Django Unchained: Selling Slaves as Action Figures
Academy Award-winner Quentin Tarantino is laughing all the way to the bank this week. The controversial film auteur and his longtime studio chief-partner Harvey Weinstein took a gamble on transforming the atrocities of American slavery into comedic, action-packed entertainment. And the new movie, Django Unchained, which opened Christmas day, bested the glitzy Les Miserables at the box office with numbers indicating that the flick could do as well as, or maybe even better than Tarantino’s top-grossers Inglourious Basterds ($120 million) and Pulp Fiction ($107 million).
And to build on the Django momentum, there’s an entire product line to compliment the Jamie Foxx-fronted spaghetti western/slave revolt/action drama/fantasy tale.
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. First up are pose-able eight-inch action figures with tailored clothing, weaponry, and accessories in the likeness of characters played by Foxx, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio, James Remar and Christoph Waltz. The dolls are currently on sale via Amazon.com.
A press release announcing the deal stated that the line was similar to the retro toy lines that helped define the licensed action-figure market in the 1970s and that the collection will include a full apparel and accessories line. At the time of the announcement, NECA president Joel Weinshanker said the company was “very excited to bring the stellar cast of Django to life and honored to be working with another Tarantino masterpiece.”
Action figures for Tarantino films Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 may have been better suited for such commercial pursuits. But for some projects, anything goes.
On Facebook last week, a post from “Black Is magazine” posed the question: “Who's in the market for a Django Unchained action figure? Funny or offensive?”
"This doll shit is crazy,” talent manager, filmmaker, and fashion industry doyenne Bethann Hardison told The Daily Beast. “But Quentin Tarantino believes in what he's got and it seems he is not believing anything less.”
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.
Admitting that at first glance he thought the dolls to be just a piece of memorabilia, noted black film critic Tim Gordon, also citing Jamie Foxx unveiling the trailer of the movie during the recent Soul Train Awards telecast, noticed “there were a lot of things that were done for Django that would’ve never been done for Inglourious Basterds … but people don’t speak up. People have gotten so -- I don’t know if the word is comfortable or naïve. We just want to go along to get along and it’s very frustrating.”
The audacious release of the dolls could be perceived as adding insult to injury, especially considering Tarantino's lack of regard for the legacy of Alex Haley’s epic 1977 mini-series Roots, which is American pop culture’s most prized depiction of slavery.
"When you look at Roots, nothing about it rings true in the storytelling, and none of the performances ring true for me either,” Tarantino told The Daily Beast’s Allison Samuels. “I didn’t see it when it first came on, but when I did I couldn’t get over how oversimplified they made everything about that time. It didn’t move me because it claimed to be something it wasn’t.”
"Talented as he is, being a fool has never escaped him,” Hardison shared. “He often says the wrong thing out of his mouth, needing a filter and crosses the line… but it’s freedom of expression. I don’t want to be censored so why should he be?”
Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr., who starred in Roots, dismissed Tarantino’s critique, saying the Reservoir Dogs director was just “stirring stuff up” and making a “mockery” out of racism.
Gossett revealed that after seeing Django Unchained at a Malibu movie theater last weekend, he walked out within the first 20 minutes.
"Django is a very small speck on the horizon to what we should be giving energy to,” he said, adding how proud he was of American democracy and the re-election of President Obama. “I think we need to rely on how powerful of a people we are.”