Django Unsold

Commenting on the Critics with Simon Columb

Kirsty Puchko writes for CinemaBlend.com about eBay’s decision to stop selling Django Unchained dolls:

From autographed posters to collectible figures and vintage promo tees, eBay is typically a terrific venue for seeking out hard to find movie memorabilia. So, when The Weinstein Company pushed toymaker NECA to pull their line of Django Unchained dolls from the market, interested parties knew just where to go to get the now rare releases. With the demand greatly outweighing supply, the auction bids for the figures of characters like Django, Broomhilda, and Dr. King Schultz skyrocketed, going upwards of $2,000. But in light of the outrage the sale of these figures has caused, eBay has shut down all auctions for the controversial collectibles.

Read the full article here.

It seems that toy-making crosses the line on common decency. All of Quentin Tarantino’s films have had this doll treatment – including Inglourious Basterds. Project Islamic Hope leader Naji Ali explained that he “actually enjoyed the movie, but we cannot support this type of commercialization”. This was then followed by Rev. Al Sharpton and his National Action Network supporting the cause before The Weinstein Company decided to issue a statement: “In light of the reaction to the Django Unchained action figures, we are removing them from distribution. We have tremendous respect for the audience and it was never our intent to offend anyone.”

The Weinstein Company are known for drawing out the talking points of their films in the news. The entire Bully, Blue Valentine and The King’s Speech situation regarding the films respective ratings seem to dominate column inches for many months – but if the current disgust turned into anger, they would surely see a huge change in audiences attitude towards the film itself.

I think this highlights an issue that should be brought to the fore. The products, like all of the company’s dolls (ranging from Friday the 13th to Carrie) are semi-satirical toys that are not bought as toys, but more as models for adults. This unclear-intention can be understood in a different way to different audiences. Spike Lee’s Bamboozled shows how commercialization can easily blur the boundaries of acceptability – especially with regard to racism. The two understandings Puchko highlights in a separate article describe arguments for and against the dolls:

“Some see these figures as a way to relish in one of the rare African-American cowboys to emerge in American cinema, where people of color are all too often underrepresented. Others see them as a painful and thoughtless reminder of a time when the people the toys represent were themselves bought and sold.”

This is a very sensitive issue, and one that maybe those who are not of an African-American descent can truly understand. Even analysing the film and criticising the issues within can seem uninformed.

[Spoilers for Django Unchained in this paragraph alone…]

When watching the film, analysis of two sequences seemed a clear intention of the director. At the start of the third act, Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) explains to Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and Django (Jamie Foxx) why slaves were apparently “submissive”. This is followed by a gun fight that ceases when Django is forced to stop – standing by saying, definitively, “I give up”. I cannot help but assume a commentary between the reasons why Django decided to stop fighting – and the reasons many victims of slavery chose not to fight back. Django stopped because of his loved ones – and how he, as every other man would, knew his duty to protect his wife. The plot thickens as Steven (Samuel L. Jackson) is the one man who manages to call Django out – what is Tarantino saying here? This is only an assumption on my part – and, more time to reflect on the film may provide a different interpretation.

But crucially, in the same manner as the dolls, I find it difficult to clearly discuss the issues raised. I don’t feel that I truly understand how important – or offensive – a film like Django Unchained may be. Blazing Saddles had an African-American as a Sheriff so, in that regard, Django Unchained isn’t ground-breaking. But, with regards to the film itself and the surrounding elements of using a particular racial-slur – and like the dolls – I’m not sure whether I appreciate how insensitive the ‘product’ (film and doll) is. I thoroughly enjoyed the film as a good western showing a side to American history that is rarely depicted – with a great script and central role in Django. But the politics behind the film and the deeply-rooted history that continues to segregate cultures and attitudes across the world, is something that a two-and-a-half hour film cannot easily demonstrate. When you watch the horrific opening to Amistad, it goes someway to show the brutality of men at the same time period, but Django seems a little too playful for me to take completely seriously – and therefore my interpretation, I am wary to stick to. I don’t want to sit, ignorant of the issues Django Unchained raises – but I think it will only be respectful to read a few history books to support any interpretation I may have for Tarantino’s film. Maybe then I will see how wrong these dolls truly are. In the meantime, I have Lincoln to look forward to…

Simon Columb

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  • Val

    segregating cultures around the wolrd? hardly.It was mostly only USA in recent centuries that brought in black people as slaves back in the 18th century. Other regions may have been colonoized,but America stands out truly with its slave-history and this kind of oversensitivity with SOME people just shows how so many still see the world in black-and white,unable to see passed skin color. It is a

  • Simon

    Thanks for the comment Val. Suffice to say, the issue remains a very sensitive one but I think it is fair to say that racism – and simply judging people by the colour of their skin – happens across the world. With regards to slavery, I can appreciate that it is primarily a part of American history. Maybe its not offensive to you and I – but I am wary about judging something so quickly that I have