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Saturday, February 7, 1998 Published at 12:58 GMT

World: Americas

Outrage at Tarantino's language
image: [ Jackie Brown is causing the same controversy as Tarantino's earlier films ]
Jackie Brown is causing the same controversy as Tarantino's earlier films

The editor of a British black arts magazine has described Quentin Tarantino's portrayal of black people in the film Jackie Brown as dangerous and derogatory.

Pascoe Soyurz of The Alarm said the constant repetition of the word "nigga" in films could make people overlook its historical use and the offence it can cause.

Jackie Brown, adapted from Elmore Leonard's novel Rum Punch, is set in the world of cash smugglers and street criminals.

Like Tarantino's first two films, Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, it offers a graphic and stylised representation of their words and deeds.

But the foray of a white director into the controversial "blaxploitation" genre is already causing anger among the black community in the United States, where Jackie Brown has just opened.

One of the most vocally offended is director Spike Lee. His characters, who in films such as Do the Right Thing are often played by Lee, use the same form of address as those in Jackie Brown. But the outspoken director objects to Tarantino's attempt to portray black culture.

Others, including one of the film's stars, Samuel L Jackson, say Tarantino is only reflecting the reality of language in America.

At the same time, Tarantino's supporters, including the novelist Diram Adebayo, argue the film is an artistic creation and the characters should be allowed to behave in any way that suits the story and the director.

Pascoe Soyurz said he could see the logic of these arguments but thought negative portrayals of blacks could have a real effect on their lives.

He said: "I wouldn't necessarily align myself with Spike Lee, but I do have some reservations about a film of this kind coming out at this time.

"It seems to me there's a kind of culture-vulture feel to it. I'm concerned about the whole 'blaxploitation' thing.

"Hollywood is a dream factory but it was Hollywood that created some of the most negative images of black people, which had major effects on the way we were perceived around the world.

"You have these kind of Uncle Tom characters and I think these things do have serious effects and, in a way, I think that's coming back."

On the use of the word "nigga", he added: "I think it devalues the word and the word has a lot of significance.

"I don't think we should allow other people to encourage us to forget the significance of that."

While the word has become a staple in young American blacks' speech and is regularly heard on rap records, it is probably the number of times it appears in Tarantino's script that has led to so many complaints.

The word comes up over and over again like a staccato punctuation mark. Samuel L Jackson's character, gunrunner Ordell Robbie, says at one point: "Look, I hate to be the kinda nigga, does a nigga a favor - then BAM - hits a nigga up for a favor in return. But I'm afraid I gotta be that kinda nigga."

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Internet Links

The script of Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown

The official Jackie Brown site

The unofficial Jackie Brown homepage

Tarantino spot: Jackie Brown

Unofficial Jackie Brown page

Jackie Brown: the soundtrack

Jackie Brown reviews

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