By now everyone’s heard about the controversy surrounding NECA’s Django Unchained toys. The Weinstein Company asked NECA to stop production. Predictably, the publicity created a run on the toys and drove prices through the roof.
Najee Ali, the director of Project Islamic Hope, stated, “I actually enjoyed the movie, but we cannot support this type of commercialization.” I suspect Mr. Ali was referring to the idea of toys of any kind from the movie, but I’m fairly convinced that it’s the style of the toys that caused this issue.
If NECA had made, say, just a Django figure in their usual style – plastic 7″ figures with lifelike sculpts and minimal articulation – and sold it alongside their Nightmare on Elm Street and Prometheus toys, I think it would have flown under the radar.
The problem is that the figures were made in the style of the old 1970s Mego figures. Evidently Quentin Tarantino himself requested this (which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest). If you’re someone familiar with action figure history, then sure, they’re “Mego-style action figures,” and have a certain retro hipness because of that. But to the casual consumer of today, they look like dolls. Dolls for children. Dolls of house slaves like Stephen and Broomhilda, and of slave-owner Candie. I understand why some people found this offensive.
Do I think the toys are inherently offensive? I know this seems like a cop-out, but I’m honestly not sure. I didn’t think twice about it when I heard they were being made – I thought it was really weird that they were Mego-style, but their very existence didn’t bother me, though at the time I knew very little about the movie.
The protesters claim the toys “trivialize the horrors of slavery.” Again, I wonder whether they would have said that of one 7″ plastic action figure of Django alone. Is it Candie the slaveowner they’re objecting to, or are they opposed to any and all toys based on the film? Would dolls of the characters from Roots “trivialize the horrors of slavery”?
Part of me suspects the figures are totally in line with how Tarantino views his movie – as a blaxploitation/revenge flick. It’s practically an action movie, and action figures are par for the course. By liking the movie but being offended by the merchandising, Ali and his fellow protesters may be suggesting Tarantino’s film is more significant and meaningful than perhaps Tarantino himself thinks it is.
Or maybe they’re just saying we shouldn’t make toys of slave-owners.
I think I’d have to have a long talk with someone like Ali, to more fully understand his perspective, before I could sort out my own thoughts. But I do think NECA (or rather Tarantino, since he requested it) courted controversy unnecessarily by making these “adult collector” toys in a style that many would associate with children’s toys, what with the retro white boxes and the fabric clothing. I believe a single plastic figure of the “hero” character would have been ignored or perhaps even celebrated.
On a side note, Hong Kong company Enterbay seems to be moving forward with their 12″ Django and Candie figures, so evidently they aren’t worried about getting pulled in to the NECA controversy. Of course, those figures have pretty small production runs and won’t be showing up in very many stores.