My mouth dropped open when I read on the Daily Beast that the co-stars from box office hit Django Unchained — Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others — have been immortalized as eight-inch dolls that are currently on sale at Amazon.com. I think I was supposed to be upset about this. The Beast called the release “audacious,” and they quoted Bethann Hardison, heroine to Black womankind, saying, “This doll shit is crazy.”
But um … “I know Spike Lee gonna kill me/ but let me finish …”
I kinda want one, actually two.
I clearly don’t get the fuss. It’s not like buying an action figure of an enslaved African descendant will make the purchaser a slave owner. Or as Eric D. Snider (hilariously) pointed out on Film.com, “It’s not like the box says, ‘BUY A SLAVE! TRADE WITH YOUR FRIENDS! START OUR OWN PLANTATION!’” There’s a whole riled up segment complaining that Jews never would have stood for Nazi action figures associated with Inglorious Basterds, but um, that happened. That’s not to say, “Well they put up with it too, so it’s okay. It is to say, ‘hey, Black people aren’t being singled out on this one.’
Look, I loved Django Unchained. I went through hell to see it on opening day, trekking from Brooklyn to Harlem (the time equivalent of traveling from New York to Philly via Amtrak) because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, and to watch it with a Black audience. And it was worth the trip to see Samuel Jackson’s self-depreciating ranting about a “n**** on that nag” and Jamie Foxx going all Nat-Turner-HAM to rescue his lady.
We don’t get too many movies with Black princesses, and that’s really what Kerry Washington is in Django. She’s been taken from her man, then trapped in a hot box, which is the far worse version of Rapunzel up in the dang tower or Cinderella at the mercy of her oppressive step-mother. Now usually, a Black woman up shit’s creek would stay there. White guys rescue the girl. Black girls rescue themselves (and often from Black men). But not this time. Broomhilda’s may-ann is going all Mario-like to save Princess Peach from big bad Bowser, or in this case, to free his beloved wife from a sadistic slave owner.
Of course, my feminist radar has picked up on all sorts of … paternalism. Being a damsel in distress and relying on a male savior wreaks of a God-complex. The 7-year-old in me, however, who wondered why all Disney princesses were White, and the 30-year-old who wondered why when we finally got a Black princess she was a frog for most of the movie and an ethnically ambiguous man had to come for her, doesn’t really care. Broomhilda is my Black princess. Django is my Black knight who kicked ass without shining armor but with a whole lot of artillery. I would be thrilled to put the couple on my mantel.
And that’s where the action figures are going. It’s not like parents are buying these for these for their kids so the wee ones can play slave master and slave, which a mildly imaginative (or disturbed) kid could do with Barbie and Ken anyway, if they really wanted to get historical and evil. That said, there’s a part of me that would be mildly amused to see Black children playing rescue the princess by rising up and killing the oppressor. A recent study found that instilling Black children with racial pride does wonders for their learning capabilities. Go (action) figure.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk