Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is making waves in the film industry for its eerie look at America’s dark past with slavery and legacy of racism. Tarantino colors scenes poignantly with vivid action and heart-wrenching script. With Jamie Foxx and Leonard DiCaprio playing the roles of a freed slave and an evil plantation owner respectively, Django Unchained is a film that demands attention. Deeper though is the magnitude of picture when dialogue is anchored under a microscope. Django Unchained features the gritty usage of the N-word more than 110 times. It draws to light the question of whether or not the word — which revives historic memories of atrocious servitude and shackled liberties — should be allowed to pervade today, in what for some is believed to be an emerging post-racial society?
There is no exclusivity to the term in the film. No weathered sentiments of endearment, no warm daps to accompany it. The N-word is spit back and forth by both white and black characters like fresh cans of tobacco. Some critics of the film, two weeks before it hits theaters, have come to defend the use of the word in the film, claiming that its profound presence in Tarantino’s movie is not meant to mock, but simply represent what’s real: the crucial way in which race once divided a now “democratic” society.
“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 MSNBC co-host said, The Hollywood Reporter reports. “It’s so embedded into their society, it’s 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.”
Other film critics like Dwight Brown told The Hollywood Reporter that Tarantino’s usage of the word in the film seems to be an exaggerated take on America’s historical past.
“Lots of the violence in the movie feels more like a caricature than a re-enactment,” Brown wrote 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.”
Beyond the N-word, slavery is brutally depicted, and the actors feel it to the core. Actress Kerry Washington opted out of having a stunt double to feel the hot whippings against her back, to feel how her ancestors once felt. Chain gangs and brutally close enactments of castration are amongst the images that remain in the mind after seeing the film, momentarily stalling the viewer in a hot flash of blood-rushing pain. The N-word can be found in tons of urban movies, it’s usage, some believe, rightfully reserved for blacks. What seems to be stirring some viewer’s soul is the idea that Tarantino as a white man, has boldly sought out to remove the happy make-up that the black community has painted over the word and remind us of its roots: Amistad, slave revolts, lynchings — pure oppression. The N-word’s usage in movies cannot be restricted by race, but should be delicately placed for its effectiveness. What matters is the scenes and memorandum that stands around it. In Django Unchained that message is “Look here now, people. See what we have done.” It’s usage 110 times is jarring, yes, but representative of our truths, an aspect that should not be denied in cultural analysis.