Do his critics not get films, or are they just cynically leeching off the movie’s success?
With the film, which is set in 1969, delivering the strongest-ever US opening in the ‘Pulp Fiction’ director’s career, earnest woke jargon-filled thinkpieces have proliferated about a work of cinema that is more a hermetic and personal wish-fulfilment fantasy than a political manifesto.
Here are the main accusations… and why they miss the point.
NON-DETAILED SPOILERS FOLLOW
Sexist towards Sharon Tate
Charge: Tarantino is a misogynist because actress Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie, has few lines of dialogue and lacks a dynamic character arc. The insinuation has dogged Tarantino since the Cannes premiere of the film in May, where he flatly “rejected the hypothesis” of a New York Times journalist who pursued this line of questioning.
Quote:“The film underserves Tate… in which she is nothing more than a sexualized cipher,” Esquire.
Actually… She is never intended to be the central protagonist. Instead, Tate’s role is to serve as the idealized antithesis to all that is evil in the film, and her sunny vitality as a young woman who is three weeks from giving birth to her first child is particularly poignant for those who know how the story actually unfolded.
One more thing… Unless you are in a school play, the number of lines a character has is not a direct representation of their importance to the piece. Robbie has substantial screen time and her close-ups dominate every scene she is in.
Racist towards Bruce Lee
Charge: By writing him as a pompous narcissist, Tarantino has besmirched the memory of Bruce Lee, and set back the representation of Asians in Hollywood, using actor Mike Moh for cheap, racist laughs. Lee’s own descendants have not been complimentary either.
Quote:“If you watch the new Tarantino, and there’s any kind of audience, take note of how the audience reacts to the Bruce Lee impersonation. This is what systemic racism looks like. Not the performance which is perfect, the reaction which is hard-wired into members of this culture,” film critic Walter Chaw.
Actually… The scene where Brad Pitt’s down-on-his-luck stuntman Cliff Booth can’t keep his mouth shut during Lee’s self-glorifying comparison between himself and Cassius Clay on set, in which the two end up sparring, is meant to give us the essence of Booth’s character. He is a devil-may-care rebel with integrity and a talent for fighting, who can end up in self-inflicted troublesome scenarios. Also, who doesn’t want to see Lee resurrected in a satisfying fictional-but-plausible scene in a film where he fits in organically?
One more thing… Tarantino is a Bruce Lee obsessive, who paid a shot-for-shot homage to one of his films in Kill Bill.
Pining for days when (white) ‘men were men’ & hates hippies
Charge: Tarantino has written a bro-tastic paean to Old Hollywood, which he believes was despoiled by racial inclusiveness and feminist harpies, represented in the film by the Manson Family.
Quote:“Tarantino’s most personal film, and that may well be true – it’s far more revealing about Tarantino than about Hollywood itself, and his vision of the times in question turns out to be obscenely regressive… Tarantino delivers a ridiculously white movie, complete with a nasty dose of white resentment,” Richard Brody in the New Yorker.
Actually… What if there is nothing wrong with masculinity, as it is played by Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio? Or with male friendship? Or nostalgia? As for hippies, their culture is a dramatically interesting intrusion into the lives of the two central characters struggling with their own self-doubt of incipient middle age, something Tarantino has spoken about himself. But most of all, they are the pantomime villains of this particular story, a caricature of the caricature of hippie values that was the Manson Family in real life.
Endorses violence against women
Charge: Tarantino “fetishizes” violence against women perpetrated by men, and thus legitimizes real-life physical abuse. Those countering that everyone gets punched in the face – or worse – in ‘Once Upon a Time’ apparently “fail to acknowledge how violence against women is much more freighted than violence against men,” as women supposedly get murdered BECAUSE they are women, while the much more numerous violent male deaths are entirely unconnected with their gender.
Quote: “The brutality exacted on the women is straight-up shocking, and I say this as someone with an iron stomach for cinematic carnage. I’m highly suspicious of Tarantino’s motivation here,” Jezebel.
Actually… Well, the villains didn’t get killed because of their gender. They got killed because they were villains. And this being Tarantino, their deaths were delivered in the most graphic, shocking, and catharsis-inducing ways. The members of the Manson Family dispatched of by Pitt and DiCaprio – two women and a man – were the same ones who were involved in the Cielo Drive murders on August 9, 1969.
One more thing… If Tarantino had shown what happened in real life – a tied-up Tate pleading with the killers to spare her unborn baby, before being stabbed 16 times while the fetus inside her suffocated, would that have been more acceptable?
By Igor Ogorodnev
Igor Ogorodnev is a Russian-British journalist, who has worked at RT since 2007 as a correspondent, editor and writer.