February 24, 2021

John Ridley calls out Quentin Tarantino’s ‘painful and infuriating’ use of the n-word in films


 The Oscar-winning screenwriter of 12 Years a Slave blasted director Quentin Tarantino for his ‘painful and infuriating’ use of the n-word in several films.

John Ridley, 54, on Friday was the latest in a long line of critics to push back at Tarantino’s continual use of the racial slur in films throughout his career.  

He told the PA News Agency that Tarantino ‘in some ways luxuriates in the word,’ adding ‘it’s not used in particular context, it’s just used to be used.’

Tarantino, a 57-year-old white filmmaker, has defended his use of the n-word and it was used as recently as 2015 in Django Unchained.

‘It’s painful and it’s infuriating,’ said Ridley. ‘But at the same time, I wouldn’t sit and say, “OK, you can never use that word.”‘

Pictured: 12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley

Pictured: Award-winning director Quentin Tarantino

John Ridley (left) said Quentin Tarantino ‘in some ways luxuriates in the word’, when criticizing his use of the n-word in his films

He added that although there needs to be a ‘continual conversation,’ that doesn’t mean a ‘reappraisal of every single thing in every single space.’

Ridley’s aversion to total censorship was echoed in a recent op-ed piece shared with the Los Angeles Times, which called for the removal of Civil War-era film Gone With the Wind from HBO Max for romanticizing slavery. 

The new streaming site pulled the movie, amid a flurry of mixed reactions, and announced Sunday that the movie would return with an introduction from a black scholar.

Tarantino has not publicly responded to Ridley’s remarks, but a debate over his use of the n-word in films has resurfaced amid nationwide protests fighting systematic racism and police brutality of minorities.  

In some Tarantino films, the n-word is used dozens and sometimes upwards of 100 times.   

Quentin Tarantino (pictured) has faced backlash his entire career for repeatedly using the n-word in various films like Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino (pictured) has faced backlash his entire career for repeatedly using the n-word in various films like Jackie Brown and The Hateful Eight

Data collected from Dallas Observer  found that Tarantino used the n-word at least 214 times throughout his 10 films.

The 1997 film Jackie Brown, which Tarantino did as a homage to Blaxpolitation movies, included the word around 38 times.

The Hateful Eight from 2015 used the slur 47 times in dialogue and the popular film Django Unchained, released in 2015, used the word at least 110 times. 

Variety said Django Unchained contained ‘no fewer than 109 instances of the “N word,” most of them deployed either for laughs or alliteration.’

The word also appeared in his classic Pulp Fiction, which at one point used the phrase ‘dead n**** storage.’

There have been many critics of Tarantino’s word choice, but maybe none so vocal as director Spike Lee.

Tarantino's classic Pulp Fiction, starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (left to right), used the phrase 'dead n**** storage' in the movie

Tarantino’s classic Pulp Fiction, starring John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson (left to right), used the phrase ‘dead n**** storage’ in the movie

Lee, 63, first hit back at Tarantino over his film Jackie Brown, which starred an ensemble of celebrities like Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro.

‘I have a definite problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the n-word,’ Lee said at the time, according to The Independent.

‘I think something is wrong with him… It’s just the n-word, the n-word, the n-word.’

Lee added: ‘I’m not against the word… and I use it, but Quentin is infatuated with the word. What does he want? To be made an honorary black man? 

‘I want Quentin to know that all African-Americans do not think that word is trendy or slick.’

‘He says he grew up on Blaxploitation films and that they were his favorite films but he has to realize that those films do not speak to the… African-American experience. I mean the guy’s just stupid.’ 

The Blackkklansman director shared similar sentiments when discussing Tarantino’s film Django Unchained, which starred Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio.

‘American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It Was A Holocaust,’ he told Vibe Magazine. ‘It’s disrespectful to my ancestors.’

Director Spike Lee (pictured) has been a critic of Tarantino and his use of the n-word in films, saying 'It¿s disrespectful to my ancestors'

Director Spike Lee (pictured) has been a critic of Tarantino and his use of the n-word in films, saying ‘It’s disrespectful to my ancestors’

Lee also told the publication that he would not watch Tarantino’s film.

Tarantino responded to the criticism by stating the n-word is justified within the context of the films, and his race should have no influence on how the movie is perceived.

In response to Lee’s remarks about Jackie Brown, Tarantino said in 1997: ‘As a writer, I demand the right to write any character in the world that I want to write. And to say that I can’t do that because I’m white … that is racist.’

He told ‘critics in the black culture’ in 2015 that ‘You wouldn’t think the color of a writer’s skin should have any effect on the words themselves.’

‘The bad taste that was left in my mouth had to do with this: it’s been a long time since the subject of a writer’s skin was mentioned as often as mine.

But Tarantino has also amassed a group of supporters who’ve defended his use of he n-word in films, including actors Jamie Foxx and  Samuel L. Jackson.

Foxx told Yahoo Entertainment in 2018 that he was okay with the n-word because of the context of the script.

‘I understood the text. The N-word was said 100 times, but I understood the text — that’s the way it was back in that time.’  

Jackson, who has appeared in six out of 10 of Tarantino’s films, shared the same mentality and called criticism of Tarantino ‘b*******.’

Samuel L. Jackson (right) has defended Tarantino's (left) use of the n-word in films and called the backlash 'b*******'

Samuel L. Jackson (right) has defended Tarantino’s (left) use of the n-word in films and called the backlash ‘b*******’

‘You can’t just tell a writer he can’t talk, write the words, put the words in the mouths of the people from their ethnicities, the way that they use their words,’ said Jackson.

‘You cannot do that, because then it becomes an untruth; it’s not honest. It’s just not honest.’   

Earlier this week, Ridley wrote an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times titled ‘Hey, HBO, ‘Gone With the Wind’ romanticizes the horrors of slavery. Take it off your platform for now.’ 

‘Gone With the Wind, however, is its own unique problem. It doesn’t just “fall short” with regard to representation,’ wrote Ridley.  

‘It is a film that glorifies the antebellum south. It is a film that, when it is not ignoring the horrors of slavery, pauses only to perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color.’

‘It is a film that, as part of the narrative of the “Lost Cause,” romanticizes the Confederacy in a way that continues to give legitimacy to the notion that the secessionist movement was something more, or better, or more noble than what it was — a bloody insurrection to maintain the “right” to own, sell and buy human beings.’ 

Ridley (pictured) said HBO should consider removing the film from its offerings, describing it as a film which only serves to 'perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color'

Ridley (pictured) said HBO should consider removing the film from its offerings, describing it as a film which only serves to ‘perpetuate some of the most painful stereotypes of people of color’

In addition to the backlash over the movie’s portrayal of the South, critics fixated on the controversial portrayal of African-American characters like ‘Mammy’ and ‘Prissy.’

Mammy, played by Hattie McDaniel, was criticized by the NAACP for enforcing harmful stereotypes and another film where African-Americans were delegated to serving roles. 

The phrase ‘mammy’ also refers to an African-American woman who oftentimes watched over the children of white families during slavery and the Reconstruction era. It later become a stereotype. 

McDaniel would go on to be the first African-American to win an Oscar, but  nearly missed the ceremony because the venue was segregated and did not allow black patrons.

Hattie McDaniel, as Mammy, with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind, which HBO Max removed from its streaming service on Tuesday amid criticism of the content

Hattie McDaniel, as Mammy, with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind, which HBO Max removed from its streaming service on Tuesday amid criticism of the content

John Ridley called for HBO to take down the film, and a day later the service complied

John Ridley called for HBO to take down the film, and a day later the service complied

HBO Max pulled the film from its streaming site, prompting conservative politicians and others to accuse Ridley of trying to ‘erase history.’

‘This isn’t history, this is historical fiction. It’s no more true than science fiction. Just because Spider-Man takes place in New York doesn’t make it real,’ he said. 

‘So, if this is a film that can’t survive a little context, if it can’t survive conversations about what it was, and what it represented, and how it really helped to, in some ways, buttress segregation and Jim Crow here in America, then the film really can’t stand up on its own.’

HBO Max announced that Gone With the Wind would return with an introduction from Jacqueline Stewart, a Turner Classic Movies host and professor in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. 

Ridley won best adapted screenplay at the Academy Awards for his film 12 Years a Slave, and also directed the 2017 documentary Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992.



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