|Some of us told y'all to watch ya boy.|
So many folks are through with Quentin Tarantino over his vile behavior toward Uma Thurman on the set of Kill Bill. There is no more separating the art from the artist. That's the line, and you crossed it, dawg. If that's you, well then, get over here! Come sit with those of us who were done after we heard the dialogue in Reservoir Dogs about Madonna fucking niggers and therefore soiling herself too much to be of any use to a real man, read WHITE MAN. My own personal being-done-with-his-assness was reinforced when I was sitting in a darkened theater, giving him another chance, just to hear "Do I look like dead nigger storage?" Almost as if Tarantino could anticipate those of us in the theater looking at one-another, silently mouthing "da hell??," he delivers the line again, insisting the powerful Jules answer him, and likely informing those of us in the audience we heard him right. Samuel L. is directed to have his blackness on ten—all the way up—until Tarantino's no-acting ass deflates Jules, rendering him into a slew-footed, shuffling, deferent living nigger to the offending dead-niggers with which he continually inconveniences Tarantino's Jimmie.
The manner in which Pulp Fiction builds up Jules into a supernaturally frightening force for retribution, just to be humiliated and emasculated by a character played by the director himself is some serious hand-tipping on the part of its creator. This is before the other supernaturally vengeful Negro Marcellus is literally emasculated a few frames later. Why does Ving Rhames's Marcellus end his pursuit of Bruce Willis' Butch? On the unspoken trade that he'll keep silent about Marcellus's anal rape. His dogged determination to destroy Butch for double-crossing him is completely dissipated by the threat of everyone finding out he took it up the rear-end from another man and had to be saved by a white man he just so happens to own. Tarantino lives for putting black men in their place in the most viscerally-humiliating ways. His black women are layered, nuanced, complicated, beautiful, and deadly if pushed too far. Generally, deadly for black men. Perhaps he doesn't appear in the cast of Jackie Brown and Kill Bill because they're his proxies. I dunno. That's too hefty an analysis for writing no one asked me for.
When a director casts himself in a small but significant role, it's a statement about the consciousness the filmmaker intends to impart. M. Night Shyamalan casts himself in moments where he wants to hand us the twist before we arrive at it on our own, obviously to reinforce he's smarter than his audience, therefore we should trust him and relax. Tarantino casts himself when his black characters need to be deflated and revealed as weaker than white men. Me, I knew when Phil LaMarr's Marvin appeared what to expect. The guy's speech and mannerisms were far too white socially normative for it not to be some statement by the guy who wrote a debate about interracial relationships and white purity into the first ten minutes of his debut feature film. A debate that was a complete and total non-sequitur to the overall proceedings. Once the well-spoken, chill, affable, harmless Marvin is flat-blasted by Jules, that caricature of black virility complete with outdated Jheri curl, it's up to Quentin Tarantino himself to bring Jules to heel. I don't want to hear shit about Orson Welles casting himself instead of Joseph Cotton in "Touch of Evil," if you abide that nonsense.
Plenty of journalists made a living unpacking and assessing Tarantino's apparent anti-blackness, equally lambasting and defending his bigoted bullshit. Some of these defenders are black, in the case of Desiree Bowie, who, in a 2015 Salon piece titled (in part) "It’s not easy being a black Tarantino fan," wrote:
But I appreciated his films as much as I disagreed with his opinions. I never viewed Tarantino’s movies as anti-Black or grossly exploitative. To be honest, I don’t cringe when n-bombs get dropped in his movies because I feel as though I do understand his intentions.Bowie musters the ability to compartmentalize Tarantino's anti-blackness because it's chiefly directed at black men and, when contrasted against his mature and admiring portrayals of black women onscreen, it's obvious his issue isn't with black folk, per say. I haven't been able to find an update from her about Tarantino's off-screen personal and professional misogyny, bullying and abuse. I looked.
That same year, Nicole Silverberg's piece in GQ titled "Maybe Skip What Quentin Tarantino Said to The New York Times" parsed all the ways QT plays himself out in bold-headed paragraphs such as 'TV is shit,' 'Tarantino is a Culture Savior,' and 'Backlash from black critics is annoying and doesn't matter.' Under that last tidbit, she writes:
"Though I'm sure Ellis would despair at my use of that word as part of the "language policing" he so detests, the truth is that Tarantino is coming just one step short of crying "reverse racism." He's doing the equivalent of "but why can't I say the n-word?" except that, oh wait, Tarantino has his characters say it 110 times in Django Unchained. Tarantino is saying, "Well, if I end up making movies that only white people enjoy, oh well!" and that sucks."Sucks to be sure, and thanks for bringing that up, but why skip what he said? Why do we skip evidence he's that dude? Why do we forgive his anti-blackness to uphold his genius? Why doesn't the quality that compels his fans and admirers to shrug off the ways he uses his films and platform to arrest and antagonize black folk and excoriate his limited view of blackness not help him achieve exoneration over his abuse of Uma Thurman? I haven't been able to find anything from Silverberg covering this new flap against Tarantino. The indictment should most certainly stick. Physical harm, intimidation, and abuse of the trust she gave him is nothing short of dehumanization. I just wasn't the least bit surprised. I'm also not surprised many of his defenders and apologizers aren't writing follow-ups.
Tarantino's resentful bigotry and anti-blackness played out for all to see. Doubled and tripled down upon in all his interviews. Its pathologies played out on screen and in print to much acclaim. Once Uma Thurman finally told the truth about his vile behavior, folks are shocked. Betrayed, even. But why? He kicked your neighbor, right in front of you. Time and again, he tipped his hand to his urge to dehumanize and marginalize others. There wasn't a black man in Pulp Fiction that wasn't broken by him. Why would he spare Uma? Sorry, but oh yes it is the very same thing. It is not a different problem. It's the underbelly to the overall problem, akin to the extreme metaphor of serial killer Jeffery Dahmer, who trapped and mutilated small animals as he worked his way up to trapping and mutilating small humans. In this case, Dahmer's small animals are the fictional black men Tarantino created just to torture and humiliate. Seems like he was working his way up to torturing and humiliating an actual human, who is blonde and beautiful and powerful and kick-ass. Just like Madonna, who had absolutely nothing to do with the plot of Reservoir Dogs, but an ad-libbed debate about her making love with Big Daddy Kane somehow made its way into that modern classic.
Perhaps now I don't have to walk out of the bar when peers bring up Tarantino's brilliance at the next writing conference. Perhaps we finally understand the folly of deferring exemplified bigotry as a problem that doesn't affect everyone. I mean, sure one can, but when we learn about the Uma Thurmans, we wonder why and how.
Then someone like me, for whom his blackness is a mounting inconvenience to his peers, points out the Madonna debate in Reservoir Dogs gave us every indication what QT holds in his psyche for blonde white women of personal power and self-determination.
Those of us who refuse to resolve and excuse his bigotry in order to enjoy the zeitgeist-influencing pop culture moments of his films weren't surprised at his misogyny and abuse. Bigotry isn't a personality quirk. It's an indicator of the risk of deeper depravity. Perhaps we're all finding a way to come to terms with the truth that separating the art from the artist sets us up for these letdowns. We ignored, excused, and justified his abject racism, eventually praising him for his uncompromising insistence upon doing what he wanted. We watched his depictions of black Americans and listened as he told us to go to hell if we don't like it. If you weren't black, it wasn't your problem. If you were black, but you loved being in with the in-crowd, you subordinated your problem and went to see those films anyhow. Maybe even wrote about them. As a result, he became more popular, and more powerful, eventually leading to his injustice against Uma Thurman. In fact, I find it completely upends the image of women's empowerment she worked so hard to give us. I can't think of The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo without thinking of what happened behind the scenes. It undercuts the value of the portrayal when the performance was wrenched from someone rendered so powerless.
I wonder if now I won't have to find a way to slink off to other environs when conversations turn to Quentin Tarantino at this year's crime fiction conferences. I'll save that energy for when I have to dart away as James Ellroy's shit is laughed off and explained away as lunacy and LA Confidential is upheld as a hallmark of modern film noir. Where I'm from, bring it up and you'll get "Oh, you mean that flick where they put the gun in the young black man's mouth like he's sucking on something big and black in order to get him to confess to a crime? That one where the brothas are in a cell crying and begging for mercy so the white LA cops can get a jones? Dood from Gladiator was in it back when he wasn't fat? Naw, I ain't watchin' that shit."