Jackson Defends Use of "N" Word

Actor sticks up for Quentin Tarantino after Spike Lee criticism

By Daniel Frankel Feb 19, 1998 12:15 AMTags
Two months after director Spike Lee laid into filmmaking peer Quentin Tarantino for using the word "nigger" 38 times in his blaxploitation tribute, Jackie Brown, African-American actor Samuel L. Jackson came to the video-store-geek-turned-pop-icon's defense.

Speaking at the Berlin Film Festival Tuesday for Jackie Brown's international premiere, Jackson--who plays a homicidal gunrunner in the film--said the slur's use is not offensive in the context of Brown and that Lee "should move on," according to wire reports.

"Black artists think they are the only ones allowed to use the word," said Jackson, who was Oscar-nominated for another homicidal performance in Tarantino's hugely popular Pulp Fiction. "Well, that's bull. This film is a wonderful homage to black exploitation films [of the '70s]. This is a good film. And Spike hasn't made one of those in a few years."

As in Pulp Fiction, virtually all of the "N" word's use in Jackie Brown is confined to Jackson speaking to other African-American characters.

In counterslamming one of the most respected African-American film figures, Jackson went even further, saying he was tired of Lee acting like he's the elected voice of African-Americans. "I didn't get a chance to vote in that election," sniped Jackson.

And besides, he added, Lee uses the word himself in his films.

Lee all but admitted as much when he talked with Variety columnist Army Archerd in December. "I'm not against the word, and I use it, but not excessively. And some people speak that way...[But] I want Quentin to know that all African-Americans do not think that word is trendy or slick."

For good measure, the Do the Right Thing director added, "What does he want to be made--an honorary black man?"

In defense of himself shortly after Lee's comments, Tarantino said on the Howard Stern Show that if he's writing the script, he can do whatever he wants. And he was later quoted in the New York Daily News saying, "Ricki Lake and I are the most admired white celebrities in the black community."