Django Unchained Action Figures: Who Wants to Play Slave and Owner?

Would you buy slavery-themed action figures like these?We tend to think of action figures as props for kids' imaginary play or collectibles for adults to hoard. But the new line of "Django Unchained" action figures seems out of place by both definitions. Do kids really need to play vengeful slave vs. violent slave-owner? And do teens or adults really need glorify this particular part of American history by buying, trading, and displaying things like this?

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"Django Unchained" is about a slave-turned-bounty hunter (played by Jamie Foxx), who pairs up with his mentor (Christoph Waltz) to rescue his wife (Kerry Washington) from a cruel plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). It's directed by Quentin Tarantino of "Kill Bill" and "Pump Fiction" fame and, in classic Tarantino style, it's drenched in blood and disturbing imagery.

"The movie is absurdly violent," writes Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Wesley Morris at The Boston Globe. "When a slave owner is shot up in the opening minutes, the blood doesn't splatter. It splashes like a bowling ball that fell 50 feet into a full bathtub." Morris, who is African American, also says that he's never seen anything "made with this much conscientious bravado and unrelenting tastelessness… on a subject as loaded, gruesome, and dishonorable as American slavery."

Which makes it even more difficult to understand why the movie makers would sign off on a series of realistic-looking dolls based on the film. The poseable 8-inch action figures come with tailored clothing and "authentic weapons and accessories"; the box states that they're for people age 17 and up. Made by National Entertainment Collectibles Association (NECA), the dolls cost $24.99 to $54.99 each online at the Big Bad Toy Store and Amazon.com, where shoppers seem offended by them.

"Slave doll action figures?" asked R. McGee on Amazon. "Descendants of slaveowners are are still trying to make money off of Africans who were captured, enslaved, and tortured. That's just plain sick."

"The movie was good, but this is inexcusable," reads another Amazon review. "So do the accessories include whips, chains and klan members?"

NECA makes movie-themed toys and collectibles for adults -- think "Assassins Creed," "Predator," and "Carrie" action figures, games, and bobble-heads -- but some of their merchandise, like "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" dolls, "Lord of the Rings" board games, and "Harry Potter" themed plush toys, appeal to tweens and younger kids as well.

Some groups are calling for a boycott of the "Django" action figures; others called it an example of marketing gone too far.

“Selling slaves as action figures is a slap in the face of our ancestors. Tarantino and Weinstein didn’t have action figures for their movie 'Inglorious Basterds' " -- the violent, critically acclaimed Tarantino revenge flick in which Brad Pitt plans to kill Nazi leaders -- "because they know the Jewish community would never allow it and the African-American community shouldn’t allow anyone to disrespect our ancestors,” Najee Ali, Director of Project Islamic Hope, said in a statement.

NECA did not immediately respond to Yahoo! Shine's request for comment, but in a recent press release, NECA president Joel Weinshanker said the company was "very excited to bring the stellar cast of 'Django' to life and honored to be working with another Tarantino masterpiece."

But film critic Tim Gordon, who is African American, told the Daily Beast that race may have played a part in the "Django" marketing campaign.

"There were a lot of things that were done for 'Django' that would've never been done for 'Inglourious Basterds,' but people don't speak up," he said. "People have gotten so -- I don't know if the word is comfortable or naïve. We just want to go along to get along and it's very frustrating."

Tarantino is a huge Japanese Anime fan, and collectibles are a big part of that culture. We're fine with most movie memorabilia: slasher flicks are obviously fake, and a Rambo action figure is close enough to G.I. Joe that we wouldn't even bat an eye. But there's a difference between a collectible featuring a Katana-sword wielding Beatrix Kiddo (who obviously never existed in American history) and ones of a vicious slave owner and the female slave whom he has mercilessly raped and beaten -- even if the target audience is adults.

What do you think? Harmless collectible, or glorification of slavery?

Also on Shine:

Racism and 'The Hunger Games': Why Ignorance Won't Prevail
Italian Vogue Apologizes for Slavery Trend Piece, Digs Hole Deeper
Parents Outraged Over Homework that References Slavery, Beatings