For T Magazine, the novelist and screenwriter Bret Easton Ellis profiled the film director Quentin Tarantino, whose Hateful Eight will debut nationwide in December. You know which other Tarantino blockbuster had a glorious Christmas Day release just a couple years ago? Django Unchained, the American slave revenge thriller that is, to date, the most expensive film and most profitable box office release of Tarantino's career.
Despite such success and uninterrupted acclaim, Tarantino carries a perpetual grudge for "black critics," who, alongside white critics, have occasionally challenged Tarantino's freewheeling usage of the word "nigger" in his scripts, among other, finer points of political correctness and whatnot. For a guy who "couldn't have cared less" about the many "savage think pieces" written about him in recent years, it's odd that such criticism is lodged so permanently into his brain. What is this nigga's problem? Lots of black critics and black people in general love Tarantino's films. But does he love us? We discuss it below.
Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan) and Justin Charity (@brothernumpsa) are staff writers for Complex, often discussing and debating pop culture events and minutiae alike in the office and online. The next time someone asks Quentin about this issue, they ask that instead of answering, he heed Rick Renzel Ross' advice:
CHARITY: What angst. What infamy. Quentin Tarantino is frustrated with criticism of his wildly entertaining and wildly successful movies. So he runs to his generation's quaternary man-fetus, Bret Easton Ellis, to talk shit. Both Tarantino and Ellis frequently lapse into this particular role: vulgar and vengefully white beta males defending their creative authority against second-guesses from restless Others. (Shouts out to Aaron Sorkin, too, for his similar abundance of such inefficient passion.) What’s the deal with these guys? Three years after all that Django backtalk, is Quentin Tarantino still haunted by Spike Lee?
After the nationwide theatrical debut of Django Unchained in 2012, actors Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson vigorously defended the film, so did Antoine Fuqua, and Stanley Crouch adores Tarantino; meanwhile it was David Denby at the New Yorker and A.O. Scott at the New York Times who agonized the ethics of Django in the highest ranks of our media. Was Gawker’s review, in which the writer Cord Jefferson stressed, “I really liked Django Unchained,” really all that savage?
Somehow, whenever Tarantino is driving the bus, it’s always black folks getting rolled under the chassis!
FRAZIER: As a black consumer of QT’s films, I actually could not care less about Quentin and NiggaGate. I’ll tell you the one instance that made me uncomfortable and continues to upon every rewatch—it’s "Dead Nigger Storage" in Pulp Fiction. It’s ugly, unnecessary and there just to baldly provoke. Moreover, it doesn’t even fit—pinch or not, I’m supposed to buy Jules Winnfield accepting that kind of talk from this peon? But when I watch, say, Jackie Brown, the third and best film not named Pulp Fiction on Tarantino's resume, and see everyone from a Peak [Hair] Sam Jackson to Pam Grier to Chris Tucker trading nigga the same way characters would in a Mario Van Peebles script, it doesn’t bother me at all. Nor does it feel exploitative, beyond the way QT exploits every genre and culture to build whatever pop art pastiche he’s stitching this time around.
But saying he’s Ray Charles to the bullshit then launching into several #WellActuallys and copped pleas, it’s clear Quentin has the perceived “got a lotta enemies” back against the wall hyperbolic perspective of a rapper. (I imagine “Energy” joining “S. Carter” on his set playlist.) But he’s really just assigning Spike’s saltiness to the black community at large. White guilt writers found Django offensive, but I sure didn’t tbh.
CHARITY: I watched Django in a Richmond cinema the day after Christmas in 2012 with my sister and our mother. It was a gruesomely enjoyable experience for me, for my family, and, I’d wager, for most of everyone else in the seats behind us. I think Tarantino stays overreacting to the calculated dissent of SJW mad-lib artists and the goons of Brooklyn's various wi-fi networks.
In any case, Nicki Minaj vs. Miley got me thinking: “You’re in videos with black men, and you’re bringing out black women on your stages, but you don’t want to know how black women feel about something that’s so important?” Apart from presumably giving a shit about his buddy, Sam Jackson’s feedback on these characterizations and prominent incorporation of “nigger” is surprisingly disinterested in present-tense black culture.
“If you’ve made money being a critic in black culture in the last 20 years,” he says, “you have to deal with me.” Well, let’s get on with it, motherfucker!
What’s buggy about Tarantino is that his movies generally hold up, he’s got great taste, his influences are interesting, his aesthetic is golden, his legacy is bulletproof, and really no thinkpiece, “savage” or otherwise, will upend any of that. And yet, every three years or so, Tarantino leaps into the jaws of the same ol’ goddamm mouse trap. Why is this? What do you think motivates him in this regard? Is it pure disdain? hubris? Or something more interesting and complex?
FRAZIER: It’d be easy to say there’s a chip on his shoulder, but the real answer is simple: he invited it. My man went toe-to-toe over nigga rights usage and then returned to the top of the mountain with A SLAVERY REVENGE movie. Of course talk of appropriation is reignited, and it will come up in every interview.
I think killer Quentin is tight because he’s gotten the co-sign from everyone from Sam L. to Jamie Foxx to Queen Kerry and yet his motives are still being questioned. He’s given us two top 15, hands down, A+ black classics in the past 25 years. He deserves The Marshall Mathers Lifetime Honorary Pass Award. Instead, from his perspective, everyone’s quoting Drake: “Who’s a real nigga and who ain’t one?” Please, someone take Quentin to Follies so he can fucking relax. The more he talks about it, the more he digs himself into the lonely grave of Paula Schultz with flippant, too-defensive quotes about having to "deal with him" and inviting apples and oranges comparisons to shit like Selma.
In the next rare Quentin interview, I want to see more film bro tough talk about losing to Mark Boal or fearing nothing from The Matrix. I don't wanna hear about this ever again.