separate from the movie.
Nrama: The reception to the movie has been fantastic, with a lot of Oscar buzz and critical acclaim. What do you think so far of the response, and are you hoping you can honor that with the comic?
Hudlin: Well, it's wonderful! It's wonderful when you take something as ambitious and audacious as this story and have the kind of box office success we're having, the critical reviews that we're having, and now the first issue of the comic book being sold out. All that makes you go, "It's not just us!!" You know? Other people see the world we do, and that really feels great.
Nrama: It's interesting you put it that way, that other people see the world you do, because there have been some people who have questioned the approach to the sensitive subject of slavery and the fact that it's a white director handling it. Obviously, you're supportive of the project. What are your thoughts behind going forward with it and supporting it?
Hudlin: I think it's a great story. This is not a movie about people being victims. This is about people overcoming horrific circumstances and being heroes. And that's the kind of story I believe in telling.
I'm not a racist. And I try not to be prejudice. I just try to judge people for who they are. Quentin and I, from the first time we met, 15 or so years ago, we've always been very much in sync, in terms of people being inspired by the same thing, having the same kind of passion for storytelling in whatever medium that might be. It's just always been a very easy relationship.
Nrama: It seems like some people shy away from topics that are considered "serious," like slavery, and making them part of something funny. Obviously, Quentin Tarantino has no problem with that, having already approached Naziism with the same dark humor. I know Django Unchained is not a straight-up "comedy," but there is humor. Do you feel like there shouldn't be subjects that are "hands-off" for comedy?
Hudlin: I think when you deal with explosive material — look, I think everything comes down to execution. I don't think you can say, "Oh, you can't tell that story!"
The fact is, you can tell any story. The question is, can you tell it well?
You can take a "safe" subject and make a very boring movie because you did not tell it well. Or you can take something challenging and make it very accessible because you figure out a way to make the audience connect to and relate to those characters. And I think that's the bottom line.
You can't make broad rules. You have to judge movies, TV shows, comic books for what they are.
Too often, in these conversations, art gets taken out of the conversation. People just talk politics or profit. And those are all factors, but you have to keep art in the conversation.
Nrama: Since we're on the subject of art, how has it been working with Guéra on the comic? I loved his work on Scalped and had the chance to interview him about his work related to that comic. He's really come up with a different look for this book.Hudlin: He's a genius! I'm a huge fan of Scalped, and his art on Scalped was incredible. So that book, which was a film noir in the contemporary West, I just always thought was brilliant. And he had worked with Quentin Tarantino before. He had adapted a few pages of Inglorious Bastards for Playboy magazine. So I laid a number of artists out before Quentin and said, here are a number of guys who could work on the book. And he responded to Guéra's art, and I did the happy dance.
Nrama: Then to finish, Reggie, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Django Unchained?
Hudlin: We are just really excited about this. It was such a pleasure to watch Quentin flip through that first issue, and his pleasure at seeing a comic book adaptation of his work. He turned to me and said, "Can you believe we never did this before?" And I was like... "You're telling me? Can you imagine, like, a Kill Bill comic book?" And he goes, "Yeah!"
So this is the first but not the last foray into this medium.
Nrama: Is there anything else you're working on that you want to plug?
Hudlin: I'm actually here producing the NAACP Image Awards. There's a big awards show every year, and that's going to be airing February 1st on NBC. I'm doing a movie, TV and a comic book, all in the same week.