With numerous utterings of the "N" Word within his new film, "Django," does Tarantino hope to diffuse, or ignite all the ill feelings behind the word all in the name of art?
In Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino does not try to continue the slow unpacking of America’s long legacy of slavery and subsequent racism; instead, he plants a stick of dynamite in the country’s baggage and detonates it all over the screen.
"In the deep south, if we hadn’t heard that word as much as we did, it would have been a-historical. The language in that way was precise,” Toure, an author and co-host of MSNBC’s afternoon show The Cycle, told The Hollywood Reporter after seeing the film at a screening for press. "It’s so embedded into their society, its not pejorative, it's 'this is how we talk.’ They’re not even conscious of the racism or gravity. To make a big deal out of it, and if you watch that film and that's what you get out of it, that’s just an incredibly unintelligent knee jerk reaction to the whole thing."
Specifically, Toure was referring to conservative media members who have criticized Tarantino’s use of the word in Django, including blogger Matt Drudge, who splashed “N*gger” seven times across the top of his site on Wednesday. Yet it is more than a single word, however odious its legacy, that fuels the debate over Tarantino’s treatment of race in the new movie; the brutal depiction of slavery, with whippings, hot boxing, verbal abuse, chain gangs and near-castration set a tone that is equally divisive.
Django Unchained - Official trailer 2
"He’s smashing slavery and its ills in our faces. It’s not sanitized and pretty,” the MSNBC personality said, calling the scenes "incredibly jarring." His assessment, though, was not shared by syndicated film critic Dwight Brown of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service and BlackPressUSA.com.
"Lots of the violence in the movie feels more like a caricature than a re-enactment," he told The Hollywood Reporter in an email. "The kind of bloodshed and brutality you’d see in a horror film or a superficial action movie, versus what you might find in a real drama (Saving Private Ryan). Does it minimize the horrors of slavery? That’s up for debate. Maybe 'cloud' or 'dilute' are better words."
Brown counters, "Instinctive and necessary? Or numbing and a cheap shock effect? The purpose and results are open to personal interpretation.
In 1997, Spike Lee took issue with the heavy use of the term in Jackie Brown, which was Tarantino’s homage to the blaxploitation films, as well as in his earlier works.
“I have a definitely problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the N-Word. And let the record state that I never said that he cannot use that word - I’ve used that word in many of my films - but I think something is wrong with him,” the director, one of America’s pre-eminent black filmmakers, said in an interview. Lee also compared the angry response of Samuel L. Jackson -- Tarantino’s lead in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown -- to his comments as "the house slave defending the massa." Incidentally, in Django, that is exactly the role Jackson plays, as the conniving slave looking out for DiCaprio.
It is an issue that has proven divisive even among black critics. Django was this week nominated for four NAACP Image Awards, including best picture. Last year, the Civil Rights-era film The Help picked up that award -- despite charges by some that the film promoted the idea that generous white people were most responsible for helping timid, submissive blacks to win equal rights in the 1960's south.
In Django, Foxx is by the end the film’s undisputed hero, though he too has to be sprung free by a white man who gets many of the best lines of dialogue. As Tarantino’s Doppelganger, the bounty hunter character played by Christoph Waltz admits to hating slavery and removes the shackles of more than a few black people caught in bondage. Whether that’s enough to appeal to critics of the film’s language, however, remains to be see