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Tarantino Says He Didn’t Cast Idris Elba In ‘Django’ Because He’s British… And It’s An American Story

Tarantino Says He Didn't Cast Idris Elba In 'Django' Because He's British... And It's An American Story

I know, we said no more Django Unchained posts, BUT, this isn’t so much a Django Unchained item (no critique nor praise of the film here), as much as it is a nod to several conversations/debates that you folks have had in various comment sections of this blog, relating to the casting of black British actors in roles as African Americans (and vice-versa, or as Africans) whether on TV or film, as well as the, shall we say, “accent problem.” 

So I thought it was worth sharing, and elaborating on, as well as connecting it to previous conversations, regardless of where you stand on the matter.

In an interview with the UK’s Sun, while plugging the film across the pond, where it opens on the 18th of this month, Quentin Tarantino stated, while, as we already know, Idris Elba was one of the actors he looked at for the lead role eventually played by Jamie Foxx, “he never stood a chance of getting the part,” because “he’s British,” Tarantino said.

“Yeah, Idris is British and this is an American story. I think a problem with a lot of movies that deal with this issue is they cast British actors to play the Southerners and it goes a long way to distancing the movie. They put on their gargoyle masks and they do their phoney accents and you are not telling an American story any more. They are just making hay of it, whether it be James Mason in Mandingo or Michael Caine in Hurry Sundown, they get British actors to do this.”

The first thing that I thought was, if he never really stood a chance of getting the part, why even look at him for the part in the first place…?

Although, I’ll say that while Idris did an excellent job portraying Stringer Bell in HBO’s The Wire, pulling off the accent rather well – so much that most audiences, and even many of his fellow Brits didn’t even know he was British – you might recall he did have some *difficulty* with his southern accent in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus last summer.

And maybe Tarantino auditioned him and caught on to that, which killed his chances – hence the comment about “phoney accents.” Because, apparently, speaking in a southern accent was crucial for the key characters in Django Unchained.

As Tarantino notes in the Sun interview:

“Leo is not from the South, but pretty much every other white actor in the movie is from the South. And most of the black actors are from the South. And I’m from the South.”

The other actors Tarantino looked at for the part were Chris Tucker, Terrence Howard, Michael K. Williams, and Tyrese.

I’m guessing Tarantino’s words may not go over well with some – specifically, his motivations for not casting a Brit (in a nutshell, this is a quintessential American story, so I’m going to cast American actors in American roles); although I’ll also guess that others will applaud them.

But this seemingly nationalistic casting conundrum, we could call it, is a conversation that extends beyond just the USA and the UK. You’ll recall local blowback over the casting of Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard as Winnie Mandela and Nelson Mandela – a quintessential South African story we could argue; and also Sanaa Lathan as a Senegalese woman in Wonderful World, and Morgan Freeman also as Mandela in Invictus – in recent examples. 

I recall this quote from another UK newspaper, The Guardian a couple of years ago or so, in relation to Freeman as Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, which stated:

“… unless one casts Indians to play Indians (unlike Alec Guinness in ‘A Passage to India,’ 1984), Danes to play Danes (instead of accent-prone Meryl Streep’s Karen Blixen in ‘Out of Africa,’ 1985), Irishmen to play Irishmen (to avoid the many begorrah horrors) etc, most accents [in movies] border on caricature…”

The suggestion from the writer there being that we should just accept that fact, instead of griping every time an actor’s/actress’ attempt at an unfamiliar accent fails.

Frankly, for most audiences who don’t have an ear attuned to the nuances of Senegalese and South African accents (which themselves also vary within those countries) in the above 2 cases, Lathan and Freeman (and Matt Damon) will sound authentic enough.

But is “authentic enough” enough? Is the audience being deprived of a proper “education,” or are our expectations too high, in expecting perfection of speech from these actors, especially when many of us here likely wouldn’t even be able to recognize what’s authentic and what’s not, in any given situation?

The writer of that same article makes a comparison between “blacking-up” and actors in roles that require that they speak in an unfamiliar accent – essentially suggesting that just as black people are now “allowed” to play themselves on screen, instead of white people in black face, “accents should be left to native speakers.

I agree that an overall appreciation of a film can indeed be undermined by suspect accents; and what all this calls into discussion is the casting of “natives” in roles like those above I mentioned, if ensuring authenticity is crucial. But then that challenges one significant industry belief: that recognizable names and faces are needed in order to sell a picture – an idea with a lot of support that likely won’t falter any time soon.

So, in short, expect more “suspect” accents, especially in Hollywood studio movies; but just not when it’s a Tarantino flick though apparently – especially when he’s telling a quintessential American story. 

Although Steven Spielberg clearly doesn’t see it the same way, because he cast Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, in what could also be described as a quintessential American story. 

However, on the reverse, while there have most certainly been exceptions, given how ubiquitous American/Hollywood films are all over the world, as well as music, I’d say that most non-American actors do a pretty good job mimicking USA accents – which are also varied depending on location. Some are better at it than others. 

But the matter of casting actors native to a specific region in films that tell stories that are “native” to that specific region (as Tarantino said of and did with Django), is a longer conversation…

Feel free to chime in with your thoughts on all this…

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I guess Hugh Laurie being cast in House is a classic example. Auditioning with an accent and the casting director proclaiming "wow, finally a great American actor" (or something of that nature). Oh the irony.

Miles Ellison

So why was Walz cast?


that dont make sense cause hes british dick van dyke was american playing several english men in films and loads of american actors actresses palying english people renee in bridget jones only a stupid america can say that


we're out sourcing everything, why not out source our actors too.


I'm staying away from all the other debates for the moment.
I think it's bad form for a director after auditioning an actor for a role and not choosing them to go on to say to the world wide press that that actor really wasn't in the running. For whatever reason Idris or any other actor wasn't cast, be respectful and don't diss them publicly. Or then it all becomes too much like politics or some other mud slinging arena, and not about the storytelling magic of film. It is also for me, a breach of faith and trust.
Besides slavery in North and South America and the West Indies had beginnings in Europe and that includes Britain.
That's the other thing, slavery unfortunately still exists today. I wonder whether any of the film makers mentioned will donate funds to freeing the women, children and men bonded in the various forms of 'contemporary slavery'?


I'm staying away from all the other debates for thr moment. I think it's bad form for a director after auditioning an actor for a role and not choosing them to go on to say to the world wide press that that actor really wasn't in the running. For whatever reason Idris or any other actor wasn't cast, be respectful and don't diss them publicly. Or then it all becomes too much like politics or some other mud slinging arena, and not about the storytelling magic of film. Besides slavery in the USA and the West Indies had beginnings in Europe.
That's the other thing slavery unfortunately still exists today. I wonder whether any of the film makers mentioned will donate funds to freeing the women, children and men bonded in the various forms of 'contemporary slavery'?


We're talking about American movies, though. Americans typically need to see American actors/actresses in lead roles – or at least established actors and actresses who are recognizable from North American movies (eg. Daniel Craig in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake) – otherwise they have no interest. So, authenticity takes a back seat to commercial appeal.

    wardell henley

    Totally agree, after what the brits did with Harry Potter


officially licensed action…….blatantly insensitive ….weinstein is taking off the white hood..mfers talk all that shit about antisemitism/nazis/hitler and goebbels —– and turn around and have been doing the same shit themselves for decades.—–brando was right…


@S&A: What happened to all the comments on this page? Many of the previous comments are not showing now…


Awesome film. Foxx was the only choice IMO. Only flaw in the movie was Tarantino's character with his Irish-cockney-Aussie accent. So horrendous he must've done it on purpose. It's on a par with dick van dyke in Mary poppins, don cheadle in oceans eleven and Anthony lapaglia in frasier. He sure can make films but I wish he'd stay that side of the camera.


Isn't Tim Roth AKA Mr Orange a British actor. I 'm howling with laughter when you have actors perpertrating accents . My top three of actors who's accent coach failed them are:
No. 1 Robert De Niro – Cape Fear
No.2 Forrest Wittiker – Crying Game
No 3Denzil Washington – Queen and Country

Agent K

Why is this even an issue? It ain't like Jamie Foxx's accent was authentic.

Kenyon long

As an actor from the south I hate seeing other actors use terrible southern accents. Its funny hollywood tells me to change my accent for certain roles but when they have a role that requires it,they get someone from ny who has studied the accent. Its not hard to find the good actor with the accent you need.


Django Unchained': Selling Slaves as Action Figures

Adam Scott Thompson

It may be hindsight bias, but Jamie Foxx was the right choice — period.


i didnt think of it it that way but you guys are right it is a dig at steve mqueens infinately better and more dignified and most importantly RESPECTFUL take on the slave trade.
btw, yes idris is british but half sierre-leonian that has ties to the transatlatic slave trade as it is where the freed slaved went to.

    wardell henley

    British Blacks were never treated like African Americans slaves. They were basically treated like animals, like cattle. Killed on the spot, no rights, and even after slavery ended. African Americans were openly kill in full view of the public, lynch, burned, castrated, downtown in front of the court house with the sheriff, mayor, Preachers, and most of the town viewing the event, like it was carnival act, and no one is jail or prosecuted for this act. There were several massacres of African Americans, (Rosewood Massacre (1923), Tulsa race riot 1921, The Elaine race riot 1919 vicinity of Elaine in rural Phillips County, Arkansas. Etc.), and people of color,(American Indians, Asians), in the United States. I am not aware of any massacres of any people of color occurring in Britain. Blacks in Britain were not exposed to the level of institutionalized racism segregation and separation that African American was exposed to. People who ancestors did not live through that level of HELL ON EARTH, I believe simple cannot reach those emotions to portray on a TV or movie screen. Also African Americans were only portrayed in the background in TV shows and movies, for example; The Andy griffin TV shows had 249 episodes only one did an African American speak lines; (Mayberry Minutia: African-American actor Rockne Tarkington was the only black featured as a main character. He appeared in a March 1967 episode as Flip Conroy, a retired NFL player who was going to coach Opie’s football team. )
    African Americans had to fight to be in place in front of TV and Movies, I am not aware of British Blacks in that fight, and I feel it is unfair for British Blacks to benefit from the African American fight for equality in the entertainment industry, especially since I personally do not see most British Blacks actors acting skills that cannot be meet or exceeded by an African American actor. In closing I believe there is another element at work here at a deeper level. African American movies do not sell well in Europe, could it be that Europeans actually have a problem with people of color who do not view the White race as superior. What I am getting at is that some people of color still today are mentally subordinate to White rule, while African Americans have long lost any of this false illusion. This is reflected into sociality when an employer choses to hire, work with or socialize with a person who holds this subordinate mentality over a person who does not have a subordinate mentality.


I still can't believe Tyrese was considered for the role. #JodyUnchained


Frankly, there's not a thing wrong with that. When casting Harry Potter, Rowling said she wanted British actors… no Americans. People applauded that decision as an attempt at authenticity.

Why can't Tarantino want American actors in a film about slavery in America?

Motown boy

Let's be honest, this is a straight shot at Steve McQueen and his 12 Years a Slave. That film is full of non-Anerican Blacks and non-American Whites. Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson have been throwing side-eyes at Steve McQueen's film during their Django press tour. Sam Jackson straight out made fun of McQueen and his "arty" films in one interview.


Just came from imdb—had to laugh when I saw that it's CHIWETEL EJIOFOR who plays Solomon Northup, the central character who is "12 Years a Slave" in McQueen's upcoming film. A British director, a Nigerian-British star—both black—telling an "American" story? The horror, the horror!


Check out the Terry Gross/Fresh Air interview with Q.T. from January 2nd. Great interview… she asks great questions, including how violent films affect society (Sandy Hook) which pisses him off. He also mentions getting Mr. Sidney Poitier's blessing to do "Django" his way.


hold it. David Oyelowo's U.S. accent was perfect in "Middle of Nowhere," even though he is British. And Jamie Foxx's accent in "Django" was all over the place– slavery Southern, modern Jamie, urban ghetto. Come on.


I know there are a lot of comments but does anyone see the irony of Tarantino downing Idris Elba who is British while going on a press campaign for the opening of his movie in the UK!? I saw the movie I like it but what Tarantino said about Idris is B.S. and I don't support it. Also sorry for the spoiler but Tarantino played an Australian character in a brief cameo!! I'm thinking it had historical significance with maybe a small Australian immigrant population in Mississippi during that time but still Tarantino is not Australian! What difference does it make the region? If you casted an actor from Boston it wouldn't matter! The 'South' is NOT it's own country. Tarantino's whole argument is stupid and while I don't feel Idris would have fit and Jamie was right for the part, Tarantino is wrong for his comments.


Might I add (what I think people are forgetting here) is that the transatlantic slave trade took Africans, mainly from the West African region to the US, Canada, Caribbean and Latin America, if an African slave was taken from his/her homeland already knowing their first language and having to LEARN English, then they would have had an "African" accent. Then, at what point the children of these slaves got "American" accents is debatable; the present day "American " accents are much different to those even of 1920s America. It's all so variable.

The very IDEA that an African can be an American/Canadian/possess their own passport/be a full citizen for a Caribbean/Latin American country was only won with A FIGHT.

Does anyone concur?


So what's the point of telling us who didn't get the role?

Peter Archanjo

Denzil Washington – Steven Biko
Morgan Freeman – Nelson Mandela
Innumerable AA-actors have played Africans with bad accents including in Roots with fresh haircut with razor lines.

Like the man said, "much ado about…marketing."

Y'all truly have a slow

Floyd Webb

My blind Uncle Grumpy just dictated this to me after his browser read him the story:

"I can't believe y'all sitting round there still debating' Django after y'all said y'all ain't discussin' it no mo. Then y'all go and fall for the white man's tricknology to keep y'all talking bout and promotin' and ranging up page views by slanging a piece of racial pork into the rang. And we some o' y'all cain't resist pork no matter how bad it is for y'all. Chances are Idrisnwas too busy out acting his African American cousins and gettin' offered up choice roles on both sides of the big wettie. What a devisive that to putt in the press to start a who's authentically black then who.
Truth is too many of y'all is closet Necros anywho, sittin' round waitin' on "that call" that will surely lift y'all to "exalted necrodom."

Even a blind man can see that all this hoopla is designed to keep y'all talking and doing that extra word of mouth promotion. Did I see it? Hell bawl, um blind. But I saw Buck and the Preacher, The Legend of Nigger Charlie, Boss Nigger, and Thomasina & Bushrod. So of course umma go hear the damn film.

Um gon end this now. Much love for Idris who can play Junebug and Othello. Respect for Jamie who can play Django and the ugliest woman a I ever heard.
That one right make me think Idris gon' be alright. But Jamie, hire a sister to play a sister please. And maybe Mr Perry will let Oprah play Ma'dea just one time."

Disclaimer: the thoughts of Uncle Grumpy are his alone, but I do concur on some points.


Quentin Tarantino's feeling somewhat intimidated by Steve McQueen's (British citizen of Caribbean-born, slave-descended parents) upcoming Twelve Years a Slave production, due for release later this year. Like most narcissists, Tarantino feels the need to invalidate other slave-era productions-Roots, Amistad, Lincoln. Because Tarantino cannot invalidate the actual story of Twelve Years a Slave since it is based upon an authentic, well-respected, published account of slave atrocities by a witness of those atrocities, Tarantino resorts to an attempt to invalidate the production of the film based upon the story by attacking the nationalities of the participants. The kind word for Tarantino's behavior is xenophobia. The harsh word is bigotry. A tried-and-true strategy that Tarantino has used with great success in the past is "Divide and Conquer." He used Samuel L. Jackson against Spike Lee. He used Jamie Foxx against Will Smith. Now Tarantino's attempting use the Black North American cast of Django Unchained against the Black British/African cast of Twelve Years a Slave. If Tarantino cannot build up Django Unchained, he will attempt to tear Twelve Years a Slave down.


Was this rules only for black characters. Christopher Waltz is German and Sasha Baron Cohen (who dropped out because of scheduling conflicts) is an English born Scottish Jew.


finally..watched the film…and Wesley Snipes is the only other actor I can think of who could have pulled it off…and made it the same film.if qt is honest with himself…he knows that he thought of wesley first when he got this project—–avoided reading the critiques of the film..and now that I'm reading them, can't beleive that NOBODY mentioned that Leonardo copied his performance from Daniel Day Lewis' ridiculously good turn as the butcher in Gangs of New York….literally..the grimaces…the mannerisms..the scenery chewing changes in pitch and tone… note for note copy

Ronald T. Jones

An actor acts. Idris Elba is an actor. It should not matter if he's British. He is an actor. He is perfectly capable of playing a freed slave in ante-bellum America. I would not have cared if the role of Django were given to Elba. He is an ACTOR. Actors play characters. That's their job. They are actors. If Idris were an accountant, he would not be suitable to play any role on film or TV. However, given that he is actor, consideration to play Django should not have been withheld from him on the basis of his nationality.


For once, I completely agree with Tarantino. (And I say that as a Southerner.) And, yes, I am just as annoyed when American and British actors are cast in films about Africa (e.g. the Winnie Mandela film, Hotel Rwanda, etc.). I actually wish more directors would think like Tarantino on this issue. Show some respect for the region/culture you are trying to show in a film and try to cast folks from that region/culture. That's not so much to ask. It's simply a matter of respect.


I think it's the director's right to cast who he feels will best serve his story and his vision, regardless of how it turns out. I can't be mad at him for looking at Idris, I would guess he was trying to be open to something coming from Idris that he didn't expect. Had he not looked at Idris, there no doubt would be beef because he didn't give the brother a shot. Fortunately the Django worked out well for everyone and Idris continues to build a legitimate film career, and with that awful accent he carried in Prometheus, I think everyone is the better for the final casting of Django.


I'm from the South and I completely get what Taratino is saying. First off, let me say that I don't believe that a African-American has to be played by an African-American and a British actor has to be played by a British actor. I don't think many directors feel that way, but I do believe that CERTAIN films, tv shows need to have authentic actors. Case in point, True Blood. I do love the show, but there are moments when I hear those horrible accents and all I can do is shake my head. Plus, there's an attitude and a manner about being southern that cannot be learned in an acting school. It's hard to explain. Any southerners out there know what I'm talking about?


Idris must have voiced an opinion that rubbed someone the wrong way…why was that casting comment even necessary? Idris' look and acting would have been too intense…too much of a "strong black man"-type to pacify White audiences- while giving only the guise of empowering Blacks- in this "Western/Comedy/Blaxploitation featuring Slavery as a Backdrop" film, so it makes sense that Tarantino didn't cast him. Guess that's worked out for QT since many Black's showed support for the film and have crowned him a hero (while all but castrating Spike Lee) and Whites thought it was a great flick too. All's well that ends well.


"The first thing that I thought was, if he never really stood a chance of getting the part, why even look at him for the part in the first place…?"<< Exactly. Also, Tarantino needs to do a LOT of research on his actors. Tyrese is from the Watts area of Los Angeles, and Terrence Howard is from Chicago, IL. Tarantino needs to stop the b.s. and tell the truth about the casting.


bad accents in films are very distracting-neyo in red tails-idris elba in american gangster-denzel in the mighty quinn-allen payne and the ENTIRE cast in jason's lyric-just laughable-there should be a reel of BAD accents in films

Miles Maker

Most of the references above (Jennifer Hudson, terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, morgan freeman) fail to acknowledge the international production model being employed that leverages the bankability of key talent attachments–how films get financed.

In the case of Django, there are considerations beyond bankability in terms of physicality and screen presence. Idris Elba in this role would have made Django a VERY different film.

In addition to his vernacular argument (which is somewhat yet not altogether understandable) I believe QT made the choice because Jamie Foxx brings an accessibility to the role among mixed audiences. Jamie has done comedy and music, and his physical acting (neither as tall or intimidating as Idris) affects in how white people perceive Django in the act. Known for his role in LUTHER, Idris would have probably made a lot of white people uncomfortable as Django where Jamie Foxx draws a laugh in the very same scene.

Although Black moviegoers drove opening weekend success at 42% of ticket sales, we're now holding steady at about 30%, which means Django has crossed-over and is now playing both to white and black moviegoers. THIS is where Jamie Foxx enhances the conversation with his appeal to crossover audiences since the days of IN LIVING COLOR.


Sorry but I feel the need to rant…I'm so sick to f**king death of African Americans/ Americans thinking slavery and slave rebellions only happened in America. I wish to God they'd learn some history, this is not a quintessential American story similar stories happened all over the Americas and Africa not just the USA!! rant over


Don't get suck up into this fake conversation. They have no qualms casting non American whites in major American roles. Daniel Day-Lewis is playing Lincoln in theaters as we speak. He is not American. No one is complaining. Neither Tarantino nor Hollywood cares about authenticity. They only bring it up when its convenient.


Well J.K. Rowling made sure the actors of Harry Potter were all from the United Kingdom so I don't think it's a big deal. So many roles have been taken over by non Americans it's nice every once in a while when the actors can be somewhat authentic to their characters. I mean why not? Obviously Steve McQueen does not agree. haha. But artists should feel free. It's when we start to use black/yellow face, etc is when things get uncomfortable.

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