Django Action Figures: “Oh, No, They Didn’t!”

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Sane and humane people of the world are you as shocked as I am? I came across this article written by writer Karu F. Daniels concerning the despicable fact that there are now ‘Django Unchained’ action figures for sale. I was also surprised that the mainstream media has said virtually nothing about this disgraceful action, considering we are well into the 21st century.

I want to make sure that credit is properly given to those responsible for bringing this sad news to light. (Credit: Amazon.com) I have taken the liberty to re-post because YOU/WE NEED TO KNOW AND PROTEST!!!

Some Editors Failed to See No-Brainer Story

Karu F. Daniels The controversy over Quentin Tarantino‘s “Django Unchained,” in which slavery is the backdrop for a spaghetti Western, ratcheted up a notch over the weekend when freelance entertainment journalist Karu F. Daniels, writing in the Daily Beast, reported that the movie characters — slaves and slavemaster — are being marketed as action figures.

“Little White kids can play Calvin J. Candie and make Django and Stephen ‘Mandingo fight’ or they act like they’re selling Broomhilda or just call them ‘nigger’ all day long. The possibilities are endless,” Columbus, Ohio, blogger Jeff Winbush wrote on Facebook when he heard the news.

On amazon.com Monday, a customer reviewer identified as E. Tucker wrote:

I have to say, I never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that, unlike myself, my kids would someday have the opportunity to re-enact America’s slave trade the way my great-grandfather did! How exciting for them! Never mind those silly dolls showing racial equality and putting “black americans” (hah! is that the word we want to really use here?) in a positive light — no! With this, my kids can experience first-hand what it might have been like to own their very own slave! . . . “

By Monday, Hassan Hartley of Chicago had started a petition on change.org asking Tarantino to “Stop the sale and distribution of ‘slave’ action figures.” And in Los Angeles, “A coalition of civil rights and African-American community leaders,” led by Najee Ali of Project Islamic Hope, planned a news conference for Tuesday calling for a national boycott of the action figures, EURWeb.com reported.

As news, the story was a no-brainer, right? Wrong, Daniels told Journal-isms. “This story shouldn’t have been ignored — especially by editors at mainstream outlets,” he said by email. “I was even shocked. I pitched this two weeks ago to prominent ‘news’ outlets. So happy the Daily Beast editor (who’s British) GOT IT.” The British editor was Gabe Doppelt; Daniels wouldn’t identify those who turned it down, saying he still does business with them.

Asked for comment, the Daily Beast provided this statement from Allison Samuels, the senior writer who edited the piece:

“An action figure made of a black man, real or fictitious is not something that happens every day so we felt it was well worth discussing. Given the controversy already swirling around ‘Django’ taking a deeper look at a doll based on a freed slave has certainly been of great interest to our readers on The Daily Beast.”

Here’s how the story made it online, as Daniels explained it in an email:

“I got a press release about the product line/partnership a few months before the movie came out, but seeing the actual images of them later on took it to another level. I didn’t see the movie until after it opened. I’m no Spike Lee, but something about it didn’t sit too right with me,” Daniels said.

“And I like some of Tarantino’s stuff and love the actors’ works. But the idea of dolls — which were put on sale a week before — stirred something inside of me. Granted, there’s an ‘action figure’ of the Brad Pitt character from ‘Inglourious Basterds.’ I saw that was selling for $700. But he wasn’t a slave. Certain types of people can try to rationalize it how they want to, but the fact remains: none of those characters in Tarantino’s other movies were slaves.

“If you want take [a] light and lively approach to the ‘idea of these dolls,’ Django could work (he was free, kicking ass and taking names throughout most of the movie. But Stephen and Broomhilda weren’t. And that’s not funny.)

“The radio silence about the dolls was quite jarring, to say the least. I’m always encouraged to pitch pieces that are ‘broad’ and ‘timely’ to editors. And you can’t get no more broad and timely than this piece. Hollywood and the entertainment media have had a romantic love affair with this movie. People can form their own opinions why. So it’s pretty obvious why some outlets wouldn’t touch it. And The Weinstein Company spent a lot of dollars in advertising. But the facts are the facts. The dolls were made and marketed in tandem with a controversial movie about slavery.”

In his Daily Beast story, Daniels wrote, “. . . Last fall, the National Entertainment Collectibles Association, Inc. (NECA), in tandem with the Weinstein Company, announced a full line of consumer products based on characters from the movie. . . . After repeated attempts to get someone to go on record about the collection, NECA spokesperson Leonardo Saraceni declined to make anyone available, would not comment and referred all queries to the Weinstein Company. No one at the Weinstein Company was available for comment by deadline and no one responded to questions posed.”

Daniels continued for Journal-isms, “In a sense, I understand why publicists from the movie studio and toy company wouldn’t speak, but getting some of our folks to talk was another ball of wax. I reached out to many talking heads, pundits and self-styled image experts, who I thought would’ve been perfect for the piece. All silent.

“At first I thought it was the holiday weekend. But it’s 2013. People are more accessible than ever before. How do you think I corralled an Academy Award winner (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and a real, legendary image activist (Bethann Hardison). I was told by a black film expert that they couldn’t talk to me for the piece because they didn’t want to infuriate Harvey Weinstein.

“Another told me, ‘oh, it’s just a movie. It’s just toys.’ Contrast always makes a great story and I was really hoping for more of a reaction from some but it’s like what Nick Charles (a former boss) used to say to me, ‘everyone is always waiting for the shoe to drop.’ And once the story finally went live on Sunday, the social networks were ablaze.”

. . . Movie’s Critics Say, “Oh, No, They Didn’t!”

Among journalists, the most common reaction to the news of the “Django Unchained” action figures was a version of “oh, no, they didn’t!”

Journal-isms asked some who had written or otherwise opined about director Quentin Tarantino’s so-called “revenge fantasy” whether the existence of the action figures should change one’s opinion about the movie and/or the phenomenon. They replied by email:

Amy Alexander, media writer

Amy AlexanderNews of the “Django Unchained” ‘action figures’ creates a bad taste, doesn’t it? Even if it is the case that the studio marketing division cooked up this ‘tie in,’ it still ultimately circles back to the creative team behind the film itself, in particular Tarantino. At the very least, it is in poor taste, considering the fact that the bondage of blacks is the main theme of the story. It does make you wonder who officially ‘green-lit’ such a dubious and insulting marketing strategy. And correctly or not, it feeds the escalating criticism of Tarantino as an out of control hipster who thinks he gets ‘the Black Thing’ but doesn’t really.

Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history and director of the Institute of African American Studies, University of Connecticut

Jelani CobbIt doesn’t change my opinion of the movie since I thought the film was exploitative of slavery in the first place. I do think this adds a new level of distaste. It should be fairly obvious that making slave action figures is problematic. That the studio didn’t recognize this supports my belief that this director lacked the sensitivity to handle a project like this.

Jarvis DeBerry, columnist, NOLA.com | the Times-Picayune, New Orleans

In his book “Why Black People Tend to Shout,” Ralph Wiley talks about taking a field trip from school — I think it was to the circus — and being sold a Confederate battle flag that he proudly waved all the way back home. When he walked into the house, his mother took a match and incinerated it.

I wish I had a story as dramatic, but I don’t. I seem to recall a Hot Wheels car in my house — OK, in my room — that had the Confederate flag logo on it. It was the General Lee of “Dukes of Hazard” fame. I bring that up to say that I guess there’s a history of regrettable images fashioned into toys.

I’m going to link to this email a column I wrote a while back not about toys but about play, and how even that can be fraught for black children.

I wouldn’t necessarily mind the figure of Django being sold as an action figure, but if you sell Django, it would seem to me, you’d have to sell his nemeses. And in that, you’re going to run into problems. Who’s going to buy the white action figures? White children? And do we really want them to play the role of little budding slave owners? And if black children buy the white slave owner figures, then we got a whole ‘nother problem on our hands.

I don’t know that this information changes my mind about the movie itself. There’s enough reason already to raise eyebrows at Tarantino. But it does make me shake my head and wish somebody had — to borrow a line from Blazing Saddles — cut this off at the pass.

Tony Norman, columnist, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Tony NormanI think I dislike the film even more, now . . . LOL! Action figures? Really? A Stephen doll? I know there’s an unseemly nostalgia in some quarters for Jim Crow and slavery-related collectibles, but this is ridiculous. This is either a very elaborate joke or a sign that we’re on the verge of losing our collective minds. This is what happens when we go out of our way not to talk about race. The conversation we should be having gets sublimated into soul sucking nonsense like this. Who will buy this? Irony-drenched white hipsters? Blacks with non-existent self-esteem? Clueless movie nerds? If nothing else avails itself, I’ll write a parody column for Friday. Tomorrow’s column is already written.

Ishmael Reed, poet, novelist, cultural critic

It’s like a virtual slave auction and shows that Weinstein and Co. will go to any length to make money from this vile film, which, like “Amistad,” “Lincoln” and “Django Unchained” has blacks as onlookers, while whites debate their fate, when, without black direct action, there would have been no Emancipation. My idea for an action figure would be one showing [Jamie]Foxx carrying [Leonardo] Di Caprio and [ChristophWaltz on his back, because they’re getting all of the nominations, while, so far, Foxx and Kerry Washington are receiving none. This latest racist travesty is not unique in Hollywood, which makes you wonder why there has been no outcry about segregated Hollywood’s receiving over $400 million in tax write-offs, while the latest figures show $10 billion in earnings.

Finally, the spin from Weinstein Co. is that this movie is similar to Tarantino’s other mess, “Inglorious Basterds.” Not so. In “Django Unchained,” the leader of the state, “Hitler,” is murdered. Foxx does not get to murder the prospective confederate president Jefferson Davis. That would have turned off southern audiences, who have had a veto over Hollywood content for decades. [W.E.B.Du Bois, [MarcusGarvey and Walter White would turn over in their graves to see this thing nominated for awards by the NAACP.

Touré, co-host, “The Cycle,” MSNBC; contributor, Time magazine

TouréI will never understand how Django action figures are somehow over the line for some people.

Jeff Winbush, blogger, Columbus, Ohio:

I broke down, woke up Saturday morning, grabbed my son and went off to catch a screening of Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino‘s mash-up of spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation films and revenge fantasies. I came out two hours and 45 minutes later feeling it wasn’t Tarantino’s best and it wasn’t his worst. It was okay. Nothing more. It certainly never rose above pure escapist fare. I have no problem with junk food movies, but let’s not pretend like Tarantino has anything new, fresh or original to say about race or slavery. He just knows how to kill the maximum number of cartoon bigots in the most graphic way possible.

However, the Django action figures go far beyond bad taste. It’s not kitsch. It’s not memorabilia. It’s not a gag. It’s making a buck off the backs of Black people and it’s insensitive as hell at best and borderline racist at worst.

Tarantino’s status as a White Hipster who is down with the brothers and sisters has been reaffirmed by the enthusiastic support of African-American audiences for Django Unchained. Goody-goody gumdrops for him. But he has no ghetto pass to profiteer from America’s original Holocaust and even if it means I won’t be considered one of the cool kids, I refuse to join the stampede to anoint Tarantino as some great thinker on the Original Sin.

He’s not. He’s just another race hustler.

There’s more:

I would not dare hold myself to the stature of the above mentioned journalist but I do have a voice and a voice of one who has experience American society as a second class citizen. There’s no way, Quentin Tarantino or the Jewish community would allow a line of starved bald headed concentration camp dolls to be produced. We shouldn’t allow anyone to trivialize the horrors and wretchedness of slavery. These slavery dolls action figures are a slap in the face to our ancestors. Who would have thought these people would stoop so low! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

About John Wills

Welcome to Thought Provoking Perspectives designed to be a potent source of empowering knowledge to broaden the information base with those who share my passion for the written word and the empowerment of thought. View all posts by John Wills

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