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.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.
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."
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 "...no 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.