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.


Pox Kegger

This Is How the Benders Throw a Chickenpox Party

It's a Pox Kegger on tonight's all-new Benders.

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On this week’s Benders, Paul and Karen take their relationship to the next level when they both get the chickenpox. What do you bring to a chickenpox party? Chicken wings? A bucket of pox?

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For us, a sick day is best spent on the day on the couch, watching episodes of Portlandia on Netflix (guessing!) eating bowls of chicken soup, and sipping weak tea. But Karen didn’t count on the team spirit that binds Paul’s amateur hockey team together. So when the Chubbys find out that one of their teammates is in need, they have no choice but to be there for him–whether his wife likes it or not. Find out what happens when Benders airs tonight at 10P on IFC.


Fred & Horatio Team Up

Former SNLers Work on Latino-Focused Comedy Hub

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Jake Johnson

Jake Brings the Funny to CB!B!

Jake Johnson’s 10 Funniest Quotes

Catch Jake Johnson on Comedy Bang! Bang! tonight at 11P ET/PT on IFC.

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Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

There’s just something likable about Jake Johnson. Sure, he often plays surly drunks in everything from indie films like Drinking Buddies to Fox sitcoms like The New Girl, (heck, he’s even the inspiration for Drunk History) but off-screen he’s known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood. In honor of Jake’s guest spot on this week’s Comedy Bang! Bang!, we thought it was high time to share some of his most quotable moments from film and TV. See if you can spot just how drunk he is below.

1. On his resemblance to a turtle…

Ora TV

Ora TV

2. In rain or shine, the sex mail man will always be there.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

3. Beware Jurassic World’s most fearsome dinosaur!

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

4. Outer space horse = unicorn?

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

5. Wasn’t there a “Real Sex” episode about that?

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

6. Jake always has your back.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

7. Age is just a number. A large, scary number.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

8. Personal hygiene is important.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

9. To be fair, John Lithgow’s minister character was pretty scary.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television

10. Always drink responsibly, lest you forget where you put your keys.

20th Century Fox Television

20th Century Fox Television


Sounds Like Fun

The 15 Funniest Fictional Bands Ever

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Just because a band is fictional doesn’t mean it can’t be as popular as its real world counterparts. (Admit it, you still have that Zack Attack album buried in your closet somewhere.) Whether spoofing a famous act, or creating their own inept sound, these fake bands often wear their love of the music world on their sleeves. Documentary Now!‘s chronicling of the soft rock giants Blue Jean Committee is just the latest example.

It’s no surprise that the folks behind the show (Fred Armisen in particular) have a long track record of finding the funny in the music industry. (It takes musical talent, along with some serious comedy chops, to pull off the smooth lyrics of “Catalina Breeze.”) So, while Blue Jean Committee, or A Mighty Wind’s The Folksmen, could easily have been on this list, it’s not a shock that the folks behind them are. If you love music and comedy in equal measure, you’re going back to that well more than once. Here are some of the funniest fake bands to ever turn it up to eleven.

15. Citizen Dick, Singles

Citizen Dick, the band from Cameron Crowe’s alt rom-com Singles, was both a spoof of, and a turning point for, the Seattle grunge scene of the early ’90s. While many of the bands from that scene were cult hits, the Singles soundtrack helped turn them into superstars. It’s no surprise that the made-up band, fronted by Matt Dillion’s Cliff Poncier, could hold its own with so many grunge standouts, considering 3/4ths of its members were in a little group called Pearl Jam. Heck, Dillion even wore Pearl Jam’s bassist Jeff Ament’s clothes for most of the shoot. Now that’s commitment.

14. Titannica, Mr. Show with Bob and David

With hits like “Try Suicide” and “Try Again,” no one rocked harder than Titannica, the heavy metal band made famous in one of the downright weirdest sketches from the cult hit Mr. Show. But no matter how messed up their music was, the boys of Titannica knew it couldn’t hold a candle to the creep show that was their biggest fan, a chipper kid with the body of a wet cigar. This sketch is a surreal lesson in the power of music.

13. Sonic Death Monkey/Kathleen Turner Overdrive/Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, High Fidelity

You can watch Jack Black become a star in the final minutes of the 2000 cult hit High Fidelity, as his character Barry takes the stage to front his frequently renamed band. While Barry may not be able to decide on a sound for his band, Jack Black knows how to deliver when given the chance. A fun movie about and for music lovers, this scene is the cherry on top. It doesn’t matter what type of music you’re playing, as long as you leave it all on the stage.

12. Dethklok, Metalocalypse

When Metalocalypse co-creator Brendon Small was working on his previous Adult Swim hit, Home Movies, few would’ve guessed that he’d be responsible for one of the most face-meltingly metal bands to ever grace the small screen. And Small didn’t just dream up Dethklok he writes and performs every one of their songs with co-creator Tommy Blacha. While Dethklok has surpassed mere superstardom on their show, becoming the seventh largest economy in the world, their popularity in the real world isn’t far behind. Small and Blacha have fronted more than one tour as the band, and recently played the comedy/music festival Festival Supreme, created by none other than Barry Jive himself, Jack Black.

11. David Brent and Foregone Conclusion, BBC’s The Office

In The Office Christmas Special, which served as the final episodes of the beloved BBC series, co-creator Ricky Gervais revealed his character David Brent had finally chased his dreams of stardom too far, by recording a cover version of the hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” But while the show was wrapping up, this sojourn into music was just the beginning for the former general manager of the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg. Gervais has kept up with his most famous character, recording a song for Comic Relief and creating a series of YouTube guitar tutorials. This all culminated in a tour with the made up band Foregone Conclusion. Rumor has it, he’s even been prepping a movie to cover Brent’s presumably delusional journey through the English music scene. While knowing when to say goodbye is a gift, it’s not something David Brent would be capable of, so why should we expect any different from his creator?

10. Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution, Arrested Development

Playing in Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution was a great excuse for some family bonding time, while promoting a worthwhile product to boot. At least that’s what David Cross’ Tobais Fünke thought on the first season of Arrested Development, forcing his family to play in the pharmaceutical funded family band. More a promotional vehicle than a hit maker, any chance to see the dysfunctional Fünke family interact is worth inclusion on this list. The music may not be worthwhile, but the fury behind Maeby’s eyes is.

9. The Rutles, All You Need Is Cash

The Beatles were no stranger to parody, as you’ll see later in this list. But what separated The Rutles from the legion of spoof bands that plagued the world as the ’60s turned to the ’70s was the guidance of Monty Python Hall of Famer Eric Idle, and a will to not just send up, but really satirize the boys from Liverpool. The band first premiered in 1975 on Rutland Weekend Television, a sketch show fronted by Idle, and immediately took on a cult following. George Harrison was such a fan, he ended up appearing in The Rutles‘ feature film All You Need Is Cash.

8. Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros, Saturday Night Live

Long before Fred Armisen made his name on Saturday Night Live, he was a drummer for underground punk bands. The Clash in particular was an inspiration, and even with a right turn into comedy Armisen’s love of punk never diminished. That’s evident in this SNL sketch about a very Sid Vicious-like rock star who hates everything…except for Margaret Thatcher. Initially just a one time performance, the bit struck such a chord that Armisen reunited The Bizzaros for his last sketch as an SNL cast member. Still not done with his alter ego, he’s since taken the band into the real world, playing gigs as the foul mouthed punk rocker with a love for the Iron Lady.

7. Wyld Stallyns, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

If your band is responsible for world peace, you probably deserve a spot on this list. While Bill and Ted start off as musically inept, one visit to the utopian future brought about by their sweet jams reveals them to be more than a mere rock band. They’re modern day messiahs, which is most excellent.

6. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, The Muppet Show

For many of us, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem was the first exposure we ever had to a rock band, real or otherwise. For the better part of four decades the Electric Mayhem has kept at it, managing to cover everything from classical to “Crocodile Rock” with a drummer so wild he has to literally be chained to the set. Even Keith Moon wasn’t kept in shackles.

5. Faith +1, South Park

It’s tough to pick between the two most famous bands to ever be fronted by foul mouthed fourth grader Eric Cartman. While the boyband Fingerbang is for sure a classic, Cartman’s Christian rock band Faith +1 combines his megalomania, cynicism and racism into a beautiful collage of sacrilegious majesty. And considering South Park is far from done, who knows what other bands creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have up their sleeves.

4. PoP!, Music & Lyrics

Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as one half of a Wham!-esque group in this charming rom-com. And he learned from the best — Martin Fry from the new wave group ABC served as Hugh’s vocal coach.

3. Sexual Chocolate, Coming to America

Both “good and terrible,” Randy Watson may not have been the legend he believed himself to be, but to fans of Coming to America, he and his perfectly named backup band were responsible for one of the funniest scenes in this classic comedy. Eddie Murphy was at his peak here, donning the puffy faced prosthetics necessary to truly inhabit the pitchy son of Jackson Heights. And having Morris Day of The Time fame on guitar didn’t hurt either.

2. The Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers

As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, The Blues Brothers, along with their creators John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, were forces of nature. The two comedians and friends first premiered their creation on Saturday Night Live, promptly launching a sensation. At one point, Belushi found himself the star of the week’s number one film (Animal House), number one television show (Saturday Night Live), and singing on the number one album (Briefcase Full Of Blues). Belushi and Aykroyd would soon add a hit Blue Brothers movie to that hot streak. Combining their perfect chemistry with a whole lot of soul, Jake and Elwood transcended comedy, and helped relaunch the popularity of the blues genre itself.

1. Spinal Tap, This Is Spinal Tap

If the last two entries show you anything, it’s that the ’80s were the high water mark of fake bands in popular culture. And yet, with all the classics that came out in that decade, there was never any doubt who would sit at the top of this list. Spinal Tap isn’t just a movie. They aren’t just a band. They’re the id of rock music, manifested into reality by the all-star team of Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. In the ridiculous world of rock and roll, which already operates in a perpetual cycle of self parody, finding the balance of comedy and reality is no easy task. By using the form of a documentary, director Rob Reiner allowed his brilliant cast to improvise their way through the movie, creating the gold standard of fictional bands in the process. The film also introduced the “mockumentary” form to a mainstream audiences, which has gone on to become one of the most popular styles of comedy over the last three decades.

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