‘Django Unchained’ sparks controversy over ‘N’ word use…

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled ‘When other races use the ‘N’ word’. The core of my article was my inability to understand how African-American who were descendants of slaves threw around the word ‘nigga’ so freely as if it were some sort of medal of honor but were quick to throw the race card when someone of another race used the word.

I examined how the word ‘nigger’ was used during the most horrific era of mankind and how it has affected generations of Africans (African-Americans) over the years. In the article, were several examples of some African-Americans fighting against the use of the word, while other African-Americans glorified the use of the word.

“If them niggah’s didn’t have the words nigger and fuck, they’d be a bunch of goddamn mutes!”

Several months down the line, the verb/noun/adjective has resurfaced but in a slightly different context. This time, it resurfaced in Quentin Tarantino’s movie ‘Django Unchained’. A movie that features several high-profile and successful African-American actors.

Take a look at the movie trailer below and read what filmmaker Spike Lee and others are saying:

Candie man: Leonardo DiCaprio is dressed as dandy plantation owner Calvin in this new Django Unchained poster

Courtney Garcia writes:

The n-word has been taunted, rebuked, dissected, commercialized, uttered under hushed breaths and shouted in public commons, and now, in Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, Django Unchained, it gets hyperbolized to the max.

The film, opening in theaters December 25, takes on the era of slavery at its grimmest – violent and ruthless – through the tale of Django, a freed slave played by Jamie Foxx, on a mission to assert his ultimate revenge.

Reggie Hudlin says:

It’s a slap in America’s face; an upheaval of the country’s skeletons; and it’s causing a stir amongst critics who have already begun debating the racial politics of the narrative. Not only is the n-word uttered over 110 times in the movie, but a black man commits acts of violence on a white man and gets away with it.

Accordingly, the community at large has been aroused with concern, deeming it racist, over-the-top, and against history.

“Those things really depress me because they are usually talked about by people who’ve not actually seen the film, which is typical of where we are in our culture,” the film’s producer Reggie Hudlin tells theGrio.

“We’re in a time period when there was extraordinary violence against people; verbal violence is the least of it. When you look at that time, there was institutionalized horror – legalized horror – people were denying the humanity of people to justify white supremacy.”

That’s more significant than any use of the word ni**er. Let’s actually talk about the bigger themes in the movie.

Strong opinion: The 55-year-old director has hit out at Tarantino’s films before because of his use of the n-wordStrong opinion: The 55-year-old director has hit out at Tarantino's films before because of his use of the n-word

Nevertheless, it’s the n-word that’s taken the spotlight. Over the past couple weeks, it has been plastered across headlines on Drudge Report, analyzed and critiqued by both conservative and liberal outlets, and scrutinized for its questionable purpose throughout the film.

Hollywood Reporter writes:

An article in the Hollywood Reporter referenced Spike Lee’s former grievances with Tarantino’s use of the word, questioning whether Tarantino had the right to employ such dialogue as a white man, or whether he was a “bold filmmaker” willing to tackle race in ways others haven’t. In response, Tarantino, an apparent rival to Lee, defended himself saying he was “simply utilizing the English language in all its glory and ugly legacies.”

Yet on closer look, the speech of Django Unchained may not be so transparent, as Tarantino is often eager to flip the switch on traditional film vernacular. Particularly given the fact that Django is successfully able to enact his vengeance, this film is getting viewed by some more as a “threat” to white people or reverse racism.

As Slate points out, Foxx’s recent appearance on Saturday Night Live sent conservative bloggers fuming when he joked about being excited to “kill all the white people in the movie.” This led to a subsequent discussion over the alleged proliferation of anti-white bigotry in America, even suggesting that European civilizations have been unfairly discriminated against for decades.

The major shift in political and cultural focus is misdirected however, Hudlin says, and it should turn back to significant issues addressed in the story.

Controversial: The film which sees a freed slave become a bounty hunter opens in cinemas on Christmas DayControversial: The film which sees a freed slave become a bounty hunter opens in cinemas on Christmas Day

Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Duke University writes:

“Forget racism, let’s talk about modern day slavery,” he comments. “There is a penal system in certain parts of this country where the war on drugs is used as rationalization to incarcerate the black population, and use it as unpaid labor sources.”

These things are destroying our community. If we don’t understand our past, we won’t understand where we are at present, and won’t be able to fix things for the future…We’re giving the word in its proper historical context, and if people feel uncomfortable, they should be.”

He also believes the argument over brazen use of the n-word is merely a diversion from more difficult topics people are unwilling to discuss:

“As a country we want to be post-race without ever fully engaging the dynamics of what race means to American society,” he says.

“It’s much easier for us, at this moment, to gloss over historical realities and turn to what words we used and how they were used. Whether that’s getting rid of the n-word in books like Huckleberry Finn, so as not to offend young folks who are reading the book, or complaining about the use of the word in a film like Django Unchained.”

He adds: “When all is said and done, it’s a word, and I’m much more concerned by white supremacist actions that use of these terms….I think the fact that we’re having this conversation about the n-word is a way for us not to actually have the conversation about slavery, which the film talks about.”

“If all that we’re talking about is the n-word, no one actually has to get to the depth and reality of talking about violence and slavery and racial relations in the historical context.”

Neal feels that anxiety over black on white violence in the film is due to an inherent fear in American culture that such depictions will actually “sanction” real life enactments, and that perhaps such loose use of the n-word might inspire some people to worry it will create tensions between races. However, these narrow-minded conclusions don’t give audiences credit for properly interpreting the story.

Furthermore, repetitive use of the n-word could actually deplete the slur of its power.

“The more it’s used, the less power it has,” Neal remarks. “Because of hip-hop, people have become desensitized to it. Somebody would utter it 25 years ago, and it kind of hung in the air where everyone had to deal with it. Because it gets dealt with in popular culture like it does now, we’re desensitized to it.”

“And I think that’s something that Tarantino knows. And I think part of what he was trying to do with the usage of the word is desensitize us to the use of the word, and sensitize us to the actual violence that’s happening in the context of slavery.”

Plus, says Hudlin, the film tackles slavery in a way no other film has been able to do in the past, when likely it would have been: “a low budget blaxploitation film.” Or, had it been big budget, he adds, Django would never have been the hero.”

The DailyMail writes:

Unimpressed: Spike Lee has hit out at Quentin Tarantino's movie Django Unchained deeming it 'disrespectful'It’s set to be one of the biggest films to hit screens this Christmas but it seems as though Django Unchained has so far received a mixed reception. Not impressed with Quentin Tarantino’s latest installment Spike Lee has deemed the film ‘disrespectful’.

Reigniting his feud with Tarantino despite the fact he hasn’t even seen the movie, Lee, 55, blasted the feature for insulting his ‘ancestors’.

Spike Lee says:

Speaking to VIBE TV when asked about his opinion on the film, Spike said: ‘I can’t speak on it because I’m not gonna see it. I’m not seeing it.’Taking a moment to clarify why he would not be watching Django Unchained, he continued: ‘I think for me all I’m going to say is it would be disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film.

‘That’s the only thing I’m going to say. I can’t disrespect my ancestors – I can’t do it. Now that’s me I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody but myself.’

Taking to the Twittersphere to voice his views further, Spike eluded that Tarantino had failed to depict American slavery correctly.

Taking it to the Twittersphere: Spike further argued his point via the social networking site

On Friday he wrote: ‘American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves.Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.’

Unimpressed: Spike Lee has hit out at Quentin Tarantino's latest movie Django Unchained deeming it 'disrespectful'In 1997 Spike criticized Quentin for his use of the n-word in the film Jackie Brown where the controversial director allowed it to be used 38 times.

Talking about Tarantino’s debatable choice 15 years ago Lee apparently said: ‘I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word. ‘And let the record show that I never said that he can not use that word — I’ve used that word in many of my films — but I think something is wrong with him.

‘You look at Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and even that thing with Christian Slater, True Romance. It’s just the n-word, the n-word, the n-word.’

‘He says he grew up on Blaxploitation films and that they were his favorite films but he has to realize that those films do not speak to the breadth of the entire African-American experience.’

Quentin Tarantino says:

Hitting back in a 2003 interview with Playboy, Quentin defended his work and said: ‘I am working with The English language. I am not just a film director who shoots movies. I’m an artist, and good, bad, or indifferent, I’m coming from that place. All my choices, the way I live my life, are about that.’

However Spike Lee isn’t the only person who has not received the film well.
Tarantino is known for walking a risky line in dealing with race in his films, and completely flies past it when it comes to the use of violence.

‘I’m not seeing it’: Despite having plans not to see the film, which stars Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, Spike made his feelings bout the feature clear'I'm not seeing it': Despite having plans not to see the film, which stars Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio, Spike made his feelings bout the feature clearAnd Django Unchained is no different, and the setting of the slave-filled American south in the years prior to the Civil War has many crying foul at his use of racial slurs. The film, which will open on Christmas Day, focuses on the partnership between a former slave (played by Jamie Foxx) who becomes a bounty hunter who enjoys killing white people in his pursuit for his captured wife.

Actor and Director Tyler Perry said: ‘It is Quentin’s re-creation; this character doesn’t exist. There’s nobody that is documented to do what Jamie’s character has done at the time.’

What is your take on the use of the ‘N’ word whether it be in a movie or in everyday life?

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8 thoughts on “‘Django Unchained’ sparks controversy over ‘N’ word use…

  1. I’ll actually be seeing the movie tonight so I can’t comment yet, but I am not OK with the use of the ‘N’ word. But that’s what they called black ppl back then as sad as it is.

  2. I want to go see the movie too but I have to wait till Friday so I can watch it with my girlfriend. I think the ‘N’ word needs to be replaced but I guess the movie is depicting an era where that was what white people called people of color (as horrific as it was). My girlfriend is black and I can’t imagine what I would do if anyone called her a ‘nigger’. I mean the consequences would be grave.

  3. It isn’t that we don’t understand that the movie was set during slavery, it’s how the ‘N’ word makes us all feel. As a white woman whose ancestors owned slaves I feel guilt when I hear it and my husband who’s black says it makes him feel like a privileged slave. So unless it’s a movie like Django Unchained, I think the use of it should be abolished. We’re getting ready to go see it today. I’ve heard good things.

  4. You’re right Mary’s Mother. You hit the nail on the head. Seeing movies like this and hearing the word all over again will bring remembrance to a horrible, horrible in our history. A genocide of human beings.

  5. I watched the movie with friends yesterday who are all of different races and while it was a movie that any movie aficionado will appreciate, it was horrible seeing glimpses of what black ppl had to endure. Quentin did a good job nonetheless and so did all the actors. We all applauded at the end. I was impressed with Kerry Washington’s German especially the fact that she only learned it for the movie.

  6. I plan on watching this movie too. I know that Quention Tarantion is slightly eccentric and goes overboard. I understand what everyone is saying. I too want to describe that era as a genocide. It was horrible. I’m not sure the best way to get over it to ignore or address it.

  7. “It is Quentin’s re-creation; this character doesn’t exist. There’s nobody that is documented to do what Jamie’s character has done at the time.’”

    That is true of all stories, fiction and non-fiction. They are whatever their creator imagined them to be.

  8. Pingback: If Spielberg uses foul language, would Tarantino be clean? « Cinematic Narrative

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