(The Root) — As a filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino has always gone there.
When other people wouldn’t hire has-been superstars, he offered them work in Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction. When other people were afraid to take an irreverent look at one of history’s most heinous crimes against humanity, Tarantino poked fun at the Nazis in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds. And when it occurred to him that the world needed a departure from the traditional chick flick, he made not one, but two Kill Bill movies.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s tackling one of the darkest seasons in our nation’s history in Django Unchained, featuring an all-star cast and the word “n–ger” as a secondary character.
The film, which opens on Christmas Day, stars Jamie Foxx as a rebellious ex-slave named Django who partners up with Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), an enlightened bounty hunter, on a killing spree from Texas to Tennessee. Once they reach their quota, Schultz, who bought Django from a pair of brothers just before killing them, offers to help Django spring his still-enslaved wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington), from the Candyland Plantation, owned by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
The characters — black and white — use the n-word so often that after a while it just rolls off the tongue like any other noun. At one point I tried tallying the number of times it was said, but I grew weary around the 40-minute mark. I stopped at 50. I’m sure, however, that the usage far exceeded the century mark. In fact, some reports have tipped the count at around 110.
If you’re a baby boomer or just a few generations removed from slavery, “n–ger” is not a word you want to tolerate in any of its old-school or new age definitions. It’s just hard to hear. In Django, however, it’s really no more offensive than some of the stuff Wendy Williams says on her chat show, or the hip-hop music your kids listen to. Tarantino uses it to incite a plethora of reactions from his audience, but mostly to point out how absurd it is that a six-letter word yields so much power.
Samuel L. Jackson and Foxx use the word excessively to try to one-up each other in their scenes together. Jackson plays Stephen, the stereotypical HHNIC (head house Negro in charge), who is always sucking up to his owner, Candie. At one point he refers to Django as a “motherf–king black n–ger.” Now, had this been a Martin Scorsese flick or an HBO series, the Rev. Al Sharpton’s email box would have been flooded.