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By Keli Goff
Just before Christmas I spent some time doing what a number of African American filmgoers have done over the last few weeks: debating the use of the “N-word” in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained. In my case, I was not just debating the issue with friends for the sake of doing so. The subject was one of the topics of discussion during a roundtable on the BET program Don’t Sleep. During the segment, my friend, HuffPost Live host, Marc Lamont Hill, and I disagreed on the “I’m black so I get to use the N-word whenever” pass that some members in our community believe we are entitled to, while simultaneously expressing outrage when a white person attempts to assert the same pass in certain circumstances, like when writing dialogue for a film such as Django Unchained.
One thing we seemed to agree on though is that Tarantino is talented, so wherever you came down on the “N-Word” argument, the film itself would, cinematically speaking, be a work of art. As a longtime Tarantino fan, I will admit I was a bit nervous though. I was hopeful that despite Spike Lee, and others’, previous high profile critique of the filmmaker’s use of the “N-word” as gratuitous and racially insensitive, that I would, at the end of the day, simply be able to enjoy a well-done film.
But in the end I couldn’t. Not because the use of the N-word was gratuitous, but because the explicit, ongoing violence directed at African-Americans — and only African-Americans — was. To be clear, there are plenty of white people who face violence in this film. After all in a Tarantino film violence is a given. So is revenge. But there is not a single scene of violence experienced by a white guy — good or bad — in this film that is remotely on par with the extended scenes of violence in which black men are on the receiving end. One scene in particular (spoiler alert) involving a slave and dogs is so graphic and disturbing I found myself covering my eyes for the first time in a theater, although it was not the last time before the film’s conclusion. And I’m someone who considers the artistry demonstrated in the fight scenes in Kill Bill on par with watching ballet.