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If the n-word makes you uncomfortable, you don't need to read this essay or see the new film Django Unchained.

I saw the movie recently and I lost count of how many times characters--black and white--said the word "nigger."  And I never once thought its use was gratuitous.

I grew up saying the word, but much like the late-great Richard Pryor, I had an epiphany one day and stopped saying it--except for educational purposes.  Especially when it comes to teaching our Hip Hop Generation young 'uns about the true, despicable meaning/origin of the word. Out of ignorance, they use the word in different contexts and spellings, as if that makes it acceptable.

Some, like actor/director Spike Lee, think the word shouldn't have been used in Django Unchained, but I wholeheartedly disagree. Not using the word nigger or using is sparingly would have gutted the satirical film, which alternates between side-splitting comedy and gut-wrenching drama, of its cultural and educational relevance.  Heck, they said "nigger" in the critically acclaimed TV mini-series Roots for crying out loud.  You cannot do a realistic film about slavery and leave out that word or the barbarism of the society that it codifies.

The word nigger is a dirty word, arguably the ugliest word in the American English language.  However, there's POWERFUL educational value in its ugliness.  I think Quentin Tarrantino gets that and that's why Django Unchained is a must-see for Americans of all ethnicities--especially young people who glorify the word and don't seem to fully understand why they need to stop saying nigger, nigga, niggah, niggaz, etc.

In his December 2005 article in the New York Times Derrick Z. Jackson wrote about Pryor's metamorphasis.  Here's an excerpt that puts it into perspective:

In 1979, he (Pryor) flew to Kenya. It was a trip recommended to him by his psychiatrist after his wife Jennifer hauled him out of a house full of hookers and drugs.

After touring Kenya's national museum, Pryor sat in a hotel lobby full of what he described as "gorgeous black people, like everyplace else we'd been. The only people you saw were black. At the hotel, on television, in stores, on the street, in the newspapers, at restaurants, running the government, on advertisements. Everywhere."

That caused Pryor to say: "Jennifer. You know what? There are no niggers here. ... The people here, they still have their self-respect, their pride."

In "Pryor Convictions," Pryor said that he left Africa "regretting ever having uttered the word 'nigger' on a stage or off it. It was a wretched word. Its connotations weren't funny, even when people laughed.

"To this day I wish I'd never said the word. I felt its lameness. It was misunderstood by people. They didn't get what I was talking about. Neither did I. ... So I vowed never to say it again."

That's exactly how I feel about it.  I think if Pryor were alive today, he'd think Django Unchained puts a graphic exclamation point on his philosophy and would want people to see it.

The story line in Django Unchained is very predictable, but the characters make the film jump off the screen into the reality of 21st Century America.  This film is one of the best movies I've ever seen.  It makes you laugh, cry and stand to shout back at the screen.  I was thoroughly entertained, plus I was reminded of truths that still apply to America today:

1.  The lust for money and power supersede everything--including race and family.
2.  Some of the most racist people against black people are other blacks.
3.  Often times, powerless puppets live vicariously through their powerful puppet masters.
4.  Sadly, black unity is generally a myth.
5.  White southerners who rally around the Confederacy claiming it's about heritage not hate are being willfully ignorant as many of the plantation wives were in spite of seeing all the half-white slave kids who looked just like their husbands.
6.  Black people have and always will be controversial.
7.  Even the poorest of Caucasians enjoy "white privilege" on some level.

The performances are marvelous, particularly that of Samuel L. Jackson.  If they gave Oscars for Best Cusser In A Supporting Role, he'd win hands down! Jackson's use of "nigger" is particularly powerful and will make you pause and reflect.  As President Obama says it provides a "teachable moment," which this movie is loaded with.

Through its continuous use of the n-word this film reminds us of how ugly that word is and that we need to strike it from our language and our culture.  It's another necessary step in helping all of us understand like Pryor did that there are " niggers here."

A guy tweeted something about once he got over his "white guilt" he thoroughly enjoyed the film.  As for me, while I'm still working through my "black anger," I still loved this movie and see tons of social value in it.  My 17-year-old, Hip Hop son, saw the film with me. He, who doesn't like anything, proclaimed Django Unchained as his favorite movie of all-time and told me he'd never say "nigger, nigga or niggah" ever again.  That says it all.

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Comment Preferences

  •  my problem is with tarantino's use of the word... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JoanMar, Hohenzollern his other movies, where it is most definitely unnecessary and quite gratuitous.  In my opinion, he himself, when he acts in his own films, especially relishes saying it.

    I have no desire to see anything produced by tarantino on the topic of slavery.  I'd rather read a history book (a real one, and not the kind I grew up with).

    Yes, I am white, but my wife is not, and she has indeed influenced my opinions on the man and his films.

    Sure he enjoys the company of black women, but what exactly does that say about him other than his taste in women?  My guess is, after seeing him in several pretentious interviews, that he thinks it says alot about him.

    Buy Aldus Shrugged : The Antidote to Ayn Rand, and tear Ayn and the GOP new orifices. ALL ROYALTIES BETWEEN NOW AND JANUARY 31, DONATED TO THIS SITE, DAILYKOS!! @floydbluealdus1

    by Floyd Blue on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 09:45:36 AM PST

    •  The interesting thing is... (0+ / 0-)

      Tarantino's character doesn't say it in this film. That actually stood out for me because, as you wrote, he definitely used it in a gratuitous manner in his other films, especially if he was in the film. I definitely think Tarantino is full of himself, though I don't think he's ever even tried to hide that fact. However, he seems to have been very careful in the way he used language in "Django Unchained." I am curious if he has also evolved.

      Time is of no account with great thoughts, which are as fresh to-day as when they first passed through their authors' minds ages ago. - Samuel Smiles

      by moviemeister76 on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:37:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Haven't seen it (4+ / 0-)

    So I will defer judgement. However I just finished Slavery by another name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II.
    By Douglas A. Blackmon

    If ever there was a book to give one a reason to reassess the word and how it was used in the context of the times, it is the one.

    If you read it, do it in the bathroom so you will have a place to vomit handy.

    Hobbs: "How come we play war and not peace?" Calvin: "Too few role models."

    by BOHICA on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:01:36 AM PST

  •  Thanks for sharing this.. As a white guy I can't (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Hohenzollern

    understand exactly where you are coming from (I don't have the experience and never will), and for me the "N-word" (I can't even write it and wish it did not exist) is an absolutely horrible word, my kids have been taught to NEVER say it as part of anything. And they don't.

    But thanks for the perspective on a movie I really want to see. It is greatly appreciated.

    "'Touch it dude' - President Barack Obama"

    by volleyboy1 on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:09:26 AM PST

    •  I'd understand, accept Spike's... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      belief that this film is somehow disrespectful of our ancestors, but he won't even see the film. Not having seen it, how can he legitimately say anything about it? The fact that a white guy he doesn't like wrote and directed it seems to be the basis of his negativity.

    •  I'm just suggesting that people... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      see the film and form their own conclusions.  Can't tell anybody how to feel, but I share you wish that the n-word didn't exist...but it does and young people need to learn about its origins so they fully understand how vile it is.  If this film helps do that (and I think it does), then it has educational value.  That's my primary point.

  •  People keep writing about it (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    a2nite, Hohenzollern

    Guess I'll have to see it.

    But I know what my criteria will be: if Tarantino uses slavery as an excuse for a violence and vengeance jerk off, I will not be happy.

    "To recognize error, to cut losses, to alter course, is the most repugnant option in government." Historian Barbara Tuchman

    by Publius2008 on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 10:19:42 AM PST

  •  I haven't seen it, what say you about Spike? (0+ / 0-)

    Spike says he won't see it. What are your thoughts?

    "Too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others" Robert F. Kennedy

    by realwischeese on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 11:38:46 AM PST

  •  Anyone who sees that movie... (0+ / 0-)

    and believes that the N-word is what made it insensitive needs to have their head examined. At one point, it looks like normally white walls of a room had been spraypainted crimson.

    This wasn't that smart of a movie, but with the director's name, I wanted schlock when I paid for my ticket, and that's what I got.

    Although, there's one line that I found was quite powerful; when one character says to the slaveowner (or essentually, White America):

    "You are and ABYSMAL winner."

    Says a lot about this country and its past, if you ask me.

    “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” - Hanlon's Razor

    by Mister Black on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 02:06:10 PM PST

  •  Potential Gore Vidal v. Truman Capote Cat Fight (0+ / 0-)

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 02:31:42 PM PST

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