The Corner

Film & TV

Quentin Tarantino Is Cancelled

Quentin Tarantino and wife Daniella Pick in May 2019 (Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters)

A writer for the Guardian suggests we cancel Quentin Tarantino because his films “have revelled in extreme violence toward women.” Debatable, but this is quite a paragraph:

In Tarantino’s debut directorial feature, Reservoir Dogs, the only female characters in the credits are “Shot Woman” and “Shocked Woman”. Pulp Fiction, his second film, features female characters more prominently, but a trend of revelling in the abuse of women began to emerge. One of Pulp Fiction’s most famous scenes involves Uma Thurman’s character getting stabbed in the heart with a shot of adrenaline to resuscitate her after a drug overdose. (Though it’s fair to say male characters were also subjected to extreme violence.)

Well, every important character in Reservoir Dogs suffers extreme violence and they’re all men. If you make the snarky charge that “the only female characters…are ‘shot woman’ and ‘shocked woman,'” your problem seems to be that there are not enough women getting aggressed in the film. No fair leaving women out of the ear-removal party, Q.T.! As for citing Thurman’s character getting stabbed in the heart with a shot of adrenaline, framing this as revelling in the abuse of women makes about as much sense as saying heart surgeons abuse people when they cut open chests. The adrenaline shot is not an instance of violence, it’s a critical life-saving maneuver. Since, as writer Roy Chacko seems to know but doesn’t quite concede, the vast majority of the violence in Tarantino films is directed at men, this paragraph doesn’t make a lot of sense. True, the Bride played by Thurman in the Kill Bill movies suffers horribly, but this is in the service of her being justified in meting out lots of violence toward her antagonists (some male, some female). Violence is Tarantino’s idiom.

Chacko doesn’t mention it, but the climactic scene of Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (which I review here) has a scene depicting violence against a woman that goes on a bit too long. And when I say “a bit too long” I mean it’s grotesque. The point is made long before the shot ends. There’s also a running joke about how the Brad Pitt character killed his wife and got away with it. Tarantino finds this detail hilarious; I don’t see the humor. The beatings given to the Jennifer Jason Leigh character in The Hateful Eight are likewise gruesome and gratuitous. Extreme, cartoonish gore can be funny, but it’s a lot less funny when a woman is the target. Women are naturally more vulnerable, and this alters our emotional reaction.

What about the violence directed by Tarantino at women during the making of his films, though? Chacko cites Tarantino choking Thurman as well as actress Diane Kruger during the filming of Inglourious Basterds to get a more intense reaction out of them. (He says he had permission in both cases.) Tarantino admits spitting on Thurman during Kill Bill filming (because her character was being spit on and he didn’t trust an actor to nail it in a single take) and also told her to drive a car she wasn’t prepared to drive, which resulted in a crash. Tarantino says she was a shaky driver but didn’t consider the task particularly complicated. He does regret this last, though, and gave the New York Times footage from Kill Bill for a story as a mea culpa.

At the New York Post, my longtime colleague Sara Stewart says “Tarantino’s Exploitation Has No Place in Hollywood Anymore.” Why, she asks, does the female lead of his new picture, Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, get almost nothing to say? “I just reject your hypothesis,” Tarantino said to a reporter who asked a question along these lines. “That’s interesting,” Stewart responds, “because I reject some of Tarantino’s hypotheses, including the one about [Tate’s husband]  Polanski’s innocence regarding the sexual assault of a 13-year-old. (‘Look. She was down with it … He didn’t rape a 13-year-old, it was statutory rape, all right? … She wanted to have it,’ Tarantino said in a 2003 interview with Howard Stern.)” Tarantino later apologized for saying this. She continues,

In a world where we have an increasing number of heroic females — especially in films written and directed by actual women — it may be game over for male auteurs who create supposedly strong women on-camera and denigrate them from behind it. In 2019, we don’t need that type of guy anymore, especially one who thinks silencing Sharon Tate for most of his film is somehow a fitting homage.

I would disagree that we “don’t need” Tarantino, one of our most interesting filmmakers.

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody dings the new film for a different reason: It’s too white. Once Upon a Time… “celebrates white-male stardom (and behind-the-scenes command) at the expense of everyone else.” Brody takes issue with the line in which Leonard DiCaprio’s character Rick sheds tears, and Brad Pitt’s character Cliff tells him,  “Don’t let the Mexicans see you crying.”

Brody points out that a movie villain played by DiCaprio’s actor character refers to a Mexican as a “beaner,” but then again, villains do tend to say mean things. Brody says, “Tarantino delivers a ridiculously white movie, complete with a nasty dose of white resentment; the only substantial character of color, Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), is played, in another set piece, as a haughty parody, and gets dramatically humiliated.” Well, the Lee character is a massive jerk, though. I’m not sure “white resentment” comes into play here.

There’s also another slur in the movie that bothers Brody: “There’s no slur delivered more bitterly by Cliff and Rick than ‘hippie,’ and their narrow but intense experiences in the course of the film are set up to bear out the absolute aptness of their hostility.” I guess the use of this epithet might cause me sorrow if I had once been a hippie. But then again, the hippies in question are…the Manson Family.

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