In general, Hollywood doesn’t do accountability. It’s simply not built for it. Executives fail upward. Producers get away with being vile human beings. And some actors literally get away with murder, allegedly at least. The only thing you’re accountable for is to continue making money. The moment you cease to be of use to that most ultimate of goals is the moment your tolerated behaviors, forgiven errors in judgment, and general dickishness finally becomes grounds for dismissal. Even then, if you’ve at least made money in the past there’ll always be some financier or emerging market you can trick into parting with their money.
That’s why this is an industry that can alternate between hearing Quentin Tarantino admit he knew about Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and did next to nothing, even when it directly affected his girlfriend of the time, to lining right up to kiss his ass and meet his insane demands to distribute his next movie, an exploitation take on the Manson Family murders (which sounds like an astonishingly misguided marriage of director and material). However, thanks to Uma Thurman Tarantino might finally be held accountable.
Actually, it’s too early to say, and it’s debatable what he’s even accountable for.
Thurman alleges in a new interview that Tarantino forced her to perform an incredibly unsafe Kill Bill stunt which almost left her paralyzed. She even has the video evidence to back it up. Beyond that, he apparently attempted to suppress the footage and story for years to shield himself and his producer Harvey Weinstein from liability charges.
Tarantino somehow made it through the Weinstein scandal with the best distribution deal of his career. Thurman’s just letting Sony know what kind of person they just got into business with.
Let’s back up.
Like seemingly everything else in the blitzkrieg news cycle of the ongoing culture wars, the Harvey Weinstein story seems like it broke so, so long ago. It didn’t. It was just four months ago, which, I know, is like a million Trump tweets ago. Weinstein has since been joined by the likes of Kevin Spacey and John Lasseter as high-profile names buried under the weight of Hollywood (and wider society’s) long overdue reckoning. Forgotten since then is exactly what Harvey was doing just two weeks before Ronan Farrow and The New York Times took him down: He was toasting Tarantino at a star-studded engagement party.
The Weinstein-Tarantino relationship goes back over a quarter of a century, starting when Miramax picked up Reservoir Dogs at the Sundance Film Festival. Since then, a Weinstein-owned company has distributed or co-distributed every single Tarantino film, and the famously belligerent producer and motor-mouthed director grew to feel more like father and son (even though they’re only 13 years apart in age) than mere collaborators.
So, when Tarantino proposed to Daniella Sick, an Israeli singer two decades his junior, of course, Harvey went all out in throwing a party for the pair. The ritzy New York venue Socialista, which counts Harvey among its investors, was rented out for a Saturday night. All of Tarantino’s famous friends – Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Diane Kruger, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, and, yes, even Uma Thurman – were in attendance, watching as Harvey and his brother Bob toasted the couple and lavished them with gifts. According to PageSix, one of the gifts was “a Leica 35mm camera with an engraved case reading ‘Mr. And Mrs. Tarantino’ with plenty of 35mm film to capture their happy moments together.”
Those happy moments didn’t last long, not when they were meant to be recorded with a camera gifted to them by a father-like figure who was revealed shortly thereafter to be a monster. Once Harvey’s heinous misdeeds were made public, Tarantino was forced to answer the “what did you know and when did you know it” question. His answer was stunning, telling The New York Times he’d known of Harvey’s abuse as far back as 1995 when his girlfriend of the time, Mira Sorvino, confided in him that shortly before they started dating Harvey had unwantedly massaged her and chased her around a hotel room:
“I was shocked and appalled” back then, Mr. Tarantino said. “I couldn’t believe he would do that so openly. I was like: ‘Really? Really?’ But the thing I thought then, at the time, was that he was particularly hung up on Mira.” She had won accolades for her performance in “Mighty Aphrodite,” and “I thought Harvey was hung up on her in this Svengali kind of way,” Mr. Tarantino said. “Because he was infatuated with her, he horribly crossed the line.”
The solution, in Tarantino’s mind, was to simply exercise his protective role as Mira’s boyfriend, “I’m with her, he knows that, he won’t mess with her, he knows that she’s my girlfriend.”
Years later, when an actress friend informed Tarantino of a similar encounter he confronted Harvey and managed to squeeze a half-hearted apology out of him. However, as the years progressed and similar stories and rumors kept making there way to Tarantino he took no action, chalking Harvey’s behavior up to be the old school actions of a man who grew up in the Mad Men era (which is the exact legal defense Harvey’s lawyer made in the early days of the scandal).
One of Harvey’s targets was Uma Thurman, who suffered the distressingly familiar experience of entering a hotel room meeting with the producer only to soon find herself struggling to fight him off after he emerged in a bathrobe and forced himself on her. When she protested, he threatened to destroy her career, and when she later sought Tarantino’s support she got nothing but years of inaction before Tarantino finally said something to Harvey on her behalf shortly before they started filming Kill Bill. Harvey did apologize, not that it did much to ease Thurman’s suffering.
9 months later, after the Kill Bill stunt went awry Tarantino retreated from Thurman and fought her for 15 years over the footage of the accident, arguing they’d agreed to let it rest even though Thurman never actually had. Instead, she’d been presented with a legal document by Miramax allowing her to view the footage on the condition that she agreed not to sue. She refused to sign and was thus never allowed to see just how dangerous the stunt looked on camera. According to the Times, Tarantino only recently released the footage to her after she finally turned her case over to the cops.
“When [Quentin and Harvey] turned on me after the accident,” Thurman told the Times, “I went from being a creative contributor and performer to being like a broken tool.”
Similar to the James Franco story, this is all coming out after Tarantino had held himself up as being a committed supporter of #MeToo and #TimesUp. In his Times interview last October, he argued that by admitting he “knew enough to do more than he did” he was setting the example for other men in the industry: “I’m calling on the other guys who knew more to not be scared. Don’t just give out statements. Acknowledge that there was something rotten in Denmark. Vow to do better by our sisters.”
Noble, but maybe a bit much coming from the guy who once said that by making Django Unchained he’d solved racism (or at least ended the need to ever again make a movie about racism) and whose history of violence against women in his films has always served as a lighting rod for controversy (the pro-Tarantino audience arguing his films usually contain an unmistakable element of female empowerment in the end, the anti-Tarantino crowd arguing misogyny).
In fact, Tarantino’s arguably one of the earliest individual beneficiaries of #MeToo. His Manson movie had been set up at The Weinstein Co., but the studio was undergoing financial difficulties well before the allegations against Harvey were made public. Once they did and both Harvey (for his crimes) and Bob (for his suspect reaction) were destroyed, The Weinstein Co. practically put up the “For Sale” sign the next day, effectively killing development on any new productions. That put Tarantino on the market as a free agent for the first time in his career, and the harsh, bottom-line reality of Hollywood was on full display:
In October, Tarantino stepped to the mic, hat in hand, and apologized for his complicity in Harvey’s abuse. A month later, every damn studio in town was fighting to be home to his next movie, which had Margot Robbie and Leonardo DiCaprio officially attached along with possible roles for Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, and, of course, Samuel L. Jackson. Once the studio suits read the script and learned of Tarantino’s demands – a guaranteed budget of $100m, final cut, and a significant take of the first-dollar gross, which almost no one in Hollywood ever gets, not now, not ever – the contest boiled down to Sony, Warner Bros., and Paramount.
Variety detailed the lengths the competitors went to win Tarantino’s hand:
Warners: “When Tarantino arrived at the studio’s Burbank lot, he found the circular entrance in front of the administration building adorned with cars from the late 1960s. The Warner Bros. logo circa 1969 was on the marquee outside the studio, and the executive conference room was outfitted with vintage furniture from the era and mock posters for the movie. Much of Tarantino’s film unfolds in August of 1969, a time when Manson’s commune of followers murdered actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends.”
Sony: “Cooked up a multimedia presentation discussing how it would handle the release of the film, as well highlighting what it saw as its competitive advantages. Studio chief Tom Rothman used his time in front of Tarantino to talk up Sony’s marketing team and to take the director through the efforts that the company has made in recent years to bolster its international distribution. He emphasized that Sony could help the film succeed at the domestic box office, as well as internationally. Rothman was flanked by the studio’s senior staff, including Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch.”
Variety failed to say what exactly Paramount did, but whatever it was must have worked on some level. Sony ultimately won the rights to the Manson film, but Paramount separately got into bed with Tarantino on a potential R-Rated Star Trek reboot. According to THR, it’s not known exactly how much Sony paid to secure the worldwide rights to the Manson film, but it’s enough that it will have to gross $375m worldwide to break even. Incidentally, only one Tarantino movie has ever made that much, 2012’s Django Unchained, which grossed $425m and was actually a Sony/Weinstein Co. co-production.
This ego-stroke on the part of the studios happened because Tarantino is one of the few directors whose name alone is its own blockbuster box office brand. It’s pretty much just him and Christopher Nolan now, and even though Hateful Eight disappointed ($154m worldwide on a $44m budget) the combination of Tarantino and that cast for a Charles Manson movie was too much to pass up. So what if Tarantino could have done more to stop Weinstein? So could a lot of people. Look, he said he’s sorry, and if it’s really such a big deal Robbie and DiCaprio wouldn’t be falling over themselves to work with him.
Or so the studios must have been thinking.
What happens now, though? If true, does Thurman’s story change things? As Variety argued, “Seen against the backdrop of #MeToo, against the pileup of accusations and a landscape that’s shifted, overnight, to a policy of zero tolerance, the Kill Bill incident looks, perhaps, like a second cousin of harassment: the cold exploitation of talent by those who surely knew better.”
However, Tarantino hasn’t been accused of assault or harassment, and in his Times interview, he admitted he knew enough to do more than he did but also that he had no real sense of the extent of Weinstein’s abuse. He has yet to comment on Thurman’s accusations, which paint him as actively engaging in a 15-year cover-up of a workplace accident. In a different era, people actually died on a John Landis set, and he kept making movies for years, albeit after he’d been found innocent of involuntary manslaughter in court. What should Tarantino’s punishment be, and depending on how this plays out in the court of public opinion how long will his high profile Manson movie actors stick with him?
Because, right now, it’s not looking so good:
Who wants to watch him murder Sharon Tate on screen now? Frankly, I didn’t want to see that before any of this. Now, well, his inevitable response to this Times story better be good.