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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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Culture Vulture

IFC Teams Up With Vulture.com to Develop New Pop Culture Series

The Vulture Show will tackle pop culture with a "slightly off" twist.

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Photo Credit: New York Magazine

The pop culture aficionados at Vulture.com are teaming up with IFC to develop a brand new unscripted series. The Vulture Show will deliver smart, irreverent and “slightly off” entertainment news covering TV, movies, music, art, books, theater and celebrities with the outlet’s signature sharp perspective.

The weekly dual-hosted talk show will feature some of Vulture’s most influential contributing voices and will be comprised of in studio features, field pieces and celebrity guest interviews.

“IFC has found the perfect pop culture accomplice with New York Magazine’s Vulture,” said Christine Lubrano, SVP, Original Programming, IFC. “We look forward to developing a show that provides our viewers with a sophisticated and humorous first-look at all things entertainment before it’s the news everyone is buzzing about.”

“It’s fitting that we bring Vulture to TV with IFC, whose offbeat sensibility matches our own,” said Adam Moss, Editor-in-Chief, New York Magazine. “We’ve had a tremendous response to our Vulture Festival events, and are excited for this next incarnation of Vulture.”

Be sure to check back for future details about The Vulture Show.

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Marc Maron – Maron – Season 4, Episode 5

Life Goals

10 Maron Quotes to Get You Through the Week

Get over the Wednesday hump with a brand new Maron tonight at 9P.

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Wednesdays are tough. You’re halfway through the week, but there’s still half of the week left. Luckily Wednesdays mean brand new Maron, with yet another chance to gain some much needed wisdom from Marc Maron. This week Marc continues to dig himself out of his own personal hell, making us all wiser in the process. Before you catch tonight’s Maron, check out some Marc quotes to get you over “Hump Day.”

1. Set realistic diet goals.

Whipped Cream Maron

Instead of looking up how many calories you have left for today’s nutritional intake, admit that you just want something of the whipped and creamy variety.


2. Assert yourself into the conversation.

Maron Shut Up

Instead of letting people walk all over you, be like Marc and demand to be heard…even if it’s just to tell someone to shut up.


3. Trust no one. Except Marc.

"Maron

Instead of trying to figure out which friend could keep a secret, admit that you yourself couldn’t keep a secret to save your life.


4. Minimize your shortcomings.

Maron Notes

Instead of blaming the world for your failures, admit when it’s your own damned fault…to a point.


5. Celebrate accomplishments. Even minor ones.

Maron Ahole

Instead of wishing for greater success, take pride in the ways that you have excelled without judgment.


6. Remember that every day is filled with potential.

Maron Possibilities

Just make sure you have enough coffee.


7. Demand proof from others.

Maron Believe

Instead of potentially being in someone’s shadow, throw doubt on anything they haven’t properly documented.


8. Take a moment to reflect.

Maron Right Thing

There’s a first time for everything.


9. Be honest about where you’re at right now.

Maron Smart

Instead of avoiding embarrassment, embrace it.


10. And finally, remember the important things in life.

Maron Love

Instead of bemoaning the inadequacies of your relationships, perhaps due in part to items 1 through 9, just focus on the physical.

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Marc Maron – Maron – Season 4, Episode 4

Behind the Anger

Marc Maron Gets Deep in an Interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross

Follow Marc's journey to recovery tonight at 9P on IFC.

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It ain’t no stage persona: Marc Maron is an anxious, angry, complicated fellow. In a recent interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, the Maron star described how he’s beset by constant anxiety, self-hatred, and general unease, which he considers his “uncomfortable” comfort zone. “Being sort of anxious and uncomfortable has really been my home base, innately,” he said. “And I don’t know how to change that, and that’s really the challenge for me now.”

A former addict himself, Marc also discussed the difficulty of portraying his TV character’s drug relapse, downfall, and rehabilitation — a fear he’s glad “happened in fiction and not in real life.”

Click here to listen to Marc Maron’s deep and revealing interview with NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

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