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Quentin Tarantino and the N Word

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In the thick of awards season, we now turn with jaded eye to the question of Quentin. Disclaimer: I, personally, do not use the N-word, not even ironically. But Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy or to that six-letter word that has the power to freeze the blood when uttered in polite company. Spike Lee has been a big critic of Quentin over the years (“Jackie Brown” and “Pulp Fiction” come to mind), but with “Django Unchained,” the floodgates have opened.

The film – a cross between a revenge fantasy and a highly stylized blacksploitation flick – is Tarantino’s most direct, controversial and brilliant confrontation with the subjects of race and revenge, twin topics that have subtly helixed their way through his oeuvre. And so it was inevitable, when confronting these controversial topics, at the same time, in a bombastic manner, that he would run into some sort of public turbulence.

Turbulence, though, might be an understatement. Many thoughtful African-Americans who have seen the film had profound issues with it. Heavyweight thinkers and African-American members of the entertainment community like Spike, Cecil Brown, Ishmael Reed and Mo’Kelly have all weighed in – very publicly — with powerful and convincing/condemning arguments that the film is fundamentally degrading to African-Americans. L.A. Reid also had problems with the language. Even NPR doesn’t escape this brouhaha– the comment thread on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air page had over 250 comments after she interviewed the controversial director. “I’m not against the word. And some people speak that way. But Quentin is infatuated with that word,” Lee said of Tarantino, quite accurately, in an interview with Variety in 1997. Tarantino employed the n-word 38 times in “Jackie Brown” by Lee’s calculation. And what a grim task it must have been for Spike to tabulate that data!

To Tarantino’s defense comes Training Day’s Antoine Fuqua. Jamie Foxx, the star of the film, also comes to the director’s side. “I respect Spike, he’s a fantastic director. But he gets a little shady when he’s taking shots at his colleagues without looking at the work,” Foxx told The Guardian. Spike began attacking the film on social media before even having seen it and it remains unclear if he has seen the film at post time. Obviously, Sam Jackson, Tarantino’s muse in so many films, backs the man he calls “QT.” Spike Lee has shown, in the past, he is not a fan of Tarantino’s use of the word. But to be fair, Spike ought to first watch the movie before judging its context and its use. Further, the problem might be generational, as younger African-Americans – Nas, for instance – understand, organically, what Tarantino was trying to do in the film. The controversy, of course, has not hurt “Django Unchained’s” bottom line. The film is Tarantino’s highest grossing domestic release. What is that old show business adage? There is no such thing as bad publicity.

To be fair, no one really thinks Quentin Tarantino is a racist (well, maybe Spike Lee does). The argument is basically that Tarantino is, at worst, racially insensitive — that he shouldn’t use that word, ever. This is an overly emotional argument that gives an almost sacred totemic power to the n-word, because, clearly, Tarantino is not throwing it around to make some sort of argument about racial superiority. Rather, Tarantino is using a word – a hateful, terrible word – to show the moral decay of someone like Leonardo DiCaprio’s King Schultz. Tarantino uses the word, though not as artfully as Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzzo employed it in “The Godfather,” to basically say: these may be interesting men, but they are not good men, they are unevolved and broken, always remember that.

No word, no matter how hateful, should be off limits in film. That argument, that there are things too terrible to hear or see, runs counter to the spirit of independent film. Disqualifying a word – the c-word, for example – limits the palette of a writer, chains the characters and harnesses the story. How can filmmakers accurately depict the darkness that exists in the world without descending into the ugliness and the muck? It is not pretty to hear Don Zalochi in “The Godfather” utter the n-word, but it holds the mirror up to nature and reveals great insight into his disgustingly flawed character. Independent film exists to expose such flaws, to make explicit such grays that the black and white formula that mainstream Hollywood ignores. A film in the independent spirit should be as ugly and as beautiful and as complicated as life itself.

“Django Unchained” ought to be seen as how it was meant to be seen. Tarantino is not a racists and “Django Unchained” is not meant to be a hymn to race supremacy. It is, in fact, an homage to spaghetti westerns, to the revenge fantasy – a genre that Tarantino has now perfected – and to Blaxploitation, territory he explored, furtively, in Jackie Brown but with much love. The film is about the primal need for vengeance on those who have wronged us, cloaked in outrageousness — Candyland plantation? Really? –all wrapped up messily around a highly sensitive topic, perhaps the most sensitive topic in American history. And if that gets your panties in a twist, you are misreading the intention and seeing DiCaprio’s slaveholder in a way that was never intended. Get over it.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Nick Kroll and John Mulaney To Host Spirit Awards

The Spirit Awards Air February 25 LIVE on IFC.

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The 2017 Spirit Awards have finally found their frontmen: Nick Kroll and John Mulaney. And it’s no wonder. Just marvel in their splendid chemistry back when they appeared on Comedy Bang! Bang!:

The pair are prolific within the performing arts community: television (Kroll in The League and The Kroll Show, Mulaney as a writer of IFC’s own Documentary Now!), theater (including Broadway’s current Oh Hello Show), and stand-up comedy. In fact, it’s entirely possible that emceeing an awards show is one of the few remaining line items on their professional bucket lists.

It’s important to caveat this announcement, however. Unlike the bigger and more ubiquitously known awards shows, the Spirit Awards are not, well…boring. (We’re talking to you, Oscar.)

They’re funny. They’re honest. They have quality to match the red-carpet fanfare. And that’s alarmingly special. Last year’s show included some legitimately historic moments, like when transgender actress Mya Taylor won best supporting female, or Kate McKinnon’s hilarious and timely parody of Carol. See more highlights here to get the flavor of the Spirit Awards and read all about Film Independent to dig deeper.

The 2017 Spirit Awards air live February 25 at 5P ET exclusively on IFC.

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