It was with some amusement that I noticed the following disclaimer attached to the product description for a forthcoming series of action figures based on characters from Quentin Tarantino's latest opus, "The Hateful Eight": "These action figures are intended to be representations of their movie counterparts, and should not be construed as social or political commentary on the part of the manufacturer."
I was confused as to what the "social or political commentary" might be in selling the figures, which are modeled on the eponymous octet that finds itself trapped in a snowbound hideaway during a Wyoming blizzard. So I took a closer look at each of them and guessed that maybe it had to do with the fact that the Daisy Domergue doll is sporting a shiner.
As one of Tarantino's other creations might put it: "That's a bingo!"
"We did not want anyone to think that a figure means support of a particular issue," NECA's Summer Mullins said in an email when asked about the disclaimer. "For instance, that because one of the characters in the movie is a woman with a black eye, a Daisy action figure means we condone violence against women."
While the idea that a toy manufacturer might "condone violence against women" because it sells a doll from a movie representing a character who has had violence perpetrated against her is, on its face, absurd, NECA had good reason for its preemptive response. In 2013, a similar line of toys modeled on "Django Unchained" - Tarantino's film about a slave-turned-bounty hunter intent on rescuing his still-enslaved bride - was pulled after people complained about consumers playing with "slave dolls."
And given the response that "The Hateful Eight" has received from certain quarters, it is not unreasonable to think that an effort might be made to cancel this collection, too. Writing at RogerEbert.com, self-professed "Tarantinoista" Laura Bogart - previously a fan of QT's "powerful, self-contained women who are still raw and flawed" - condemned the flick as "hipster misogyny" replete with " 'Grand Theft Auto'-levels" of woman hatred for its portrayal of Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). In a mixed review, Lesley Coffin wrote at the feminist fangirl site the Mary Sue that Domergue's treatment "isn't commentary about misogyny, this just feels like misogyny."
A.O. Scott made a variation of this argument in his review: "At a certain point, the n-word gives way to the b-word as the dominant hateful epithet, and 'The Hateful Eight' mutates from an exploration of racial animus into an orgy of elaborately justified misogyny." Scott's on the right track, though I would dispute his (and others') claim that Tarantino's treatment of Domergue is particularly "misogynistic."
After all, this is a director who has carved off the ear of one man, shown another's kidnapping and rape, carved a swastika into the forehead of a third, and de-limbed a not-insubstantial portion of the Crazy 88. Refusing to treat Domergue, who spends much of her time onscreen absorbing a blow of some sort from her captor John "the Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell), as he might a man would constitute its own odd, insidious form of sexism.
This isn't to say her abuse is not unsettling. According to Tarantino, that's by design. "You're supposed to say, 'Oh my God. John Ruth is a brutal bastard!' " he told Variety. "I want your allegiances, to one degree or the other, to shift slightly as the movie goes on, and frankly, depending on where you're coming from."
That "shift" is what Scott is intuiting, and it is very much in keeping with the theme of the film. As I noted in my review, Tarantino's vision of American history and progress is not one in which rights are granted through gauzy oratory and linguistic persuasion, a la Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Rather, his America is one where coalitions of convenience come together in a never-ending, always-shifting kaleidoscope of arrangements based on kinship, security and the threat of bloody violence.
On the way to the snowbound Minnie's Haberdashery, we see Northerners band together to keep an eye on Southerners. By film's end, a white Southern racist and a black killer of Confederates have joined forces to take down a multiracial band of outlaws.
The American struggle for equality is not solely one of geography and race, of course. While some have complained about the film's closing moments - during which African-American Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and white Confederate Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) lynch gang member Domergue as the camera stays close on her contorted, bruised, bloated, reddened face - it is perfectly in keeping with the film's themes and Tarantino's suspicions about the nature of American society.
It's no accident that the female Domergue's final tormentors are a white racist former Confederate and a black Union soldier, both male and both previously portrayed as adversaries. After all, women wouldn't be guaranteed the franchise in this nation until about a half-century after freed male slaves. Tarantino is, in his own way, cleverly highlighting the shifting nature of subjugation and the ways in which yesterday's victims become today's oppressors and aggressors.
So maybe that doll with the black eye is a social and political comment after all --- just not the sort of comment the easily offended might mistake it to be.