Quentin Tarantino isn’t known for his cuddly demeanour. Nor is he known for his patience, or level-headedness, or even sanity. The man, to put it bluntly, is a bit of a loose cannon.
This chaotic energy has served him well throughout his career, allowing the filmmaker to write and direct some of the most scintillating and provocative cinematic works of the last 20 years. But Tarantino’s career – with which he has established himself as one of America’s most popular auteurs – hasn’t been without controversy. This is a man who, in order to punish actors sleeping on the set of Inglorious Basterds, would take their portraits alongside a giant purple dildo called Gerry and pin them up on a wall. It’s not as though he’s frightened of shocking people.
While Gerry’s presence on the set of his 2009 film was treated fairly casually, Tarantino has, in recent years, been accused of stepping over the line a number of times. Take the occasion that he strangled Diane Kruger to get an authentic shot of her slowly slipping into unconsciousness. Then there’s the time he asked Uma Therman to drive an unsafe car, a decision that led to a car crash and which Tarantino himself has described as the “biggest regret of his life”. Indeed, his most recent work, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, provoked considerable unease due to its gruesome depiction of the murder of Sharon Tate, among others, by the Manson family in 1969. This fascination with violence against women, in retrospect, has proven to be a worrying focus of many of his movies.
Tarantino has also been accused of incorporating too many racial slurs into his scripts, especially that of his 2012 film Django Unchained. After Tarantino was criticised for this excess, the director’s long-time collaborator, Samuel L. Jackson, stepped in to defend him, calling out the industry for accepting the language in a film like 12 Years a Slave and not in a film like Django. Tarantino’s unflinching approach to the Django script bled into principal photography as well, leading to the director giving the film’s lead some brutally honest notes in the early days of shooting. As Jamie Foxx – who played the titular Django – recalled during an interview with Howard Stern: “I was just getting to learn Quentin Tarantino, so he was, again, a tyrant,” Foxx began.
“He was like ‘do not fuck my film up,'” Foxx continued, “But that’s what you want. You want a director who even if you’re going off the cliff, you know you’re going off the fucking cliff. On the first day of rehearsal, I’m reading my lines lie [hums] and he said cut and closed the door and was like ‘umm, what the fuck was that?’ I said ‘what do you mean?’ He said ‘I knew I was gonna have this problem. Listen, all of this shit – you have to be a fucking slave. He’s a slave. He’s not cool, he’s a fucking slave. He doesn’t know how to read. You come in with your fucking Louis [Vuitton] bag and your fucking range rover and you’re just like ‘I’m so fucking cool’. Well, you’re not Jim Brown, he’s a fucking slave and then he becomes the hero. But lose that shit first.'”
Following Foxx’s uncanny impersonation of Tarantino, Stern seemed unsure of how to react: “Would you work with Quentin Tarantino again?'” Stern asked: “A thousand times,” he replied. Foxx’s comfortability with both Tarantino’s use of slurs and his directorial style put him in the position of having to reassure some of his less-enthusiastic co-stars. As he recalled: “Leonardo Dicaprio had a problem saying the word n***. He said, ‘It’s tough for me to say this.’ I remember Samuel L. Jackson going, ‘Get over it motherfucker. It’s just another Tuesday motherfucker.’ I said, ‘Leo we are not friends. This is your property, these aren’t humans. This is your property.’ When Leo came in the next day, he didn’t speak [to me]”.
The support of actors such as Foxx and Jackson have allowed Tarantino to avoid the full force of public criticism, but who knows how long it will last. Since the emergence of the #MeToo movement, Tarantino has gone under significant reappraisal, not only for his voyeuristic depictions of violence against women but also for his brutal directorial style. In this way, directors like Tarantino are a dying breed. Many of his techniques are no longer accepted as an essential part of the creative process, so it’s hard to say how long the industry will continue to grant him immunity from an increasingly socially conscious media.