Quentin Tarantino Makes His Films With No Apologies…To Anyone
As a director, Quentin Tarantino has contributed timeless films, most of which are considered cult classics. Movies like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction have carved indelible marks into popular culture while Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained have taken a more mainstream, Academy-Award nomination route. What they all have in common, however, is criticism. And, like all directors, Quentin Tarantino has embraced and even criticized his criticizers. Most famously, his use of the n-word is, to many, egregiously offensive and while he is hardly the only White filmmaker to take on the storylines of Black history, he may be the most famous and outspoken. And now two recent publications are re-igniting a conversation about cultural appropriation versus creative license in the real-life drama that is Tarantino.
In a recent interview for the New York Times Style Magazine, Tarantino spent time with Brett Easton Ellis, the novelist best known for his 1991 novel American Psycho. In “The Gonzo Vision of Quentin Tarantino,” Ellis immediately draws a comparison between the enigmatic director and Hunter S. Thompson, the visionary writer for whom Gonzo journalism is named (some of Gonzo’s defining characteristics include satire and social critique). While published in part as a promotional tool for Tarantino’s upcoming film, The Hateful Eight, the feature also touches upon the sometimes contentious debate about whether or not a White filmmaker should be criticized for writing dialogue that includes frequent use of racial slurs (particularly when involving Black actors). Ellis quotes Tarantino as saying “‘If you’ve made money being a critic in Black culture in the last 20 years you have to deal with me…you’ll see it’s pretty evenly divided between pros and cons. But when the Black critics came out with savage think pieces about Django, I couldn’t have cared less. If people don’t like my movies, they don’t like my movies, and if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter. The bad taste that was left in my mouth had to do with this: It’s been a long time since the subject of a writer’s skin was mentioned as often as mine.”
Those words may or may not have inspired an op-ed published on Salon this morning. Written by Desiree Bowie, the piece is titled “It’s not easy being a Black Tarantino fan: He wants to be treated like a Black filmmaker — and doesn’t get why that’s impossible.” In it, Bowie both lovingly and cautiously describes her affinity for Tarantino’s films, sharing that she’s been a fan of his for nearly two decades. She writes, “Tarantino went to battle against critics who opposed his excessive use of the n-word in nearly every movie he directed. He combated and shot back—it was war for him. Sometimes, his response included cringe-worthy sentiments, but even at a young age I attributed these thoughts to the fact that he was a white man in a power position who sees things from a privileged scope.” To further her support of his creative license, she compares him to another filmmaker whose films are equally – if not more – championed as being some of cinema’s greatest achievements:
I don’t cringe when n-bombs get dropped in his movies because I feel as though I do understand his intentions. I can’t say the same of Martin Scorsese, another controversial iconic filmmaker who likes to evoke the n-word in so many of his films. When Scorsese’s characters drop their copious n-bombs, it stings and I judge him for it. I understand his rationale but for me, his usage doesn’t serve the story, it takes me out of it. Tarantino’s characters live in a world veiled in brutal fairytale-like whimsy, where a Black person can be a hero in a world that uses the n-word. While in Scorsese’s cinematic universe the n-word is dropped constantly and Black people barely exist; they certainly aren’t the hero or even a featured player.
Bowie goes on to mention Django, in which the n-word is said over 100 times. At the time of the film’s release, there were many who had a justifiably negative response to such dialogue. For Bowie, the film was “a story of love and revenge, which also happens to be set in a time of horrific adversity.” She brings the conversation full circle by mentioning the Times interview, which she describes with the following “It was the same song he’s been singing forever. He’s a talented, egotistical, eccentric, successful Hollywood director who rebukes any and all criticism.” However, she ends her article with a more positive sentiment: “Quentin Tarantino is the first artist that made me realize that I needed to learn how to separate the art from the artist, and I thank him for that and for his execution and vision of the cinema that I love. The truth is, a lot of our faves are ultra-problematic — some are even criminals. It’s up to fans in the audience to decide if we can enjoy their art despite their real-life actions.”
In recent months, celebrities including Bill Cosby, Dr. Dre, and Cee Lo Green have all come under fire for alleged misconduct, which speaks to Ms. Bowie’s closing argument. Many of history’s most creative luminaries also suffered from the fatal flaw that plagues us all, and that is being human. When discussing art, the line between political correctness and creative license gets blurry at best and the ensuing landscape is ripe for disagreements amongst us all. How do we separate the art from the artist, and is that even possible? Are those who refuse to apologize for their creations heroic or short-sighted? Is Quentin Tarantino trying too hard, or just keeping it real?