I bet when Ennio Morricone (or the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) asked Quentin Tarantino to accept the award for best original score on Morricone's behalf during Sunday night's Golden Globes ceremony, they didn't think that Tarantino's speech would cause controversy.
Then again, it is Quentin Tarantino, so they had to know something interesting was going to come flying out of that man's mouth.
Tarantino began appropriately by showering Morricone with praise: "This is really cool. Do you realize that Ennio Morricone … is, as far as I am concerned, my favorite composer?" Tarantino told the crowd. Morricone won the award for his work on the movie The Hateful Eight.
Then Tarantino's compliments crept into awkward territory when he went on to utter one word: "ghetto."
"And when I say 'favorite composer,' " Tarantino continued, "I don't mean movie composer—that ghetto—I'm talking about Mozart, I’m talking Beethoven, I’m talking Schubert; that's who I'm talking about."
That was enough to have some people raising eyebrows immediately during the speech, and then again on Monday as everyone began to process all of the interesting moments during the awards show.
But I'm here to go to bat for Tarantino. "Ghetto," like the word "Negro," is one of the words that racist white Americans co-opted and turned into a word that is only associated with how many white Americans tortured and discriminated against black Americans.
But historically, the word "ghetto" was used to describe any low-income, socioeconomically disadvantaged slum or community. Enclaves that were, yes, primarily discriminated against along racial and ethnic lines (think about the Jews and the Irish in the 18th to early 20th centuries). Throughout history, there are European, Russian and Middle Eastern communities that were referred to as ghettos.
This is what I believe Tarantino meant when he said the g-word: a lowly space of despair.
And so, I think it's perfectly OK to feel that his comment was perhaps a slight against movie composers (whom he doesn't seem to hold in as high regard as he does the classical-music composers he went on to name). But it wasn't a slight against America's "black ghettos" that we Americans are more likely to think of whenever we hear the g-word.
Even though "ghetto" is a charged word here in America, especially when coming out of a white man's mouth, I think it's safe to say that there's no foul play here on that front. His only crime is not taking into account his audience (an American one).
You're in the clear, Tarantino. This time.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.