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LeVar Burton Calls "Bullsh*t" On Quentin Tarantino's Dismissal Of 'Roots'

by Kevin Jagernauth
November 18, 2013 4:44 PM
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No, you suddenly haven't time-traveled back to 2012. Steve McQueen's acclaimed "12 Years Of A Slave" is bowling over critics and brutalizing audiences so it is hardly a shock that last year's slavery flick, the decidedly more pulpy "Django Unchained," would be brought back into the conversation. Quentin Tarantino's movie wasn't exactly historically accurate, but he made clear at the time his disdain for what is one of the most celebrated depictions on slavery in any media, the 1970s PBS mini-series "Roots." 

“When you look at 'Roots,' nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” he told Newsweek last year. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.” But one man isn't taking that criticism lightly.

LeVar Burton—the man who taught us the joy of books with "Reading Rainbow," rules as La Forge and of course, led "Roots" as Kunta Kinte—had some harsh words for Tarantino recently. “ 'Django Unchained' is a fantasy, let’s be clear,” Burton told New York magazine. “And when Quentin Tarantino says that 'Django' is more real than 'Roots,' I call bullshit. I got nothing against him, but don’t go there, okay? Don’t go there, Quentin. Too many people who look like me bled and died for you to have the opportunity to satirize the slave narrative. There’s a place for satire in culture. Taken at face value, as a piece of satire, I went and enjoyed it. It was fun. Let’s just not get it twisted. 'Django' was not real.”

Tough but fair, we'd reckon. As for Steven McQueen's film? "... there’s a lot of resistance to revisiting this issue. I’ve heard disquieting chatter on both sides of the color line. Why do we have to revisit this again? Well, we have to revisit this again because all of us have forgotten!" Burton said, adding: "Steve McQueen is a brilliant storyteller, and he’s taken a very difficult subject and told it in a very accessible, however difficult, way. Now, I wish more people were going to see it. It’s going to play really well in New York and L.A. and some other cities, and I hope that it plays incredibly well overseas as well. It’ll be interesting if anybody is bothered to book a theater in certain locales—certain territories, as they say."

And this view—that slavery is a story that must continue to be told—extends to Burton's feelings on the remake of "Roots," which he admits he was hesitant about at first. "At the screening of '12 Years a Slave,' no less a personage than Russell Simmons told me that 'Roots' was being remade. And my initial reaction was, Why? But, look, the bottom line for me is if one soul is moved irrevocably toward the side of humanity, then it’s worth it," he said. "Human beings are the laziest creatures in the history of creation. We would rather not do anything if we could avoid it. But social justice requires rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty. And I think moments like 'Roots' and '12 Years a Slave are opportunities for art as a cultural force to step forward and lead the way. What we do with it is up to us."

Thoughts? Let us know below.

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  • Zee | January 14, 2014 11:32 AMReply

    Quentin Tarantino is amongst the great film makers and is going down in history. He will be mentioned alongside greats such as Martin Scorsese. Don't get it twisted.

  • Dustyn | December 11, 2013 5:53 PMReply

    Don't know were all the Tarantino haters came from? Anyway in his defence, everything he touches is gold and love him or hate him he knows how to make money, call him a traitor or sell out, the bottom line is he gets paid. Also I love everyone looking at Roots as the "Slavery source". It was a crappy Dramatization, at least Django portrays the African American man as a badass.

  • Mandii | November 21, 2013 12:00 PMReply

    Loved Levar's face palm to Tarantino - someone finally checked him.

  • JAKE LAMOTTA | November 21, 2013 8:18 AMReply

    tarantino is an overrated prick

  • - | November 21, 2013 12:01 PM

    This, he hasn't made a really great film since Jackie Brown. Django was close, but the shittiness of the last 20-30 minutes of it ruined what was before then a really enjoyable film. And there are people who call him the best director alive. smh

  • Kurse | November 20, 2013 5:25 PMReply

    All of this would be fine and well if not for the fact that Rooys was proven to have been based on a lie. It's black-racialist fantasy, not at all based on any actual events, and the author was a proven fraud. Django probably has as much historical truth in it -- by accident-- than Roots does.

    As for Burton, the guy is a well-known weirdo.

  • Donella | November 20, 2013 4:56 PMReply

    Levar Burton's facepalm to Quentin Tarantino's egomaniacal, know-it-all yammering off at the mouth is hilarious and much-needed truth telling.

    Quentin Tarantino and his Django Unchained have been completely outdone by Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. One is a graphic novel/cartoon fantasy. The other is a gritty, realistic version of slavery told from the slave's point-of-view.

    The fact that current Oscar buzz is focused on the clear, unmistakable leads Chiwetel Ejiofer and Lupita Nyong'o is due to Steve McQueen's direction and John Ridley's writing. No long-winded show-off speeches by a white lead masqueraded as a supporting character.

    I truly hope Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx take note on the difference between sitting in the cheap seats to cheer on the white nominees and standing on stage THEMSELVES for recognition of work well done.

    No gratuitous use of hip hop, racial epithets, white hipsterism, white co-lead, and egomaniacal yammering off at the mouth, no superiority complex, no idiotic scenes of show ponies sitting with their white mistresses for dinner (never happened), no trivial pursuit references to other movies, no posturing, no comedic relief from the gritty truth.

    Just a true American story being told with integrity.

    Still snickering at Tarantino and cheering for LeVar Burton.

  • Sharon | November 19, 2013 9:21 AMReply

    Quentin Tarratino's D'Jango Unchained is to Roots as his Inglorious Basterds is to Schindler's List.

  • mrnick | November 21, 2013 10:10 AM

    haha tarantino doesnt care. Django is a better MOVIE.

  • MDL | November 19, 2013 12:09 AMReply

    Tarantino probably shouldn't be one to criticize Roots since Django Unchained is essentially a live cartoon version of slavery. At least Roots was serious about the nature of slavery. Tarantino says none of the performances ring true. While they may or may not be true he's got to be kidding if he thinks that Jamie Foxx's gun toting slave avenger rings true. It doesn't - although it is fun to watch.

  • mike lewis | November 18, 2013 6:38 PMReply

    Tarantino could not direct traffic as far as I am concerned.
    He is a one trick derivative pony.

  • Daniel | November 18, 2013 5:45 PMReply

    I haven't seen 12 Years, so I have no thoughts on it. But I think writing off Django as a simply a 'satire of the slave narrative' shows only a very shallow reading of the movie. Just because a movie is funny doesn't mean it doesn't have something serious to say. It strikes me that Django is far less about slavery than it is about actual problems today. It doesn't exist to say "isn't it funny that we used to do this?" Rather, it's saying "we still do this, and it's not funny, and we are all complicit." Critics tend to not think deeply about things they feel safe in writing off as pop entertainment, and the lack of serious critical reaction to it is pretty embarrassing. The post-credits image of slaves sitting in an open cage should be incendiary, and provoke real dialogue, but we're content with the surface of things. 12 Years looks to be extremely good, but I have a feeling that the positive response has less to do with it's quality and more to do with the fact that the subject is talked about in an 'appropriate' way; lord knows I wouldn't want to be made uncomfortable while talking about slavery. The sad fact about the way slavery is portrayed in cinema is that it removes it from today, and let's us feel good that we recognize it as bad. When Tarantino comes along and says "we are still doing this" it makes us feel lousy, and we want to write him off so we can get on with feeling good.

  • Mandii | November 21, 2013 11:58 AM

    Daniel - please go see 12 Years of Slave. It will give you a dose of reality - you probably wouldn't write what you just wrote if you saw the film.

  • Donella | November 20, 2013 4:44 PM

    Daniel, since you did not watch 12 Years a Slave, your opinion on its quality is based upon willful ignorance and should get the same face palm that Levar Burton gave to Quentin Tarantino.

  • Bill | November 19, 2013 11:01 AM

    Daniel, I don't think you really understand what the word satire means. It's not the same as parody. The things you're describing Django as being? The things you say are good? Those things are satire. Satire does not necessarily mean comedy or farce.

  • Alan B | November 19, 2013 4:14 AM

    One of these two writers can construct a coherent thought: the other can't.

  • A-Man | November 18, 2013 8:47 PM

    You've fallen into the trap of making (what could be) a very good point and not bringing up any specific examples. As I will do now.

    Django didn't come along and say "we are still doing this."
    It took the Western narrative, made a super-cool 70's blaxploitation cartoon caricature the hero and then tried to keep telling us that slavery is bad, all whilst jazzing and pimping it up with aggressive hip-hop and Tarantino-esque dialogue (which is film critic slang for white people and black people spitting racial epithets like Civil Rights never happened, for anyone.)

    Just 'cause you write a lot doesn't mean you made a point, Daniel.

    And yes, slavery should be talked about in an "appropriate" way - we should be open, honest and disgraced at our forefathers and for a film to properly address that historic fact is a blessing, it's a shame that mainstream audiences are less attracted to painful character driven narratives based on history like this, then they are by the attractive-but-empty fairground ride of Gravity.

    And that disgust, by the way, should drive us to be better people outside of ourselves and our every day lives - a film about slavery shouldn't make us feel good because "DAAAMMMMNNNN that n****r is funnnnnnny. And good at shooting - bang bang! Look at his PIMPED OUT SUIT - this n****r, the original n****r. MY N*GG*r 4EVA. But I still prefer Christoph Waltz, look at all these white people getting OSCAR BUZZ zzz. Christoph Waltz must teach Django everything he knows, because this film is racist.*"

    Django is taught to be a better "n****r" by a white-man.
    Because Quentin Tarantino really is the shit. Sorry, a shit.

  • Lefty McKay | November 18, 2013 5:14 PMReply

    Roots was not a PBS mini-series. It aired on ABC.

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