Django unshelved: Toymaker NECA halts production after concerns of racism

By Matt Simpson

The Weinstein Company has asked the toy manufacturer NECA to cease distribution on a series of collectible dolls based on the characters from Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, “Django Unchained.” The decision comes after the Weinstein Company was approached by several civil rights groups claiming that the dolls were discriminatory and insensitive to the history of American slavery. Among these voices was Project Islamic Hope director, Najee Ali, who said the collectible dolls are “a slap in the face of our ancestors.”

“Django Unchained” explores the possible history of a fictional slave named Django who attempts to free his wife from the plantation of a wealthy slaveholder. In presentation, the film has been likened to spaghetti-westerns of the mid-1960s by Telegraph reviewer Jenny McCartney, and is punctuated by numerous scenes of extreme violence. Tarantino defends these moments, telling an audience at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts that the reality of American slavery was “incredibly shocking” and much worse than anything depicted on film.

“Unchained” has been nominated for five Academy Awards and received critical and commercial success, becoming Tarantino’s highest-grossing movie, with a box office rake of $130 million. It is this success which prompted NECA to take interest in making collectible dolls fashioned after prominent characters in the movie. Of the six-doll set, one depicts Candie, a cruel slave owner who forces his male slaves to fight one another to the death for sport. Another doll is Stephen, a house slave played by actor Samuel L. Jackson, who called his character “the most despised Negro in cinematic history.”

With news that NECA was discontinuing their line of “Unchained” collectibles, owners immediately began putting the dolls on market sites like Amazon and eBay, with prices often tripling their original value. Already, an “Unchained” doll which initially sold for $39.99 fetched over $400 in an eBay auction, while a complete set has sold for $2,000.

“I’m not surprised at all,” said Krystal Moore, an employee at The Great Escape, a comic and collectible store located on Bardstown Road that specializes in a wide variety of pop-culture items and memorabilia. “We had customers asking for them even before this. When people start hearing that items are rare, the prices will skyrocket.”

On Jan. 25, the dolls were pulled from eBay on the grounds that it violated their offensive-materials policy, which prohibits products that “promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance, or promote organizations with such views.”

NECA has previously made collectible dolls for other Tarantino films, such as the 2009 World War II fantasy, “Inglorious Basterds.”

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