Q: What do Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings films, and Justice Antonin Scalia have in common?
A: A dilemma about how to phrase certain words that are unacceptable in polite society.
Jackson is currently in production on a remake of the classic British war film, The Dam Busters, the story of RAF Wing Commander Guy Gibson's bombing raid on a series of German dams in 1943. It's a true story, based on a book of the same name, and quite a good movie. I'm sure Jackson's production, which he intends to keep true to history, will also be worthwhile.
It's just that the language has changed a bit over the past sixty years. Even if you've not seen The Dam Busters, you may have seen excerpts of it, featuring a black labrador retriever, in Alan Parker's film Pink Floyd: The Wall. The dog, owned by Gibson, was named, ahem, "N-word".
Except that wasn't his name. And believe it or not, the dog was very important to the story, in life and on film. In fact, Gibson's operation was code-named for the dog: "Operation N-Word."
Except that wasn't its code-name. While Jackson is known as a meticulous film-maker, and says he wants to keep this production true to the facts, he's yet to come to a decision about this troublesome dog. Some have suggested re-naming it "Niggsy." Television networks which have shown the original film in recent years have dubbed in the name, "Trigger," leading to cries of censorship, which of course it is, and silliness, which, well …
It's a very offensive word, despite what fans of Chris Rock might tell you.
In some ways and circles, far more offensive than "F-word," which Justice Scalia couldn't bring himself to spell out. Personally I say the F-word all the time, but can't think of many situations in which I would say, or write, the word "Nigger," in other than a context like the present.
Personally I think Jackson, if he intends to remain true to the story, should probably leave it in and attempt to have a serious discussion about history and language before the film's release.
But I suspect that won't happen.