A new line of action figures based on the film, Django Unchained, is creating some negative press for the film’s director, Quentin Tarentino, the toy makers NECA, and their partner, the Weinstein Company. The figures in question are 8″ tall and depict characters who were either slaves or slave owners in the film. Critics of the new figures have deemed the toys “inappropriate” and are asking for their complete removal from the market. According to a recent AP article…
“We were outraged,” said Najee Ali, director of the advocacy group Project Islamic Hope, upon learning of the figures. “We feel that it trivializes the horrors of slavery and what African-Americans experienced.” Ali also called the action figures “a slap in the face of our ancestors.”
Of course, such toy-centric controversies are not unprecedented. GIjOE fans with long memories will recall that Hasbro expected to receive similar heat for its 1960s “Soldiers of the World” line. The line consisted of a French Freedom Fighter, British Soldier, Australian Soldier and Russian Soldier, PLUS two more figures which were WW2 Axis enemies, a Japanese Imperial Army Soldier and a German Wehrmacht Soldier.
In his book, “GIjOE: The Complete Story of America’s Man of Action,” author John Michlig reveals there were some tense deliberations about the German figure early on at Hasbro:
“Merrill Hassenfeld’s brother, Harold, made a strenuous objection to the inclusion of a German storm trooper, arguing that no company—especially one with the Jewish heritage of Hasbro—should commemorate this purveyor of brutality.”
As we know, despite their trepidations, all of the foreign soldier figures were produced and are now held in the highest esteem by collectors. Perhaps it’s a sign of the modern world’s more “politically correct” sensitivities, but back then, the Japanese and German figures drew very little objection from the public. In fact, according to Michlig…
” Neither the media nor the retail buying community ever brought up the issue.”
GIjOE has always needed a wide variety of “bad guys” to fight. Without Nazis or COBRA, Terrorists or Mad Bombers, Joe would just be sitting around his headquarters (not very heroic or interesting). Over the years, most of the “worst of the worst” of humanity have been produced and sold as action figures—yes, even Adolph Hitler.
And then there were the accidental, tampered with and unintendedly misused toys. Remember the foul-mouthed Bratz and Barbie dolls? Or the infamous Breast-Feeding Doll? How about Harry Potter’s Vibrating Broomstick? WHEEE!!! These “controversial toy” lists can go on and on.
Bottom Line: In a free-market, capitalistic society, products will always be made to meet diverse consumer tastes and preferences. But manufacturers can’t please everyone and they know that. They know that each new product is a gamble and the chips will fall where they may. “Good toy, bad toy, inappropriate toy,” that sort of judgement ultimately rests in the eye of the beholder. When someone doesn’t like something, they don’t buy it. The public “votes” with their pocketbooks, and their voice is heard loud and clear.