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Django Unchained 'Slave' action figures spark debate

By Starla Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Jan 10, 2013 - 12:49:57 PM

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'My point is the dolls in those previous movies didn’t cross the lines. [Tarrantino] didn’t make a Hitler doll, because he knew the Jewish community would never allow that type of stereotype to continue.'
—Najee Ali, L.A.-based activist

(FinalCall.com) - Django Unchained, is poised to become the highest grossing movie ever for film director Quentin Tarrantino, according to reports. The movie about a freed slave on a killing spree to free his wife from the clutches of a White slave master, played by Academy Award winning actor Jamie Foxx, has sparked controversy and debate since it opened Dec. 25. Yet the film had already made over an estimated $106 million by Jan. 6 according to boxofficemojo.com.

If the storyline of a revenge seeking Black man hell-bent on rescuing his Black wife from her tormentors were not controversial enough, debate is now raging as action figures based on the movie characters hit online.

A line of eight-inch tall figurines based on both the Black and White main characters launched by the Weinstein Company and the National Entertainment Collectibles Association sparked a frenzy of heated discourse on social media networks and spurred a coalition of activists in Los Angeles to launch a boycott.

“They’re making a financial profit off the blood of our ancestors,” said Najee Ali, an L.A.-based activist who along with various other groups are calling for a halt to the selling of the merchandise.

At Final Call presstime, various Black community leaders were set for a Jan. 8 press conference at Leimert Park in Los Angeles to voice their anger at what they see as exploitation and profiteering at the expense of Black people. The L.A. Chapter of the National Action Network, South Central Network, Weller Baptist Church and Project Islamic Hope of which Mr. Ali is the director are just a few of the organizations making up the coalition.

“The ultimate goal is for them to stop the manufacturing and selling of these collectable slave dolls because we feel that it trivializes slavery and doesn’t reflect America’s greatest crime and that’s their involvement in the TransAtlantic slave trade,” Mr. Ali told The Final Call.

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'I think that they were pretty much doing what a lot of movie studios do which is to merchandise their main characters in their film.'
—Dr. Boyce Watkins, founder of the Your Black World Coalition

“Whether you enjoyed the movie Django or not, everyone has the right to their own opinion. We’re not debating the merits of the movie. Black people should all be in agreement that slave dolls are not the best way for our ancestors’ legacy to be displayed,” he added.

Action figures based on movie, TV and comic book characters is nothing new. Making money at the expense of the masses is the capitalistic formula that has lined the pockets of Hollywood fat cats for decades. It has been a successful formula despite subject matter or characters often with no focus on subject matter sensitivity, just profits, and that includes slavery.

Dr. Boyce Watkins, founder of the Your Black World Coalition and a finance professor at Syracuse University, recalled his initial reaction upon hearing about and seeing the figures was not one of “extreme offense.” He was a “little taken aback” by media headlines tying the action figures to slavery, instead of promoting the movie.

“I’m not really sure if this is the kind of thing that would necessarily be considered offensive or disrespectful. I think that they were pretty much doing what a lot of movie studios do which is to merchandise their main characters in their film,” said Dr. Watkins.

“It does take us back to the important point which is that there are some stories that are probably better told by Black people. I think that they tried to do the best job they could, to be as respectful as they could be because they could have been a lot more disrespectful then they were, but ultimately we tell our stories better than other people can when we do it in a conscientious way,” added Dr. Watkins.

The Django Unchained Series 1 product line was announced by the National Entertainment Collectibles Association, according to the group’s website on Sept. 10, three and a half months prior to the release of the motion picture.

“They may have announced it. I don’t know to whom. No one heard what they were doing, because we would have spoken out then, before the movie was even shown because once again our efforts are not to derail the movie,” said Mr. Ali.

Black America should agree collectively that the horrors of slavery should not be trivialized by dolls, he reiterated.

“I mean who in their right mind would want to buy a Candy Man doll of the slavemaster?” asked Mr. Ali, referring to one of the film’s characters.

Mr. Tarantino, whose hit movies include Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction has released collectables for several of his other films including Inglourious Basterds, a fictitious war film about a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

“My point is the dolls in those previous movies didn’t cross the lines. He didn’t make a Hitler doll, because he knew the Jewish community would never allow that type of stereotype to continue,” said Mr. Ali.

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