Friday, February 9, 2018

The Tarantino Problem

What a week to be an outspoken fan of Quentin Tarantino and an outspoken feminist.

Uma Thurman's interview with The New York Times was a gut churning read, that filled me with mixed emotions. More than anything, recognizing Thurman's own mixed emotions and pain left me sitting with a rock in my stomach. There was a lot of debate around that interview, and I stayed out of most of it precisely because I didn't know what I really thought or felt. After Tarantino gave Thurman the video footage she wanted, and she said he had "Courage" and she was proud of him, it might have been the end of it. If her issues with him are resolved, who am I to carry a grudge?

Unfortunately, before I read the news item outlining Tarantino's statements on Thurman's interview and her response, I read the one that contained audio from a 2003 Howard Stern interview where he claimed that Roman Polanski wasn't really a rapist, and that the 13 year old girl at the center of Polanki's case had "wanted it."

When I read it, I truly couldn't think of anything to say.

I'm not naive. I went through my teens and early twenties like a lot of people did - with "heroes" and putting people I admired on a pedestal. One by one, they disappointed me. Worse, sometimes they didn't disappoint me, so much as I grew and learned, and looked back to be disappointed in myself. So by now, I don't have celebrity heroes (except maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg), so it surprised me to feel so crushed.

Samantha Geimer, the now grown woman Tarantino was commenting on, came forward to say he was wrong, that she'd "feel better" if he realized that, and then asked that no one be outraged on her behalf. Tarantino apologized, apparently both in a private call with Geimer and in a public statement.

Here's the thing - I still don't know how I feel. Far be it from me to assume Tarantino is the same man he was fifteen years ago, if he says differently. I don't know him, but I do know that I was a worse person fifteen years ago than I am now. The problem I am having, the one that's making this all so difficult to parse, is, I have to pair the comments he made fifteen years ago and the way he interacted with Thurman fifteen years ago, with his earliest statement on the Weinstein controversy, where he owns the fact that he knew Weinstein was a predator but didn't take any action.

At the heart of all the items combining to make a bigger controversy is a rich and powerful man, who didn't trust the women around him and/or didn't feel the women around him were worth as much as his career and success (or in the case of Geimer, the career and success of a director he admired).

What I want to do is respect Geimer's wishes, and not be outraged on her behalf. I am sure that after forty-years of people supporting, criticizing, and debating Polanksi she's had enough. I think it's important to respect victims, and she's made it clear more than once that, like many sexual assault victims, she just wants this whole thing to be over. The tragedy is that it has gone on so long, with no end in sight.

I also want to remain true to my own principles.

And I want to be honest and clear about how Tarantino's art has influenced and inspired me.

The problem is I don't think I can do all three at once.

Do good people ignore accusations of sexual abuse? Yes, they absolutely do. I know many people reading this will say that's a deal breaker, only a terrible person would do that. But I know, from my own experience, from the stories I have heard from many women, that it happens all the time. One of the best men I ever knew, who sacrificed for others and always went the extra mile to care for those in need - that man sent me to work alone with a known predator. I can't talk to him now and ask why. I have theories, some which paint him in a better light and some which paint him in a terrible light - but it doesn't change the fact that in every single instance but one, he was a good person.

I am not arguing that Tarantino is a good person. I don't know him, and based on his interviews over the years, even without the recent controversy, I don't think we'd get along. I am not even arguing that the man I mention above deserves forgiveness for his role in my assault. I'm just saying - it's complicated.

I have participated in victim blaming. I can think of two instances. They both fill me with deep shame. I didn't know what I know now, I had a great deal of learning and unlearning to do. If someone were to say that the way I spoke/behaved then reflected who I am now, I would be heartbroken. I cannot take back the damage caused by not believing the people who were mistreated, or asking questions/making statements I now recognize as awful ("But you let him in your room..." "But you were BOTH drinking..."), but I can grow and learn. I can do better.

Does that absolve me of the damage I caused? I don't know. Probably not.

So back to Tarantino... was he a good, or at least half decent man who now feels deep regret for not listening to Mira Sorvino, Uma Thurman, and others? Does his apology to Samantha Geimer, his acknowledgment of wrong doing, and harm caused, change my feelings about the statements he made?

Fuck, I don't know.

Like I said, I'm balancing three desires here. I want to respect Geimer's wishes not to be outraged for her. And Thurman seemed to accept Tarantino's apology, too. I want to respect my own principles which tell me that rich, powerful men get away with too much, and we have to put our foot down. I want to recognize and honor the influences in my life.

No matter what happens, the influence of Tarantino's films is never going to leave my work. It's never going to disappear from the story of my creative life. There will always be that moment when I watched From Dusk Till Dawn and felt lit up with the possibilities of story telling. There will always be the hundreds of viewings of Reservoir Dogs where I picked apart and analyzed everything I could. There will always be the friendships formed over a mutual appreciation for film, and Tarantino's films specifically. There will always be the memories of watching these movies with my dad - one of the few things we were able to do together and truly enjoy, toward the end of his life.

Separate the art from the artist? Not sure I can. But I can't separate myself from the art, either. That's what this all really comes down to. I don't know Tarantino as a person, I can't decide if he's grown and changed, if he's learned from all his mistakes and has resolved to be a better man. If he says as much, I still won't know, because people lie and make half assed pronouncements all the time. But I know the effect the films he's made have had on me as a creator, and as a person. So I think I am doomed to be conflicted for a long time.

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