Tag Archives: Superfly

Bumpy Johnson Harlem’s Godfather

1000The rich history of Harlem could never be told in few words; that is if one intends to come close to capturing the essence of Harlem’s grandeur. Aside from Harlem’s artistic achievements, what was most romanced was the role of its underworld, which was a huge part of the nightlife and social scene.

In the 1920’s, the Jewish and Italian Mafia played major roles in running the whites-only nightclubs and the speakeasies that catered to white audiences. While the famous mobster, Dutch Schultz, controlled all liquor production and distribution in Harlem during prohibition in the 1920’s.

There were infamous black gangsters that operated with impunity. Rather than compete with the established mobs, black gangsters concentrated on the “policy racket,” also known as the “Numbers Game”. This was a gambling scheme similar to today’s lottery that could be played, illegally, from countless locations around Harlem. By the early 1950s, the total money at play amounted to billions of dollars, and bribes from numbers bosses thoroughly corrupted the police force.

When you talk about Harlem gangsters, particularly of that era, two names come to mind immediately. One of the most powerful early numbers bosses was a woman, Madame Stephanie St. Clair, a black French woman from Martinique known as Queenie or Madame Queen. She was said to be a tall, abrasive and tough woman, with a seldom seen gentle side who ran the famous New York extortion gang known as The Forty Thieves.

The Forty Thieves had a reputation for being so tough that even the white gangsters would not interfere with their illegal operations or attempt to take over their turf. She utilized her experience and talents to set up operations as a policy banker and recruited some of Harlem’s most noteworthy gangsters to support her and her growing numbers business. Within a year, she was worth more than $500,000 with more than 40 runners and ten comptrollers in her charge.

Then there was the legendary Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson known as the Godfather of Harlem. You may recall Lawrence Fishburn played Bumpy Johnson in the movie Hoodlum. Bumpy was one of Madame Queen’s main recruits. He was a colorful character from Charleston, S.C. He had moved to Harlem with his parents when he was a small boy and was given the nickname, Bumpy, because of a large bump on the back of his head. He was a dapper gangster who always made it a point to wear the latest and best clothes while flashing wads of cash wherever he went. Bumpy was a pimp, burglar and stickup man who possessed a recalcitrant attitude. He always carried a knife and gun, which he would not hesitant to use.

Bumpy feared nobody and did not shy from confrontations. He was known for barroom clashes over the slightest issue, having a short fuse and for his arrogance. He never learned to curb his temper or to bow his head to any man. It was because of his negative demeanor that he spent almost half of his life in prisons before he even reached age 30. During his interments, he became an avid reader and began writing poetry. Bumpy also proved to be an incorrigible prisoner and spent one-third of a 10-year sentence in solitary confinement. Because of his attitude, he was shuttled from prison to prison until his release in 1932.

Despite his tough-guy reputation, Bumpy Johnson had a soft side. It was common knowledge among Harlemites that he often helped many of Harlem’s poor with secret cash donations and gifts. Madame Queen liked what she saw in Bumpy and offered him a position as a henchman in her numbers racket. He accepted and quickly gained her trust. One of his first tasks was to confront the Bub Hewlett gang. It erupted into one of Harlem’s most violent and bloody gang wars. Eventually, Bumpy gained the edge and defeated Hewlett, temporarily saving the numbers game from the Mobs first takeover attempt.

The relationship between Madame Queen and Bumpy was strange and tenuous at best. Some said they had an ongoing affair while others claimed the odd-couple were only business partners. Bumpy never abandoned his pimping and robbery professions both of which irritated Madame Queen but both knew what would make the numbers game a success, so they successfully coexisted. These bosses became financial powerhouses, providing capital for loans for those who could not qualify for them from traditional financial institutions – loan sharking. They invested in legitimate businesses and real estate as a way to legitimize their profits.

The Godfather of Harlem lived until 1968, dying from a heart attack as oppose to dying by the gun in the manner most did in his business. As a testament to his success, he maintained control of the underworld for nearly forty years with some saying that nothing illegal took place in Harlem without his permission. After Bumpy’s death, the underworld became loosely organized and overcome by the drug trade with its many factions.

Illegal activities have always been away for the disenfranchised to survive in this country, and the old school gangsters understood the organization and managed the illicit affairs far different than the hustlers of today’s urban environments. I wonder another legend like Mr. Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson again. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

The Widow of Bumpy Johnson talks about her husband!!!

An Excerpt from the Novel “Just a Season


Blaxploitation: Superfly

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There was a time in America, believe it or not, when the only roles African Americans could get in Hollywood were that of second-class citizens. You know the maids, servants, and the all too common Step-in Fetch-it kind of roles. Few blacks were on the screen, and fewer worked behind the screen. Then something interesting happened during the 1960s that was like a revolution. I don’t want to date anyone but if you did not witness this cinematic transformation, I’ll try to capture the essence of the era.

Hollywood never has , from its conception, view or considered black people as a commodity. They expected all people to watch whatever movies they made and like it, as a result of the government-mandated policy of segregation. African American’s in particular simply had no choice. It was so extreme that in most cases black people, if they were allowed, had to sit in the balcony and had a separate entrance into the theater where a movie was shown. Hence, all of the hero’s we knew looked like the people they represented.

Now, as a result of the turbulent 1960s the reflection or the realization of the country changed. This was not due to Hollywood’s interpretation, rather as far as cinema was concerned, it actually began with a low budget independent film called “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” in 1971, written, produced, scored, directed by, and starring Melvin Van Peebles. It tells the picaresque story of a poor African American man’s flight from the white authority. Van Peebles began to develop the film after being offered a three-picture contract for Columbia Pictures.

No studio would finance the film, so Van Peebles funded the film himself, shooting it independently over a period of 19 days, performing all of his own stunts and appearing in several unsimulated sex scenes. He received a $50,000 loan from Bill Cosby to complete the project. The film’s fast-paced montages and jump-cuts were unique features in American cinema at the time. The picture was censored in some markets and received mixed critical reviews.

Then came “Shaft” produced and directed by the great Gordon Parks staring Richard Roundtree and was critically acclaimed. The film produced both the Grammy Award and Academy Award-winning soundtrack recorded by Isaac Hayes. These were two huge steps in the evolution of black representation on the big screen. After the success of these two films Hollywood saw that there was a spending black audience wanting to see people who looked like them on the screen and they began to exploit the new genre even calling it – Blaxploitation.

This brings me to the third movie that I never thought got its just due, although it is a cult classic today. This movie was Super Fly! It was about a cocaine dealer who begins to realize that his life will soon end with either prison or his death. He decides to build an escape from the life by making his biggest deal yet, converting the coke to cash and running off to start a new life. The problem was that the Mob does not have a retirement plan and will give him a choice of staying and selling for them or dying if they find out his intentions.

The star was the late Ron O’Neal a Tall, lean, handsome veteran stage, and classically trained actor, whose role as Priest – the long-haired, stylishly dressed cocaine dealer in the seminal 1972 crime drama. The co-stars Sheila Frasier, Carl Lee, Julius Harris, and of course we all know Freddie – Charles McGregor; all producing stellar performances. I would be remised if I did not mention the great Curtis Mayfield, who wrote the hit score. I did a little research and found a back story that speaks to the tremendous efforts of the producers and all involved.

Most surprising was that the script was only 45 pages long, which explains why there are so many shots of people walking, driving, etc. The reason I wanted to share this story is because I recently rented the movie and got an entirely different impression of the film than I did thirty years ago. It was not unlike people today where people are involved in illegalities, which is not because, often time, a result of choice.

The moral of the story was not the cocaine dealer rather, considering the era; people coming together to break new ground when all odds were against them. I have added a few video clips for you to view and judge for yourself. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

THE BACK STORY

Make these books the gift that keeps on giving.

http://johntwills.com


Political Theater

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Politics has been so ridicule lately that I have not found it worth the words to render a perspective. For example, congress wastes its time voting to repeal what they call Obamacare – again. Yesterday was the thirty-eighth attempt, as if this time would be the charm. Then there are the concocted scandals with talk of impeaching the president. The conservatives will take ever opportunity to attack the president, whether he has anything to do with it or not.

I read Ruth Marcus’ column this morning and this is what she calls the trifecta of scandals:

Benghazi. With the e-mail chain released, the chief takeaway should be this administration’s remarkable capacity to be its own worst enemy. It has managed to look as if it were executing a cover-up without having anything to cover up. The real scandal of Benghazi remains what previous inquiries concluded — that “systemic failures” of leadership resulted in “grossly inadequate” security.

Internal Revenue Service. With the Treasury Department inspector general’s report released, the chief takeaway should be the bureaucracy’s remarkable capacity for incompetence and stupidity. “My question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?” House Speaker John Boehner thundered Wednesday. Mr. Speaker, I hate to disappoint you, but no one. Unless we’ve criminalized idiocy, in which case, better start building more prisons.

Associated Press leak probe. This one hits close to home, and while the Justice Department insists that it subpoenaed the phone records only after exhausting other avenues of investigation, the net it cast — records from more than 20 phone lines used by about 100 journalists — remains incomprehensibly, chillingly broad. How nice for the president to now renew his call for a reporter’s shield law, having previously worked to water down the proposal. Talk about the horse and the barn.

She when on to say, “bad things happen in second-term presidencies, often in clumps. This is no coincidence; first-term chickens come home to roost in a second term. The inevitable arrogance bred by winning reelection never helps. But this bad run demands perspective.

I agree that after this some perspective is required. There have been real scandals by past presidents like Katrina, Monica Lewinsky, Iran-contra, or Water Gate. I might go further and say what Kennedy did not do while southern justice attacked African Americans for protesting peacefully. It is amazing when there is a GOP scandal they circle the wagon and call it the growing pains of democracy. No big deal when it’s them. For example, the selling of drugs connected to Iran-contra. No big deal.

More recently, the last administration lied to take us to war and wrecked the economy. Not to mention that this congress is the most ineffective congress ever, which they lead. Yet, they waist time with these matters instead of, say, closing GITMO, bring the troops home, filling presidential appointments, passing a jobs bill and I could go on and on.

The issue with Benghazi is that four Americans died, and my sympathy’s go to those families, but can the thousands who died in the wars that I say caused greater damage resulting from their lies in both cost and death. The last president was able to pass legislation with sweeping intrusions upon our freedom via the Patriot Act but when this president looks into AP leaks to protect the nation, he is chided.

Has President Obama done a good job – YES! He has faced opposition from the right at every turn unlike the last administration. They never mention how bad the republicans screwed up the country prior to him taking the office. Yet, they cry “the American people” at every opportunity. Maybe these folk should realize that their job is not to administer the politics of shame. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

http://johntwills.com


Why General?

powell460I have always admired brilliant men of courage and distinction but on Sunday I watched Meet The Press with disappointment. I heard General Colin Powell condemned the GOP of its “dark vein of intolerance” going on to say that the party’s repeated use of racial code words to oppose President Obama to rally white conservative voters.

Without mentioning names, most of us knew who Powell was talking about; former Mitt Romney surrogate and New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu for calling Obama “lazy” and Palin, who, Powell charged, used slavery-era terms to describe Obama. Frankly much of what comes from the GOP were terms used just a generation ago.

The general went on to say:

“When I see a former governor say that the President is “shuckin’ and jivin’,” that’s racial era slave term. When I see another former governor after the president’s first debate where he didn’t do very well, says that the president was lazy. He didn’t say he was slow. He was tired. He didn’t do well. He said he was lazy. Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is shiftless and then there’s a third word that goes along with that. The birther, the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party?”

Well General, if you can acknowledge that this activity exists, and even Ray Charles can see that it does, then why Sir do you associate with this ilk? You saw what they have done to all other faces with melon and what they did to you with that Weapons of Mass Destruction thing. Isn’t it a little disingenuous to report that you see a disturbing problem? And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


The Insanity of Some Peoples Reality

gunsIn the last few weeks I’ve heard some of the most ridiculous statements on the issue of gun control, from the right-wing nuts, that simply boggle the mind. Of course, it more of the same – more guns. I want to go out on a lamb and say that is exactly what the problem is; too many guns. We all know the urban communities have been crying out for help concerning the easy access to guns as long as I can remember. It seemed perfectly fair for the NRA and others to ignore the problem of gun violence in these communities, which could be viewed as genocide.

These same Politian’s who, in my opinion are bought and paid for, have failed to support sensible legislation to address the issue of guns that are designed for war. I heard Chris Rock say that the problem is not the guns, it’s the bullets. It is surely a huge part of the problem especially when a person can buy thousands of rounds of ammunition and no one sees a problem or asks a reasonable question; for what?

Since the horrible shooting at the Sandy Hooks Elementary School MANY places in America are passing laws to allow teachers to bring their guns to class. One such school district passed a law to have the janitors be the first line of defense and plan to give the janitor two days training! These are just two of the most insane options out there but what makes these so crazy; supposedly the parents of the children are not required to be notified.

I am not going to belabor or dignify this type of madness other than to say “INSANE”! I am a veteran who served in the Army during a war and I can tell you that the months of military training does not fully prepare you for that moment when faced with a gun by someone wanting to kill. Moreover, it is not as easy to use said gun when the moment arrives knowing you are going to kill. Last point, once done you have to live with the guilt.

The real reason I wrote this blog today is because I am discussed at those who compare the right to have guns to the Civil Rights Movement. One nut had the nerve to say that if every person had a gun maybe there would never have been slavery in America. I say, shame on you! To this guy, the slaves were considered chattel and not human nor citizens; according to the Constitution they were 3/5th’s human. I wonder if this fool realized that slaves were captured and brought to this country by force with guns.

My blood pressure is rising so I will close by saying simply, as you see in the captioned picture, more guns did not protect Ronald Reagan. So what makes anyone think more guns will protect our children. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

The attached video is dated July 2012 – just multiple the stats’ by two and the message is the same.

http://johntwills.com


The Redskins Have Done It Again

rg iiiThis is one of the few times I’ve delved into the sports arena via this blog, but as you know I might share a Thought Provoking Perspective on any topic, particularly if it relates to an African American issue. I must admit, I normally reserve my comments for those subjects that are more meaningful to life’s empowerment. Nonetheless, as I watched this year’s Washington Redskins I had a flashback with respect to the organization history of mistreating African American players.

I am going to talk about Mr. RG III, who like Jason Campbell and Doug Williams, follow a long list of players abused by this group. I realized as sure as something’s change they remain the same. Many Washingtonians, as well as fan in many other places, are endeared to the Redskins football team, which is their personal choice. Unfortunately, I am not of them, and not just because of the team’s name, which in my view it is akin to calling African Americans the “N-Word”. Surely that must be the view of Native American’s, if not, it is disrespectful at best.

Back to RG III, seeing what appeared to be humiliation on his face caused the hair on the back of my neck to rise, because of the teams sorted past and the teams long history that support this position. The NFL’s color barrier was broken in 1946; it inexplicably took George Preston Marshall, the team’s owner, 16 more years amid legal threats and community pressure to bring Bobby Mitchell, their first black player, to the Redskins. Former quarterback Eddie LeBaron, who knew Marshall, said he never believed he was a racist. However, they were the last team in the NFL to sign a black player and were forced to do so.

In more recent memory, do you remember Quarterback Doug Williams? He was sent packing a season after he made history winning the Super Bowl. Now, let’s look at what happened to Jason Campbell when no one in management stuck up for him while he’s getting killed behind his offensive line and also sent packing. I won’t even mention Big Albert or any of the career ending situations involving the running backs over the years. Oh, let’s not forget about Donovan McNabb?

What they did to this already injured play, meaning III, by putting him in as a starter for this playoff game when the doctor has claimed he did not clear him to play was tantamount to treason if this was a war. I have no skin in the game I will admit; unless you consider the fact that I am a Cowboys fan, and yes I know they have not been much for a decade. But it is not about the rivalry, rather the mistreatment of or, I dare say, destroying the careers of quality African American players.

I’ll say Wrong-way (coach) erred in his judgment as it appears and repeatedly. I have to raise the question; is there an elephant in the room – RACE? Surely this is noticed and reverberates in the minds of those who know and remember the history of this organization, which is significantly rooted in questionable decisions concerning black players. Looking back at this history, what happens is you start to wonder.

In 1965, his father, James Blackstone Sr., wrote a letter to the acting president of the Redskins, Edward Bennett Williams. Like most African American fans at the time, Blackstone was offended by the Confederate flags in the stands and the band’s playing of “Dixie” during games. Less than a month later, Williams wrote back to Blackstone, saying he agreed. After 1965, the Redskins band did not play “Dixie” at another game.

They were the last team to integrate with Bobby Mitchell. Then Bobby was never given a shot to be the general manager. You throw in Doug Williams dismissed after he was the Super Bowl MVP, Art Monk and Brian Mitchell unceremoniously going to Philadelphia, and the list goes on.

There always seems to be an undertone, at the very least disrespect, with this organization that is not easily dismissed. Now, the beat the Cowboys twice and won the NFC East – great! Let’s look at it this way; they played a Dallas team that is not very good nor was any other team in the East!

The issues I raise is the very reason why there are so many Cowboy fans in Washington, because many black fans refused to support a team that would not employ an African American player for so many years. So they became fans of the team’s arch rival. They have kids and they became Cowboy fans – and so on and so on – and most of them have never even been to Dallas. I agree totally because that is why I am a Dallas Cowboys fan.

A prominent syndicated radio host Tom Joyner of the popular Morning Show thinks Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan is a modern day slave owner. During Joyner’s broadcast on Monday morning, Joyner expressed displeasure at Shanahan for keeping Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in Sunday’s playoff game against the Seahawks even though the star player seemed hobbled by an injured knee. Joyner compared Shanahan to the Mississippi plantation owner Calvin Candie, who Leonardo DiCaprio plays in the movie Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino.

“He’s as bad as the mean white man in Django,” declared Joyner. Mr. Candie is a cold-hearted slave owner with a lust for Mandingo fighting, where slaves were forced to fight to the death like dogs or roosters used in animal fighting. “If you saw the movie, just like DiCaprio had the Mandingos fighting in the room. That’s what he did. That’s what he did to RGIII,” said Joyner.

I am not willing to go that far in this instance. However, I will say that today’s athletes are more like “Million Dollar Slaves”. Nonetheless, today III underwent surgery to repair the damage done to his LCL. God Speed III. Some say he will be out all next season. I’ll say this with certainty that he will never be the same! The history of why African Americans are so sensitive is not made up or unfounded, particularly in light of segregation, Jim Crow, and slavery.

The prevailing thought, in my mind, is leadership and this team seems to have issues with the complexion of the leader. Or dare I say chattel!!! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

http://johntwills.com


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…


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