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"Django" Action Figures Stoke Controversy

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Some Editors Failed to See No-Brainer Story

. . . Movie's Critics Say, "Oh, No, They Didn't!"

Freed Slaves Died by Thousands From Diseases

RTDNA's Foundation to Honor Twitter as News Source

Fox Nation, Fox News Latino Play to Different Bases


N.Y. Times Public Editor Takes Up "Objectivity"

Short Takes

Writer Karu F. Daniels said of the 'Django Unchained' action figures, 'This story shouldn't have been ignored — especially with blacks in high positions at mainstream outlets.' (Credit: Amazon.com)

Some Editors Failed to See No-Brainer Story

Karu F. DanielsThe 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-bred) GOT IT." The British-bred 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

Jarvis DeBerry

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

Ishmael Reed

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 [Christoph] Waltz 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, [Marcus] Garvey 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

Touré I 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:

An honor guard of re-enactors (B Company, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

Freed Slaves Died by Thousands From Diseases

The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation got underway around the nation on Jan. 1, but the humanitarian crisis created when the slaves were liberated escaped most accounts.

"As former slaves left their places of servitude behind, they entered a world of freedom, but also a war zone devastated by disease, poverty and death," Jim Downs, an associate professor of history at Connecticut College, wrote Sunday in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times.

"More soldiers, as Ric Burns’s recent documentary, 'Death and the Civil War,' reveals, died of disease than from battle. Slaves became exposed to the same outbreaks of dysentery, smallpox and fever that decimated Union and Confederate ranks, and they died by the thousands: an estimated 60,000 former slaves died from a smallpox epidemic from 1863 to 1865.

"There were no protections, no refugee programs or public health services, in place to help freed slaves ward off the disease that plagued the Confederate South. As one 19th-century reformer observed, 'You may see a child well and hearty this morning, and in the evening you will hear of its death.' . . . "

Downs is author of "Sick from Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction."

RTDNA's Foundation to Honor Twitter as News Source

The Radio Television Digital News Foundation plans to honor the online micro-blogging service Twitter with its First Amendment Award at the 23rd Annual First Amendment Awards Dinner on March 14 in Washington, the foundation announced on Monday.

"The award honors an individual or organization that has played a significant role in dissemination of news and information. Notable examples of Twitter's growing role include natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy, tragedies like the Connecticut and Colorado mass killings, as well as coverage of major world events like the Arab Spring revolts. Social media has added a new and important dimension to information dissemination and Twitter has been in the forefront of those efforts," the announcement said.

Mike Cavender, RTDNF executive director, said in the announcement, "It's difficult to quantify the impact that Twitter has on news dissemination not only here, but all around the world. Millions of people turn to Twitter as an instant source of information, especially in times of crisis. We're proud to honor this organization for its support and defense of our First Amendment freedoms.

Twitter has a special appeal to African Americans. The Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project reported last year, "More than one quarter of online African-Americans (28%) use Twitter, with 13% doing so on a typical day."

However, a survey released Monday by Technorati Media found that only 15 percent of the consumers it polled ranked Twitter among its "most trusted information sources."

The rankings were:

  • Online news sites (New York Times, CNN), 51%

  • Facebook, 32%

  • Retail sites (Amazon, Walmart), 31%

  • YouTube, 29%
  • Blogs, 29% 

  • Google+, 26% 

  • Groups/Forums, 24%

  • Online magazines (People, Motor Trend), 22%

  • Brand websites (Honda, Nike), 21%

  • Twitter, 15%

Fox Nation, Fox News Latino Play to Different Bases

"Fox Nation and Fox News Latino are once again selling different versions of the same story to pander to conservative audiences while simultaneously attempting to court Latino readers," Hilary Tone reported Thursday for Media Matters for America.

"As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the Obama administration announced Wednesday that it would create an easier process for undocumented immigrants who are relatives of American citizens to apply for permanent residency in the United States. . . ."

Fox News Latino accompanied its story with a photo of people at a rally for immigration reform:

Fox Latino

Fox Nation used this photo:

Fox Nation

N.Y. Times Public Editor Takes Up "Objectivity"

Within a few days of becoming Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren ". . . sent some Twitter messages that brought criticism, and had people evaluating her politics before she had dug into the reporting work before her," Margaret Sullivan, New York Times public editor, wrote on Nov. 28.

"Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic, summarized them: 'She shmoozed-up Ali Abunimah, a Palestinian activist who argues for Israel's destruction; she also praised Peter Beinart's upcoming book ('The Crisis of Zionism') as, 'terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection.' She also linked without comment to an article in a pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper." The headline on Mr. Goldberg's article was, 'Twitterverse to New NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief: Stop Tweeting!' "

". . . Now The Times is taking steps to make sure that Ms. Rudoren's further social media efforts go more smoothly. The foreign editor, Joseph Kahn, is assigning an editor on the foreign desk in New York to work closely with Ms. Rudoren on her social media posts."

The issue of how neutral to appear is one that has long separated the black and alternative presses, which stress advocacy journalism, from the mainstream media. But it is an issue for the mainstream media as well, and Sullivan returned to the subject in her Sunday column.

"Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, believes that traditional notions about impartial reporting are fundamentally flawed," Sullivan wrote. "For starters, he thinks journalists should just come out and tell readers more about their beliefs.

" 'The grounds for trust are slowly shifting,' he told me recently. 'The View from Nowhere is slowly getting harder to trust, and "Here's where I'm coming from" is more likely to be trusted.'

"Pushing back are editors like Philip B. Corbett, The Times's associate managing editor for standards. 'I flatly reject the notion that there is no such thing as impartial, objective journalism — that it's some kind of pretense or charade, and we should just give it up, come clean and lay out our biases,' he said. 'We expect professionals in all sorts of fields to put their personal opinions aside, or keep them to themselves, when they do their work — judges, police officers, scientists, teachers. Why would we expect less of journalists?'

"Neither of these thoughtful journalists, though, is black-and-white on the subject. . . . "

Short Takes

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Comments

Django/Slavery/Action Figures

As a lover of Westerns (even Spaghetti Westerns) I might give Tarantino a B+ for his 'homage' to Spaghetti Westerns (not withstanding the Franco Nero "Cameo" appearance in "Django Unchained").

As a documentarian (film and radio) with two major series, "Then I'll Be Free To Travel Home" and "Every Voice And Sing!" that explore in full depth the ravages of Slavery in the U. S., and African Peoples triumphant (and still ongoing) struggle to eradicate it and all it's vestiges, Tarantino gets an F.  When you compound his cinematic/historical failure to accurately treat the problems of Slavery, with the release of these insulting, venal, money-grubbing Django Action Figures, he and the Weinstein Company get a resounding Double-F. 

I could write a treatise on how poorly he failed historically, but I'll give just two examples: his main premise: Django as the "exceptional rarity:"-- the One in Ten-Thousand enslaved "Black man" ("Nigger" --his as usual over-used pet (pun intended) phrase-- in the movie) willing and able to rise-up and kill whites to obtain freedom is so off-base as to be totally ludicrous. But what would Tarantino know or care about the NY Slave Revolt of 1712, or the Stono Uprising in South Carolina in 1739, or Gabriel Prosser's in Virginia in 1800, or the German Coast Uprising in Louisiana in 1811? And other revolts maybe too numerous or scary for him and other whites to want to contemplate?

Point two, and very key: Django is asked "Do your people believe in marriage" and his (to me quite deliberately silly,) ill-informed answer: "me and my wife do" specifically is designed to negate the dedicated drive and determination of enslaved individuals, once freed/escaped, to try to free still enslaved spouses and offspring, not to mention the hordes of folks roaming the countryside trying to find/re-unite with their loved ones during and after the Civil War...

But that's what happens when white people, well-meaning or otherwise, try to tell our story. "Lincoln" showed no respect/totally ignored the efforts of Black folks in the battle to end slavery and get the 13th Amendment passed (just as similarly, "Amistad" was just another example of turning Black Revolt/Action/Activism into another Hollywood vehicle for depicting "White Saviors" in Their-Story (not ours)... 

I'll be watching the upcoming PBS Series "The Abolitionist" closely to see what they do with the history. I'd like to be pleasantly surprised, but I'm not holding my breath.

Great Idea! Slave Action Figures

Always a day late and a dollar short I wish I owned the license rights to Django action figures. Instead of silly toys our kids both Black and White could play and learn with historical toys that have a legacy . I am not ashamed or embarrassed by the legacy of my ancestors. I am proud to own their images and to cherish with pride the inhumanity they survived through for my history. Yep, I am buying all if the Black action figures especially Django!!

Cross-positngs from the Root

ivan cohen

Now it's possible to say tacky and cheesey in the same breath. These "action" figures are causing a "reaction". But not the reaction that National Entertainment Collectible Association envisioned when they released these figures. Serves them right! May the petitioners succeed in putting a stop to the madness. May Weinstein and Co. be subject to a hostile takeover or a leveraged buy-out.

Aviva Robinson

The second there's a Candie doll, this became a bad idea. "@TheRoot247: 'Django Unchained' Action Figure Stokes Debate http://wapo.st/TK3ch5"

Kevin Shaw

This is not cool, makes me re-think my take on movie RT @TheRoot247: 'Django Unchained' Action Figure Stokes Debate http://wapo.st/TK3ch5

Southern_Dandy

I think the major problem with Django is that the critics are taking the movie much more seriously than the film makers intended. I mean, anytime there's a movie where the director (SPOILER ALERT) makes a cameo only to blow himself up with dynamite (END SPOILER ALERT) I think we're safe to just relax and enjoy the show.

KChristian

What bothers me is not that one (1) person said oh this is a good idea lets do this BUT that so many more people had to support the idea for them to be made. Makes me wonder even more about the future of my grandchildren. I saw the movie and thought for me (maybe because I am a woman) that all the, not just killing, but bloodshed was disturbing, however, it had its point. It made me think almost daily since I saw it about different scenes in the movie. HOWEVER, I never thought there would be character dolls released and this is extremely disturbing. There must be consequences for this.

dkovenonline

This is disgusting in every syllable, vowel, consonant that encompass the word. The audacity of White America has risen to a new despicable low. To auction slaves off again at $19.99 or whatever the going rate is now for the 20th century slave is beyond apolagetic. Careers should come to a cease for every infantile minded individual who participated in this atrocity.

How dare White America fix its decriptic slave bearing mentaility around the concept of selling slave toys to kids. Who does this empower in a Nation filled with descendants of White Slave Owners. You marginalize the Blacks into chemical warfare (drugs) build indoor plantations (prisons) Mis-guide the minds(poor schools) and offer millions (penny on the dollar) to [shuck] and jive (entertainment industry) and now you subject Us to being sold as slave toys to your future racist bred children. The sad part is that many blacks will see this as meaningless due to the fact the black image has been destroyed in the power of media. You cannot exterminate a people until you destroy their image in the minds of everybody else. Now that we have been depicted as monstrous individuals by the power at hands my outcry will be heard as just a mere whisper.

LogicalLeopard

THIS IS A NON STORY!

What people are overlooking, either on purpose or by mistake, is that these are COLLECTABLES, not just toys, and ARE MARKETED TO ADULTS. You cannot go to Toys R Us and find these. I think they are only being offered through Amazon. These are not for you to buy for your kids, they're for adults who like to collect dolls, action figures, and movie memorabilia. They were also made for Quentin Tarantino's movies Kill Bill, Resovoir Dogs, and Inglorious Basterds. All of this outrage is ridiculous. I mean, who SERIOUSLY thinks that adults are going to rush to plop 30-40 dollars on an action figure for their kids in the first place? What kid is going to ask for them? If a parent does that, it's the least of your concerns, because if little Billy got a Django for his birthday, he'll probably be getting broken glass, chainsaws, and handguns for Christmas.

leenalah

It's not that serious. I view the action figures as collectibles, like the ones made for comic book characters, Star Wars and Star Trek. Django is definitely NOT a kids' movie, so why would the assumption be made that they are children's toys? Let's find something else to talk/blog about.

gobruins44

I went to the "DJANGO" movie knowing full well that I was going to see a satirical film that would be way over the top because it's a Tarentino movie and that's what he does very well. I happened to like the film a lot but I hate the idea of selling slave figurines as toy dolls. What kind of child's play does a child do with slave figurines? It is an abhorrent idea. Would the producers of "SCHLINDER'S LIST" sell figurines of the Holocaust victims? Heck no and the Producers of "DJANGO" should not have done it either.

Rob22

I don't see what the big deal is. It's a fictional movie, and every action movie has action figures.

The ever-popular American Girl doll collection has for years included a doll who was an escaped slave. See http://store.americangirl.com/agshop/static/addydo... I don't recall any complaints about that one.

· Reply

dkovenonline

Escaped slave... Not slave owner or uncle Tom... I as well used to work for that company and still do not quite understand your feat black doll is a slave doll... What point are you making.

Tomas Scanlon

I don't even get it. What's the big deal?

leenalah likes this.

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