sam jackson django

The word nigger has power.

It throbs with so much hatred and history, that modern society subdues it with quotation marks, abbreviates it in a pathetic attempt to dilute it’s meaning or utters the completely ridiculous “n-word” just to make it palatable for the masses.

Conservative politicians will vilify poor, black Americans as welfare scavengers, but they won’t call them niggers — at least not in public.

We have a Prison Industrial Complex that feeds on Black bodies and is sustained by their labor, but the word nigger is off-limits.

We are a nation that allows young, black boys to be murdered in cold blood by protecting such laws such as ‘Stand Your Ground,’ but the word nigger manages to remain taboo.

It is the “Word That Must Not Be Said,” and when Samuel L. Jackson sat down with film critic, Jake Hamilton, to discuss its usage in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, it quickly became evident that it holds just as much power over white people as it does over the black descendants of slaves who involuntarily clinch when the word sizzles like a hot poker over their consciousness.

Hamilton had a “great” question that he wanted to ask Jackson, but the legendary actor, who plays a Sambo prototype in the film, refused to answer the question unless the stunned Hamilton actually said nigger and not the “n-word,” immediately creating a moment about so much more than a film.

###

HAMILTON: “There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the usage of, uh, the n-word, in this movie.”

JACKSON: “No? Nobody? None … the word would be…?”

HAMILTON: “I don’t want to say it.”

JACKSON: “Why not?”

HAMILTON: “I don’t like to say it.”

JACKSON: “Have you ever said it?’

HAMILTON: “No, sir.”

JACKSON: “Try it.”

HAMILTON: “I don’t like to say it.”

JACKSON: “TRY IT!”

HAMILTON: “Really, seriously…”

JACKSON: “We’re not going to have this conversation unless you say it.”

[Uncomfortable pause as Hamilton weighs the risk of saying the N-word]

JACKSON: “You want to move on to another question?”

HAMILTON: “OK, awesome!”

[When Jackson laughs at his nervousness, Hamilton reiterates that he doesn't like saying it -- even though he claims to have never said it before.]

HAMILTON: “I don’t like… I don’t want to say it.”

JACKSON: “Oh, come on!”

HAMILTON: “Will you say it?”

JACKSON: “No, f*ck no. That’s not the same thing.”

###

See entire video below [Samuel L. Jackson segment begins at 13:55]:

Hamilton’s nervousness is striking. In those few minutes, a black man is holding a white man hostage, using his own innate racial insecurities and guilt to back him into a corner and lose control of the interview.

Hamilton claims to not “like” saying the word, but when Jackson asks him has he ever said it, he says “No sir” in a way that calls his honesty into question. It is beyond difficult to imagine that this young man, a Tarantino fan since he was 8-years-old, has never once uttered the word. It would be the same as asking some white, suburbanite kid who is Lil Wayne’s biggest fan, has he ever said the word nigga.

Of course he has — and so has Hamilton.

While he is being applauded for sticking to his principles and not saying the word, I see things a bit differently. He didn’t not say it because of principle, he calculated Jackson’s sincerity before he made a false move that would draw his ire. He looked around, silently asking permission, he even asked him to say it with him, as if all he needed was reassurance that it was acceptable.

His principles did not stop him from saying the word nigger, society did — and that is what Sam Jackson exposed. This nation’s hypocrisy in banning a word, while not banning the hate that produced it.

Quentin Tarantino’s gratuitous use of violence and racist language in his art gives hipster, white America a “pass,” if only for a few hours, to be as ugly and profane as the word nigger.

I have reached out to Hamilton several times to find out what exactly was this “great” question that he had to ask, but he has not responded. Being the thoughtful, intelligent man who I’ve known him to be in other interviews, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it was probably an amazing question, one that would have provided clarity and perspective into Tarantino’s twisted fantasies that are manifested on-screen.

But it wasn’t coming from an authentic place.

As Jackson said, “It wasn’t that great of a question if you can’t say the word.” By containing the word nigger, it gives America permission to ignore the hate that still exists in this country. Yes, it is a violent word for a violent movie, but it is also a trigger that has the potential to murder a long festering hate that would otherwise continue to poison race relations from the inside out.

Saying the “n-word” when speaking candidly about race in America is a cop-out. It happened. Slavery happened. Jim Crow happened. White privilege still exists and erasing the word nigger won’t make that go away. That tug-of-war between Jackson and Hamilton spoke volumes on society’s willingness, in fact, its need to believe that entertainment is an alternate existence where anything goes, instead of an extension or reflection of reality. By Jackson pushing Hamilton to break through society’s self-imposed rule — and Hamilton’s subsequent struggle with propriety — he was answering the question “Why use the word so much in the movie?”

Because it hurts, and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s painful, and it’s real, and it has the power to silence a grown man for fear that he will be thought racist if he says the most dreaded two syllables in America — even if only to discuss a film. And that makes it necessary.

If the word nigger is woven so tightly throughout Django Unchained for historical authenticity, then it should be equally relevant in post-dialogue as the film is deconstructed.

And if we are ever to diminish the stranglehold that the word has over this nation’s psyche, then Jackson’s order to Hamilton is the first step to making that happen.

Say it.

 

 

109 Comments

  1. Devon

    I know it’s an ugly, disrespectful word tied to a horrible past. But i’m sorry, I refuse to let that word define or have any power over me. I think more of us need to do the same. I also don’t think it’s okay to use it in hip hop. Regardless of the “er” or “ga” ending, the word still means an ignorant person. I don’t consider myself ignorant. So I don’t think we need to refer to ourselves that way.

    It’s funny to me that when people are in a heated situation and they’re intimidated by our intelligence, that’s the first word they like to hurl. Or they like to call us monkeys. To me, it’s super juvenile, and only shows their ignorance. I think we need to flip it on them more and maybe they’ll realize how stupid they sound.

  2. Libby

    I found nothing brilliant about it.
    It’s white folks word. They never needed our permission to say it and blk folks who think they do are living in a false state of power.

    • And the black people who think they’ve turned the word around to mean something good also have a false sense of power. If white folks don’t say it in front of your face, they’re saying it behind your back.

  3. Trinity

    The “N” word, I still don’t care for its usage because of possible ramifications if used by the wrong person. If spoken by the wrong people, regardless with the er or ga, its usage can be taken out of content. I do understand how our young black men will speak the word as a term of endearment similar to the term “my dog” and women speaking “bad b*tch or b*tch”. It signifies a bond of closeness. This is possibly why some people are uncomfortable using the Nword and not so much as the word itself. I agree no words should have control over us, but any derogatory words we speak; I think we should be careful of who or where we say these words.

  4. Mademoiselle

    Sorry to all the long time Sam L. Jackson fans, but I’ve never liked the man. I’ve never been a fan of his acting or his personality, and his choice to play Sambo in the movie officially moved my needle from just not liking his acting to being disgusted by him. I’m not amused by this man.

    • Sammi Ford

      Can u elaborate on your dislike for his personality? I personally thought his character was well executed, like I can’t even picture anyone else in that role.

    • Mademoiselle

      On his personality, I’ve personally always felt like he comes across as disingenuous in interviews — like he’s trying to come off as cool, relevant, and in touch, but that it’s all a charade.

      On his role in the movie, it wouldn’t matter who played the part — I would’ve lost a bit of respect for whoever played that role because it was completely unnecessary (it just so happens that I already disliked Jackson, so this just dropped him down into the disgust category). I feel this way because DiCaprio’s character could have easily come to the revelation of what was going on without Jackson (or whoever) playing the shucking and jiving, slapstick, over the top, coonish massah-lover/plantation comic relief character. In my mind, the only thing that was missing was bright red lips, a top hat, and a song for him to sing (especially during the scene when Django rides up to the plantation on a horse and Jackson’s character goes into his wide-eyed “who dat n***** on a howse bowss… wh-wh-whatchu mean he gon’ be sleepin’ in da big house… say wha??” bit), and Jackson and Tarantino would’ve set us back several decades. I believe his character, along with a slew of other scenes in the movie, were specifically added to take the edge off the period of time Tarantino chose as the setting of his film. Getting your audience to laugh at a situation before they get a chance to process what’s in front of them is the easiest way to get them to let their guards down when you want to present them with something that would otherwise strike outrage.

      On his acting in general, I’ve always just been unimpressed with Jackson. Not for any personal reasons — his performances just haven’t been my taste.

      I know my opinion of him and the movie are in the minority, but thanks for asking Sammi.

    • “DiCaprio’s character could have easily come to the revelation of what was going on without Jackson (or whoever) playing the shucking and jiving, slapstick, over the top, coonish massah-lover/plantation comic relief character.”

      Mademoiselle,

      That was the point, though. Di Caprio’s character WOULD NOT have come to that conclusion on his own. He wasn’t as smart or cunning as Stephen, who–I’m sure like some slaves–played the “yes massah/no massah” role, but was really smarter than their masters & calling the shots.

    • Mademoiselle

      @Britni, it’s not about how DiCaprio found out. It’s about the character Jackson had to play just for the plot to get to a point where DiCaprio found out. There was absolutely no focus on the intelligence of Jackson’s character in any part of the movie — his piecing together the truth was his only display of non-comedy. Any of the maids could’ve put 2 and 2 together. The mandingo that gave Django the side eye on the ride up to the plantation could’ve made the connection. Hell, even Jackson could’ve done the figuring out, but what purpose did his shucking and jiving and the whole Sambo shtick serve other than to pacify a mixed audience with laughter?

    • HelluvaEngineer

      @Mademoiselle, I think the scene where Samuel’s character effectively breaks the situation down to Barney-level to Mr. Candie, finishing with a smug, “Why thank you, Stephen. You’re quite welcome, Calvin,” and a sip of wine disproves your point. In real life, in those times, that would never have happened. Stephen would have been whipped, or killed, or simply sold to another plantation for being so insubordinate. You think after how those people reacted seeing a black man on a horse, they’d be OK with a slave sitting in a recliner, sippin’ dessert wine and being sarcastic? Not even.

      It seemed to me that Samuel’s character “shucked and jived” to make his master feel at ease, but he really ran the house and they both knew it. I think Samuel played the part with dignity as well as humor, which is his job. I don’t see how that particular character was demeaning, especially after you observed that Mr. Candy was Stephen’s foil. The two characters existed in that manner to highlight each other’s differences and develop the plot.

      Also, semi-inappropriate comedy is one of Quentin Tarantino’s trademarks and has been since Pulp Fiction. Have you also lost respect for Jonah Hill for donning a white mask in the film?

      It was satire and it was excellent. The end.

    • LuvLife289

      Exactly@Britni
      You gotta watch Tarontino films a couple of times to understand it. The library scene showed Stephen as Candi’s equal. Its quite interesting. Also the end when he dropped his cane. Anybody notice that? Reminded me of “Unusual Suspects” :-)

    • Mademoiselle

      @HelluvaEngineer Every time I hear someone say “it was just satire,” it takes me back to the boys in my middle school class that would say things like “boy, I know I couldn’t have been a slave ’cause I would’ve killed those c******s if they ever put a hand on me,” not realizing how much the very thought that they would’ve somehow been able to do what millions of slaves couldn’t trivializes what all those human beings went through. It’s as if telling me the movie was just poking fun at the time is supposed to mean something more to me because it’s called satire.

      What purpose does satirizing slavery serve? What’s the point behind a rom-com western slave story? If it’s satire, what’s the take-away at the end of the story? Who do you think the butt of the joke is — the handful of white people some fictional vigilante slave shot up or the millions of slaves that lived the reality of something like that never being possible to actually happen? Tarantino imagined a funnier rendition of slavery where some slave’s love for his wife landed him the good fortune of a white man giving him the ammo to enact revenge, and what, we’re laughing at the idiocy of white people a century and a half after the truth? I guess that’s because the slaves were so smart, if they had just had access to a few guns, they “would’ve killed those c******s.”

      Tarantino managed to make a feel good movie out of one of the most deplorable times in human history, and people keep throwing around “it was satire” as if that’s supposed to bring me over the fence to sing its praises. I’m aware that there are way more people that enjoyed it than there are people who see my point, but “it was just satire” does nothing for me, just like the movie. What you call excellence, I call something much more derogatory.

    • jackson was ok by me until i viewed the interview. i felt he was coming off as a pimp. i have no further use for the man.

  5. Mademoiselle

    The original posting of this article did not include all the text below the video clip, so in response to this new edition, I’ll say that I think it’s wrong to call Hamilton’s sincerity into question. Unless you have evidence of him using a word that makes him uncomfortable (for whatever reason it makes him uncomfortable), how can you say that he’s censoring himself just so he doesn’t appear racist? People (even white people) have consciences, so societal pressure or not, maybe this guy just doesn’t want to offend the black people who would find it ridiculous for him to give into Jackson’s request. I’m personally glad he didn’t. All Jackson managed to do was derail the interview. It didn’t strike me as profound as the author makes it seem. What would it have proven if he had said it? I bet if he did, we’d be reading about Hamilton’s audacity to let interview antics goad him into saying it (just like the Paltrow outrage).

    • I think you missed the point..she called into question his Principles, his morality and the ethical system he abides by. The author questioned whether he chose not to say it because society deemed it unacceptable or because the word was a violation of the principles he maintains.

    • Mademoiselle

      @JEN No, I got the point. What I was saying is it doesn’t matter why he chooses not to say it — it’s an offensive word, so I would hope the man has enough sense not to use it during an interview (same goes for curse words). And since the author doesn’t have transcripts of an instance when Hamilton actually used the word in the past, Jackson’s insistence that he say it wouldn’t have proved anything other than he could make some white guy a target of black angst by getting him to say something that he knows offends black people.

    • Exactly! Hamilton is made out to be be the bad Guy for not using the N word? Really?? Meanwhile Sam Jackson tarantiono’s numero uno nigger gets a pass on avoiding a serious question. No that can’t stand.

    • MimiLuvs

      Your comment reminds me of a certain individual that I know. He purposedly embarrasses, bullies and makes attempts on “exposes the racists” that he encounters. “Coincidentally”, these racists are every white person that he interacts with, including co-workers, friends of family members and even family members.
      Dealing with him is just frustrating…

    • Sasha

      LMFAO oh he’s one of THOSE people. They are the worst, always walking around with a little black raincloud over their heads…

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