Tom Nichols Mourns Simpler Time When Quentin Tarantino Freely Used The N-Word In ‘Pulp Fiction’

Media/Entertainment
Tom Nichols Mourns Simpler Time When Quentin Tarantino Freely Used The N-Word In ‘Pulp Fiction’

Conservative have often lamented that supposed “woke” culture has cost us great works of art, like for instance "The Dukes of Hazzard.“ You’d think they’d take a break now that Republicans are actively banning books that involve race or queer themes. However, there’s alway room for more hypocrisy.

REMEMBER? Conservatives Inadvertently Encourage Teen Reading With Swath Of Book Bans

Seeing as how it’s Black History Month and we’re apparently having a heated debate over whether white people should freely use a racial slur, writer and supposed academic Tom Nichols wondered if America might lose Pulp Fiction.


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He tweeted: “I’m watching Pulp Fiction right now and wondering, 28 years later, if you could make this movie today.”

No, you couldn’t make this movie today because it’s 2022 and Quentin Tarantino already released Pulp Fiction in 1994. There are copyright laws in this country.

Seriously, this is just an artistically illiterate comment. Although certain works are relatively timeless and hold up outside of when they were originally created, that doesn’t mean you could (or should) make them today. The original West Side Story would’ve bombed in 1989 (like its remake in 2022). The Sound of Music wouldn’t have packed theaters in 1993. Art is very much of its time. (Don’t get me started on my issue with the central premise of Yesterday.)


Presumably, Nichols believes that no studio would green light Pulp Fiction today simply because of its liberal use of the n-word. (It’s worth noting that convicted rapist and future hell resident Harvey Weinstein financed the movie.) That’s the one stumbling block. However, Pulp Fiction is the worst example for this argument. It’s not The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tarantino’s repeated use of the word serves no historical or narrative purpose. When a character uses the racial slur in Reservoir Dogs, you can argue that it’s intended to show that this person’s a racist. There’s only one such scene in Pulp Fiction, when Lance (Eric Stoltz) disparagingly refers to Black people. Otherwise, you can replace every one of the remaining n-words with “motherfucker” without compromising the story. Richard Pryor did something similar during Live On The Sunset Strip. He’d gone most of his set using “motherfucker” where he might’ve previously said the slur. It didn’t throw off his rhythm. So when he revealed toward the end of the show that he’d stopped using the word, we realized how he’d never actually needed it

Tarantino diminished the slur’s impact as a hateful term that — and this is key — only a racist would use. Observe the dreadful "dead (n-word) storage" scene.


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Tarantino repeatedly shouts the word at Samuel L. Jackson (!) but the audience isn’t intended to view his character as racist. Jackson’s “bad motherfucker” character Jules, who shot a guy for saying “what” just smiles when a white guy uses a vicious racial slur. See, it’s OK because they’re friends!

A decade earlier, Pryor proudly rejected the self-loathing that treated the n-word as interchangeable for Black people: “That’s a word that’s used to describe our own wretchedness. And we perpetuate it now, ’cause it’s dead. That word’s dead. We’re men and women. We come from the first people on the Earth. You know?”

It’s also not great that Tarantino uses a historically dehumanizing term to describe a dead Black man, whose violent death is treated as the set-up for a farce. “The Bonnie Situation” segment is a mob-inspired episode of “Frasier."

After Pulp Fiction came out, I noticed white classmates who would’ve never used the slur previously suddenly treating it as “just a word.” That’s not a great legacy.

In a tweet he later deleted, Nichols claimed that liberals were trying to suggest Tarantino just “make a different film.” I repeat: removing the n-word wouldn’t drastically alter Pulp Fiction, unless its key appeal for Nichols is watching a geeky white boy hurl racial epithets at a Black man and somehow survive the experience.

Pryor’s classic "Saturday Night Live" sketch with Chevy Chase (written by the late Paul Mooney) more accurately reflects what happens when a Black person hears that word.


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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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