Buzzwords

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Brief musings on Tarantino and "the n-word"

After I've had some time to really digest it, I'll speak with a lot more detail and (hopefully) insight about Django Unchained, which I thought was excellent and deeply flawed. But right now I just want to talk about Quentin Tarantino and the word nigger. 

('Nigger' will come up a lot in this post. I won't be going in to how the word itself makes me feel as a black woman, because I don't have energy for that conversation. But you've been warned.) 

I crunched some numbers and tallied the uses of 'nigger' in all of Tarantino's movies (not including Four Rooms, which he only directed part of). I split the usage up by the actor's race.

No real surprises here.

Tarantino's liberal use of the word has always bothered me, especially (really, almost exclusively) when his white characters use it. It tells us something when the white criminals in Reservoir Dogs refer to niggers when they're talking to each other - we know we're dealing with men who use it when black people aren't around, and who absolutely mean it as an epithet - but is this really something we need to know about them? Why do we need to know something so racially charged? Same goes for Pulp Fiction's Lance - we already know this is a skeezy dude who sells heroin and (worse) lives his life in a mildewed bathrobe. I don't feel particularly enlightened, nor do I think his character is at all enriched, by him also being a racist who thinks only 'niggers' in Inglewood sell shitty heroin and don't know the difference. 

A more troubling example is Pulp Fiction's Jimmy, played with his usual surplus of conviction and debit of acting skill by Tarantino himself. This is a man with a black wife, talking to his black friend/ly acquaintance Jules (Samuel Jackson) about 'dead nigger storage'? Why? What is this man's deal? 

Tarantino has never given a satisfactory answer. Honestly, he only seems to respond to people's understandable aggravation when either only black actors are saying it or the entire point of the movie is racism. (See his interview with Henry Louis Gates, which touches on the subject.) White people saying 'nigger' is completely justified when your movie is set in 1858. It's much less so in 1992 and 1994. The man still has some 'splainin to do. 

This is what happens when I try to make tally marks in the dark.

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