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“You can’t contaminate your canvas with moral doctrines and societal values. Nurturing your values takes energy and focus away from your character and their goals. Art needs room to breathe, with the freedom to discover without restraint.”
Ivana Chubbuck (author, The Power of the Actor)

More on this quote later.

Three weeks ago today, I was privileged to see an early screening of Quentin Tarantino‘s latest film Django Unchained, compliments of the Screen Actors Guild. I had already heard a lot about the film since everyone and their momma claims to have read early versions of the script, but thankfully I hadn’t heard enough to diminish my interest. So there I was, all set to watch this “slave western,” ironically sitting in a seat that would have once been reserved for the sons and daughters of slaves, in the balcony. Thankfully we have made “progress” concerning race relations in this country and on that day, the Union Square Regal balcony resembled a slice of raisin bread…short on the raisins. So i’m one of a few black folks in a packed theater about to watch a Quentin Tarantino slave narrative…awkwaaaaaaard.

Too many laughs, angry moments, and 2hr 45min later I was tight. After seeing this “spaghetti western” I was tighter than a jar of Ragu with a dent in the lid. Don’t get me wrong, as an actor and student of the craft of film-making  I truly enjoyed the performances and the cinematography was excellent…but what did I just see? To be honest, i’m still digesting that film. I’ve read and participated in several Facebook threads on Django since it’s coveted Christmas day release a few days ago but what sits at the pit of my stomach are the two questions a fellow actor asked me as we left the theater.

  1. Would you have played Jamie Foxx‘ role in Django?
  2. If you don’t like the way blacks are portrayed in the movies, why do you go see them?

My gut reaction to the first question was a swift and resounding no…but with three weeks to let my crock-pot simmer I refer to a quote from one of my favorite acting books, The Power of the Actor by Ivana Chubbuck:

“You can’t contaminate your canvas with moral doctrines and societal values. Nurturing your values takes energy and focus away from your character and their goals. Art needs room to breathe, with the freedom to discover without restraint.”

With that in mind, the actor in me would play the role of Django to the best of my ability without judging the character(s). I’d do tons of research, watch the original film, make strong character choices, and break down the script with the overall objective of “to get my wife back.” That’s the actor in me. The actor in me isn’t burdened with “moral doctrines and societal values.” In fact, the reason I act and probably the reason those that don’t act flock to the theater, is to live vicariously through those that play “with the freedom to discover without restraint.” But this is slavery we’re talking about here. We’re talking about my ancestors, my people, and like a can of Prego with all natural ingredients and homemade taste…my inner Malcolm X…it’s in there. My inner Nat Turner…it’s in there. My HBCU grad…it’s in there. It’s all in there simmering and bubbling up to the surface with lava bubbles that burst and roar…WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON IN HOLLYWOOD! But God willing I’ve got a few unborn mouths to feed so let me turn this down before it boils over and explodes and my dreams get deferred.

Now to address the second question. “If I don’t like the way blacks are portrayed in movies, why do I go see them?” Seriously, if my friend wasn’t from Ethiopia(no dis to my Ethiopian family) and a little naive to my African-American sensibilities I may have slapped the meatballs out of somebody’s mouth. That question makes as much sense as saying; if you don’t like the way America treats blacks why live here. Although my inner Marcus Garvey is in there too, i’m here to stay. Not to mention i’m an actor so of course i’m going to the movies. I respect Spike Lee’s stand on not going to see the film because in his opinion it would be “disrespectful to his ancestors.” I respect that stance because the histrionic, COMEDIC drama that is Django Unchained is disrespectful to my ancestors, but I know so because I saw the film. My ground beef  is not that Quentin Tarantino made the film but that Hollywood’s portrayal of blacks is so often unevenly cooked. Perhaps Django will pave the way for the July 4th release of Harriet Tubman Unchained. If and when that film is made I hope it allows the audience to sit with the ugliness that is slavery, without letting them off the hook with comic relief.

Now if you’ll allow me to stir the pot a bit. I highly respect both Spike Lee and his nemesis Quentin Tarantino as filmmakers. After all, both directors have a very impressive body of work but I wouldn’t put one over the other when it comes to getting hired to do my job as an actor. Lastly, it’s literally a “crying shame” Quentin Tarantino didn’t have to reach very far back in the history books for inspiration to cut Django’s meatballs off…thanks to Jessie, smh. Understand that my distaste for Django Unchained is not racist, I simply wish Hollywood would stop using the same old bland ingredients and sweeten the pot with a few shakes of truth. Trust, i’m smart enough to know the Ganache ain’t always black and white.

*Spoiler Alert*

The #1 reason Django Unchained is as unchained as the woman on the cover of Carter G. Woodson’s classic, The Miseducation of the Negro.

  1. “My wife ain’t no field slave…she pretty.” – Django

If you hate or love the film (as many of my friends do) be sure to comment below and keep the dialogue going. Thank you for reading and sharing.

About the author

Stephen is an award winning actor, producer and entrepreneur with a bachelor of arts degree in broadcasting from Hampton University ’00. He is also a member of the famed Susan Batson Acting Studio in New York City. Stay tuned.


  1. I’m looking forward to watching the movie Stephen as it was filmed in my home State of Louisiana,and I am very apt in Louisiana history, especially that of Slave history and African-American history, heritage, and culture of Louisiana Creole Blacks, which is what the majority of us blacks in Lousiana are. We need only check our history tree to find out the entire story. 🙂

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