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Tarantino: Understand The Main Controversies Surrounding One Of The Most Acclaimed Contemporary Directors

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

You don’t have to be born in the 90s or even earlier, or be an assiduous lover of the seventh art to know Quentin Tarantino’s work. Possessing his own unique style, Tarantino transports us in each film to a particular universe with fast and striking dialogues, violence, morbid humor and, as a trademark, many liters of blood. And if you still think you don’t know anything related to the director’s works, I suggest researching the origins of the confused actor John Travolta’s GIF.

Known for being the brains behind several modern classics like “Reservoir Dogs”, “Pulp Fiction” and “Inglourious Basterds”, Tarantino has also become one of the most controversial figures in Hollywood throughout his career. Let’s understand why.

Bruce Lee’s controversial portrayal in “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood”:

The director’s latest film “Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood”, released in 2019, garnered a lot of positive reviews by portraying, in its most mature form, his love for the seventh art. However, in a scene when portraying Bruce Lee – an actor recognized for his skills in martial arts – as an arrogant person, he displeased part of the public and, mainly, Shannon Lee, the actor’s daughter.

Shannon was not outrageous in her speech to the director and said that she understands his motives, but that didn’t stop her from feeling uncomfortable hearing people laugh at her father at the movies. “He looks like an arrogant, flamboyant idiot. And not like someone who had to fight three times harder than any of those people, to get what for some came naturally… I can understand the reasons behind what was portrayed in the movie… But they didn’t have to treat him the way white Hollywood treated him when he was alive.”, Lee explained.

Tarantino responded to the controversy, saying that he read studies and biographies to get to know the actor, as well as having creative freedom when portraying Bruce, as it is a fictional portrait. However, the incident reached Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former NBA star, who came to Shannon’s defense, explaining why the portrait is considered racist. “What bothers me [is] Tarantino chose to portray Bruce in such a one-dimensional way. The macho attitude of Cliff (Brad Pitt) John Wayne style, an older stuntman who defeats this arrogant Chinese man, echoes the various stereotypes Bruce was in trying to take apart. Of course the white blond American heartthrob can smack his asian chic guy ’cause that foreign shit doesn’t rule here.”, says Jabbar.

The Controversial Friendship With Harvey Weinstein:

Tarantino and Weinstein are a duo that, cinematically, has resulted in many hits. Harvey was already present from the director’s first feature movie, “Reservoir Dogs” as a producer, to “The Hateful Eight”, the eighth movie of Tarantino’s “official filmography”. On the 5th of October 2017 The New York Times published a large detailed investigation, including allegations of harassment and sexual abuse against Weinstein for three decades. Soon after, several public accusations began to emerge denouncing the producer for harassment of actresses such as Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino. Month after month, more charges were added to the case, until in March 2020 Harvey was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

In an interview published by The New York Times, Tarantino admitted that he had known for decades that Weinstein was sexually abusive and confessed to feeling ashamed that he did nothing about it. “I knew enough to have done more than I did… What I did marginalized the incidents. Anything I say now will sound like a cheap excuse.”, said the director. Last year, in an interview with the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Quentin says he wanted to talk to Harvey and highlight the seriousness of his actions, as he considered him a father figure, in addition to saying that everyone around the producer knew about his behavior.

Quentin Tarantino vs Spike Lee:

Two north american directors responsible for revolutionizing independent movies in the 90’s. While Spike Lee deconstructs the stereotype portrayed in cinema about minorities, Quentin Tarantino created renewing scripts and used violence as a “trademark”. Since Lee criticized “Jackie Brown” (1997) – mainly for the excessive use of the ‘N’ word by the writer-director -, Tarantino’s feature movie which explores blaxploitation (a cinematic genre from the 70’s that brought black protagonists full of personality and attitudes), at the time of its release, the two directors were never able to understand each other.

The most recent affair between the two was with the movie “Django Unchained” (2012), also by Quentin, which chronicles the alliance between the bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz and former slave Django. Interviewed by Vibe Magazine, Lee said “I can’t comment further because I won’t be watching the movie. All I can say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. But that’s me… I’m not speaking for anyone else. America was not Sergio Leone’s spaghetti western, but a holocaust. My ancestors were slaves, stolen from Africa. I will honor them.”.

Comment on the case of Roman Polanski:

It is undeniable the importance that director, screenwriter and producer Roman Polanski has in the history of cinema, for delivering classics such as “The Pianist”, “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby”. However, 1977 was an impactful year for his career: the director admitted to having raped the young Samantha Geimer, when she was a teenager of 13 years old. This case is very controversial and delicate, but it shook the movie industry for involving Polanski. He left the United States in the year of the incident to live in France, where he lives to this day.

Tarantino became involved in this event because, in 2003, he conducted an interview on “The Howard Stern Show” and defended the director and friend of the prosecution. “He did not rape a 13-year-old. He had sex with a minor. It’s not rape. For me, when you use the word rape, you’re talking about violence, throwing people to the ground. Rape is a violent crime, one of the most violent types of crime in the world. You can’t go around throwing the word rape like that.”, said Tarantino at the time.

Fifteen years later, the director publicly apologized in a statement for defending Polanski and not taking Geimer’s feelings into consideration. “Fifteen years later, I realized how wrong I was. Ms. Geimer was raped by Roman Polanski. When Howard brought in Polanski, I mistakenly played devil’s advocate in the debate for being provocative.”, Quentin wrote.


The article above was edited by Larissa Mariano.

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Marina Olim

Casper Libero '25

18y Journalism – Cásper Líbero coffe & books "Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of hurting and healing" – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowlling