For years, Quentin Tarantino has been talking up his 10-film retirement plan. His upcoming 2019 movie, set against the backdrop of the Manson family murders, would make it nine, which means the follow-up would be the 10th and final film of the mercurial director’s illustrious career. But after a week of controversy over his on-set behavior toward women, as well as comments he made in a 2003 interview, could Tarantino be looking at an early retirement?
The firestorm was first lit over the weekend when the New York Times published an interview with Uma Thurman in which she alleged that Tarantino had repeatedly mistreated her on the set of Kill Bill. According to Thurman, Tarantino persuaded her to drive a stunt car after she was told that it was unsafe. “He was furious because I’d cost them a lot of time,” Thurman said. “But I was scared. He said: ‘I promise you the car is fine. It’s a straight piece of road.’” In an accompanying video, Thurman can be seen driving the car into a tree and emerging visibly shaken from the violent collision. Thurman also recalled Tarantino spitting in her face and strangling her with a chain on set.
To make matters worse, Tarantino’s behavior unfolded with the specter of Kill Bill’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, looming over the entire production. Thurman also told the Times that she experienced sexual assault at the hands of Weinstein, and that she told Tarantino this prior to filming.
In a subsequent interview with Deadline, Tarantino explained that he confronted Weinstein about Thurman. “I made Harvey apologize to Uma,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t believe you. I believe her. And if you want to do Kill Bill, you need to make this right.’” Tarantino also addressed Thurman’s 15-year battle with Miramax to acquire the footage of the accident. According to the director, he had no idea Thurman was trying to obtain the footage, and when he found out, he performed the “herculean task” of getting it to her.
Initially, Thurman told the Times that Tarantino’s efforts were a case of too little, too late. “Quentin finally atoned by giving it to me after 15 years, right?” she said. “Not that it matters now, with my permanently damaged neck and my screwed-up knees.” But on Monday, Thurman’s tone was much more conciliatory, when she took to Instagram and thanked Tarantino for “doing the right thing.”
In the Deadline interview, Tarantino referred to Thurman’s accident as “one of the biggest regrets” of his life, but defended his decision to spit at and strangle her, and cited the same reason he felt the need to choke Diane Kruger on the set of Inglorious Basterds: authenticity. Kruger, for her part, defended the director on Instagram. “I would like to say that my work experience with Quentin Tarantino was pure joy. He treated me with utter respect and never abused his power or forced me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with,” she wrote.
But the damage to Tarantino’s already questionable reputation had been done. Judd Apatow denounced the director on Twitter, writing that “the number one job a producer and director has on a set is to make sure that everyone is safe.” Jessica Chastain echoed Apatow’s sentiments by writing, “Directors inserting themselves into a scene depicting abuse is crossing a boundary. How can an actor feel safe when your director is strangling you?”
We call Tarantino’s reputation questionable because, for years, he’s been dogged by the way he presents violence against women in his films. In her piece detailing Tarantino’s “history of disturbing behavior toward his actresses,” The Daily Beast’s Amy Zimmerman points out that Tarantino’s “taste for portraying violence against women has often been mistaken for feminist filmmaking,” and that “the line between fiction and reality is equally blurred.” Zimmerman writes that just because Tarantino has positioned women at the center of his films, often as agents of violence and vengeance, it doesn’t make him a feminist filmmaker. Not helping his case is the fact that Weinstein once called Tarantino “the most pro-woman ever.”
Tarantino’s last film, The Hateful Eight—which featured a female character (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) who found herself on the brunt end of some particularly brutal violence—was particularly criticized for its depiction of violence against women. “At a certain point, the N-word gives way to the B-word as the dominant hateful epithet, and The Hateful Eight mutates from an exploration of racial animus into an orgy of elaborately justified misogyny,” wrote the New York Times’ A.O. Scott.
Tarantino must have been unfazed about that criticism because his next film, the aforementioned Manson movie, will almost certainly include extreme violence against women. That is, of course, if it ever sees the light of day. If the Uma Thurman controversy hasn’t already put the film in danger, some comments that Tarantino made about Roman Polanski in a 2003 interview with Howard Stern just might.
As Jezebel pointed out earlier this week, Tarantino defended Polanski, who was accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977 when he was 43 years old. “It was statutory rape … He had sex with a minor. That’s not rape. To me, when you use the word rape, you’re talking about violent, throwing them down—it’s like one of the most violent crimes in the world,” Tarantino told Stern, adding that the girl was “down with it.”
Polanski, who was married to actress Sharon Tate at the time of Manson murders, will reportedly play a major role in Tarantino’s as-yet-untitled film. In fact, Tarantino is currently in search of an “authentic Polish thespian” to join Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie. Tom Cruise and Margot Robbie are also said to be circling the project. While there hasn’t been a Hollywood outcry against Tarantino on the same level as the one facing Woody Allen in recent weeks, there’s enough of a simmering backlash to make us wonder if Tarantino’s time as one of the industry’s most outsize directors is finally up.