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'Jane Eyre' Director Cary Fukunaga Concerned About "Irreverence For History" & Inaccuracies In 'Django Unchained'

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by Kevin Jagernauth
July 10, 2013 11:52 AM
17 Comments
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Though it feels like a lifetime, it's hard to believe it was only about six months ago that Quentin Tarantino's snarling slavery spaghetti western epic "Django Unchained" was riding high in theaters, and causing no small amount of chatter. While the movie earned praise from critics, and box office approval from audiences who made it the director's most successful movie to date, there were noted dissenters including Spike Lee who refused to see it and Katt Williams who threatened to punch Tarantino over the frequent use of the n-word in the movie. Those are probably two of the more extreme examples, but in general -- and as underscored by our three different reviews -- there were those who concerns were a bit more measured, and it turns out "Sin Nombre" and "Jane Eyre" director Cary Fukunaga is one of them.

Our own Jessica Kiang had a chance to chat with the filmmaker last week at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, and the conversation turned to "Django Unchained" after she first asked about whether Fukunaga was still working on the Civil War film, "No Blood No Guts No Glory." 

"I took myself off that project, in the fall of 2011. It’s funny because the project is still out there, I love the story, because I’m really obsessed with the American Civil War. I’ve studied it for many years and I’ve always wanted to do an American Civil War story," he explained. "I saw an opportunity there to tell an amazing story of The Andrews Raid and the Confederacy, but I think the producer wanted to tell a much more 'Inglourious Basterds' complete reinterpretation of history which I didn’t feel comfortable with. I think the history alone was captivating, we didn’t need to invent action scenes."

Naturally, Kiang had to ask what he thought of the Tarantino school of using history as a backdrop to tell elevated genre stories, and Fukunaga isn't quite sure the approach works. "I really like Quentin Tarantino, but I couldn’t figure out what he’s doing. I couldn’t figure out if the irreverence for history, was it to be controversial and because he wants to have fun or is it just really poor research? Even from the very first title [in 'Django Unchained'] the title card says '1859, 3 years before the Civil War.' He even gets that wrong…," Fukunaga said. "[The danger is] there’s a lot of people out there who don’t bother to learn history, and will believe [this stuff] no matter how ridiculous it is."

"I hope that [‘Django’] doesn’t become 'the Civil War movie.' It’s the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in America, [July 4th] was the 150th anniversary of Vicksburg which was the battle that really won the war, not Gettysburg, and no one’s doing anything [movie-wise]. Maybe it’s too expensive… studios won’t pay for that stuff anymore. Not enough robots blowing shit up," Fukunaga lamented.

It's another intriguing viewpoint on Tarantino's film that's clearly still giving folks a lot to think about. What do you think? Does Tarantino need to stick a little closer to historical fact if he's going to play in those waters, or does he have license to bend where he needs to? Tell us below. We'll have more from our conversation with Fukunaga later this week.

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17 Comments

  • QPQ | November 11, 2013 2:46 AMReply

    I do concur with Steve D.....and all of you others make valid points! Quentin iIS the man!!!

  • Quid pro quo | November 11, 2013 2:37 AMReply

    You all have been the product of Quentins intention. To captivate, entertain, educate, and also inspire intelligent conversations about racial stigmas, sterotyping, prejudice, and the ignorance in the behavior of mankind.

  • steve dush | July 13, 2013 12:32 PMReply

    Are the same people complaing about the lack of reality the same ones who are complaining about use of the N word by these characters in this place and time? One can be sure Quintentin anticipated these two opposing controversies, realizing the two arguments wipe the validity of the other one straight out! He's a genious.

  • steve dush | July 13, 2013 12:27 PMReply

    What movies do you rely on for historical facts? Really? Tarrentini makes great flat-screen movies, in which his messaging is fun, not confused by anyone with IQ's above 85 or older than 21 as factual. He uses life to create fiction, which, though not as crazy as real life, is almost as interesting, and plenty interesting enough to cram lots of personality and characters onto a flat surface to entertain you and me. He tells us in the movie that he is making stuff up, that we're about to have some fun with (un)reality, by a little bit, whether it's with obvious, erroneous simple math, bible verse misquotes by Sam Jackson's hired killer, or Adolf Hitler locked up with a stick in a theatre so he could be torchered. People who do worry on occasion about others not as smart as themselves misconstruing things like this just aren't used to others being less intelligent. Sit back and enjoy the fun. Quintentino is a master. He isn't trying to tell you his movies are reality, circa JFK or political "documentaries", which can never come close to giving us more than a slanted glimpse at any multi-dimensional reality.

  • Shavonne | July 11, 2013 12:52 AMReply

    I think that Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained was meant to show the completely disturbing dichotomy of people who believed they were the upper crust yet participated in and condoned the absolute barbarism of slavery. Hence, the focus was not on absolute historical accuracy.

  • Brad | July 10, 2013 5:59 PMReply

    I think once Fukunaga starts making movies at the level of "Reservoir Dogs", "Pulp Fiction" or "Kill Bill" he can start talking about Tarantino. If it was someone like Paul Thomas Anderson or Martin Scorsese saying that I may understand and I think that us (as a society) now a days have a lot of tools to know about history or to increase our knowledge and if some people don't care or don't do it they might as well beleive what a movie without historical accuracy shows them.
    Bottom line : Better movies, less talking Mr. Fukunaga.

  • Sounds of Cinema | July 10, 2013 2:45 PMReply

    DJANGO UNCHAINED is not about historical fact. It's about cinematic history. In INGLORIOUS BASTERDS Tarantino said the war film was bullshit, that it has nothing to do with the realities of warfare or history. In a similar way, DJANGO gives the middle finger to movies like GONE WITH THE WIND and BIRTH OF A NATION, punching a hole in the myth of the genteel Antebellum South.

    Adam Serwer wrote a great article about this for Mother Jones.

  • hank | July 10, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    Tarantino is going to do whatever the fuck he wants. Why is this even a discussion?

  • Fail | July 10, 2013 1:41 PMReply

    "Even from the very first title [in 'Django Unchained'] the title card says '1859, 3 years before the Civil War.' He even gets that wrong…,' Fukunaga said."

    Nope, sorry Fukunaga, that's on you - in reality, the title card ACTUALLY reads "1858, 2 years before the Civil War," but okay. Maybe Fukunaga should get HIS facts straight before he criticizes others.

  • FAIL x2 | July 12, 2013 5:18 AM

    I think Fukunaga was just pointing out that Tarantino got the date wrong, which is dangerous for people like you who FAIL to recognize it, not criticizing his work as a craftsman or a filmmaker.

  • FAIL | July 10, 2013 9:16 PM

    Exactly! It's hilarious because in both instances, Fukunaga is completely wrong. What a douche.

  • droop | July 10, 2013 5:13 PM

    still wrong man

  • RE: FAIL | July 10, 2013 2:03 PM

    Still, that would suggest that the Civil War began in 1860. Wrong.

  • julian | July 10, 2013 1:03 PMReply

    Its a movie for a reason. I don't go see a tarantino for a history lesson, actaully I don't ever go to any movie for a history lesson. He developed a story like no other that draws you in that makes you feel for the character and that's what the movie industry is suppose to be about. Its a movie, we watch movies to escape reality. I think everyone is just really over thinking this one. Tarantino is a master in what he does leave him be.

  • J.M. | July 10, 2013 1:24 PM

    Yeah, but I don't think you're the demographic he was speaking of. You're smart enough to discern between fact and fiction because you're knowledgable enough about the Civil War and, more than likely, knowledgeable enough about things in general.

    I think what he's getting at is that there is an entire swath of our society who are too lazy to crack a book or learn about the true history of any given event, that they let movies inform their understanding of history. Unfortunately, films like Django kind of sensationalize that history in a way that makes that collective audience "dumber" for having watched it.

    Now, I love Django Unchained and I get exactly what Tarantino was trying to accomplish. Or, at the very least, totally appreciated what I got from the film. But I too understand Fukunaga's point as well. The problem is, I don't know that there's anything that can really be done. Because it's not Tarantino's problem. It's the studios. They're picking what's released. But, you know, there are historically accurate dramas being released like Lincoln. That movie will equally inform a less historically knowledgeable audience, but I'm sure Fukanaga is behind that sort of film, because it's historically accurate.

    Again, I don't know the answer. I guess for a film like Django, I'm less inclined to bitch because, at the very least, it's getting the philosophy of the atmosphere correct. White people enslaved blacks in the south, that wasn't right, eventually things changed. Django just shows the change through a vindictive black slave who we can all root for, and in the end, it doesn't change how we all felt about slavery (It was despicable), it only strengthens that feeling. I guess I'll really start bitching when creationists start making mainstream historical narratives that start misinforming mindless audiences on how old the Earth is and evolution being a lie. Until then, I'm informed enough to watch a Tarantino film.

  • Eric | July 10, 2013 12:10 PMReply

    That's a more measured reaction than I was expecting. I understand what he is saying, but a writer/director should be more concerned with telling a compelling and deep story rather than demonstrating an accurate depiction of history.

    There are of course stories like Schindler's List and Band of Brothers in which the events are aided by the knowledge that they are hyper-accurate depictions of what actually occurred, but Tarantino's recent work is very much not of that ilk. If the goal of the creator is to create an original story within the context of a real-life event, and it is clear that the story is not meant to be an accurate depiction of the time, I see no reason why he should be afraid that the least well-informed audience members would be confused by his construction of events. Creating a story for the least common denominator of unintelligent viewers is not conducive to telling a good story.

  • Bodhi1701 | July 10, 2013 3:26 PM

    I'm in agreement with this. I think in some respects the quest for historical accuracy has gotten in the way of storytelling and that's unfortunate. The artistic function of a movie is to challenge how we view something, whether that's history, or love or life. And extreme reverence for anything, whether that's accuracy or genre conventions or franchise brand, leads to boring art. We should 'honor, not revere' history in movies. And in my opinion, QT did that. But the debate about this will probably continue forever. At the very least, we're getting more actual historical perspective out of the debate than I ever could've gotten if the movie had stuck to "reality."

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