Rip It Up magazine author defends use of n-word in Dope review

A scene from Dope, starring Shameik Moore as Malcolm (C).

A scene from Dope, starring Shameik Moore as Malcolm (C).

The author of a movie review which used an ethnic slur multiple times says he stands by his words, and says critics are taking the word out of context. 

Auckland-based Rip It Up published the review on its website and on Facebook under the headline: "Dope is a Hip Hop film about what it means to be a n *****". The Facebook post has since been deleted.

Andrew Johnstone, the magazine's editor and the author of the piece, used the offensive word five times in his 220-word review published on September 28 as well as in the headline.

"Dope is a hip-hop film that explores what it means to be a n *****," Johnstone wrote.

"Secondly, and most importantly, what is a n *****? According to popular culture, a n ***** likes bling and deals drugs, is armed and dangerous and usually drives some sort of ostentatious vehicle with rap music blaring from the massive speakers set in the doors. Actually, a n ***** is just like a white person: a range of personalities and temperaments that transcend stereotypes, a point that film makes over and over."

Rating the movie four out of five stars, Johnstone goes on to describe the film as a "feel good movie about black kids who are not stereotypes".

On Sunday afternoon Johnstone was unapologetic about the review and said he was "well used to" being the subject of vitriol from his writings. 

The term was used "liberally" throughout the film, and in reviews written by African American media, he said. He believed the film-makers would "absolutely" approve of his use of the word. 

The movie is set in both a high school and in the streets of Inglewood, where film maker Rick Famuyiwa grew up as a first-generation son of Nigerian immigrants. 

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It's produced by Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang, narrated by Whitaker, and also stars Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons, Zoe Kravitz, Kimberly Elise and A$AP Rocky.

"We're a cultural magazine and we're interested in the cause of social enlightenment," Johnstone said. "When we say everybody (is upset) we're only talking about a few people. We're talking about people who've seen the word and reacted and not seen the film. 

"As for the word n*****, yes we understand its historical context, but we also understand the meaning of the word has changed over the years."  

With Polynesian roots in his family, Johnstone said he was very interested in the topic of racism in New Zealand and planned a large feature on the issue for an upcoming edition. It would add to other detailed coverage on topics like being a transgender, and domestic abuse. "That's what we do, we're a liberal progressive magazine," he said.  

"(Abusing people on Facebook) is just part and parcel of what people do when they get upset."

He compared the vitriol to that he received when he wrote a piece in defence of Willy Moon, who was sacked from X Factor last year after bullying a contestant on air. 

"They were really shocking, but by the same token I understand when you're in the media, you put your opinions forward and this is what's going to happen."

He doubted it would affect the magazine's success. "People say we're never going to buy the magazine again- but it's free." 

Rip It Up publisher, Grant Hislop, says Johnstone won't lose his job, but agreed the piece hadn't met editorial standards. 

"I have reviewed the content in question and the review does not portray our intended context and I can understand how it has caused this reaction," he said. 

"We have a policy of sub-editing all contributed articles to ensure they meet editorial standards, however, in this instance, the review of the movie Dope was published prior to subbing and as a result appeared in its raw form missing some key references."

He added that "ironically", it was Johnstone's enthusiasm for the movie and subject matter that prompted the hasty publication.

"The writer is not bigoted and is in fact an avid promoter of equality in all areas of our community," he said. "One only needs to read other articles we are publishing to qualify this.

"The intention of the reviewer was to raise the issues that the film explores as well as exploring the taboos that surround the word "n*****" which is used throughout the film. We recognise that the intentions of the article have been misconstrued and taken out of context and apologise for any offence caused."

Hislop described Rip It Up as a "cultural magazine with a liberal progressive heart".

"Over the last few months we have addressed a number of sticky topics including the plight of those who are born transgender, animal welfare, what it means to be New Zealander, the TPPA and more recently abuse against women, and in all our endeavours we have sought to create conversation," he said.

Aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes awarded Dope 4.5 stars, described it as "smart, insightful entertainment", praising both Moore's performance and Famuyiwa's "original point of view".

Last year the Advertising Standards Authority complaints board upheld a complaint about an auction for an "Awesome Early NZ Greedy N***** Boy Money Box" for sale on Trade Me. It was deemed offensive and ordered to be removed.

 - Stuff

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