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Django: uproar over the n-word

Gail Choice | 1/2/2013, 5 p.m.

There is an uproar brewing because of use of the n-word in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," reportedly 110 times. "Django Unchained" is a movie about slavery in America and a freed slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) going after and saving the love of his life, his wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).

In a recent interview with Vibe, Spike Lee said he would not watch Tarantino's latest film, set in the antebellum South, stating "I can't speak on it 'cause I'm not gonna see it. The only thing I can say is it's disrespectful to my ancestors to see that film." Lee later tweeted, "American slavery was not a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western. It was a Holocaust. My ancestors are slaves, stolen from Africa. I will honor them."

An article in New York's Daily News online says "Training Day" director Antoine Fuqua admonished Spike Lee and other critics of the repeated use of the n-word in Tarantino's anti-slavery Western during an appearance in Italy.

"I don't think Quentin Tarantino has a racist bone in his body," Fuqua said at the 17th Capri, Hollywood Film Festival, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "Besides, I'm good friends with ["Django Unchained" star] Jamie Foxx, and he wouldn't have anything to do with a film that had anything racist to it."

"If you set a film in the 1850s, you're going to hear the word n---er, because that's the way they spoke then, and you're going to discuss slavery because that was part of the reality," Fuqua said.

To illustrate his point, in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" the n-word was used a number of times by members of the Democratic Party as well as White citizens opposed to the passing of the 13th Amendment.

Lee is one of Tarantino's major detractors. For instance, 1997's "Jackie Brown" prompted Lee to say, "I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino's excessive use of the n-word. And let the record state that I never said that he cannot use that word--I've used that word in many of my films--but I think something is wrong with him."

In an Access Hollywood online article, the actors discussed the difficulty they experienced hearing and saying the n-word. Washington said, "There were days when hearing that n-word over and over again would start to get a little uncomfortable and Jaime and I had these imaginary shields . . . we'd roll up our n-word shield," she explained.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays plantation owner Calvin Candie, uses the word most often, but had trouble going there, according to his co-stars. Foxx said co-star Samuel L. Jackson helped motivate DiCaprio to immerse himself in the character and his language.

"When Leo goes, 'Buddy, I'm having a tough time with these words' and then . . . Samuel Jackson [told him] 'It's just another Tuesday for us, get over that.' And I told Leo, if you don't go there then we don't have a story. So the next day he walked [and] he didn't even speak to me," the actor recalled.
"I think that what Quentin wanted to do was really let you know how it really was [during this time], and you're not supposed to feel good about it," Foxx said.

Apparently Hollywood and moviegoers aren't paying much attention to the detractors. "Django" has garnered four nominations from the NAACP Image Awards, which includes the Best Picture nomination, and four Golden Globe nominations, which include Best Director and Best Screenplay nominations going to Tarantino. Plus he's a hot contender for best screenplay and best director nods for the Oscar.

And according to The Hollywood Reporter, "Django," from The Weinstein Co., took in $5.2 million for a cumulative gross of $68.6 million. "Django" and "Les Miserables" have been in a relatively close race since both opened on Christmas Day, with "Django" winning the weekend.

Gail can be reached at gail@hollywoodbychoice.com