Quentin Tarantino and Violence Against Women in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Guest post by contributor Frankie Wallace.

A photography of director Quentin Tarantino standing next to actress Margot Robbie. They are standing on the red carpet at Cannes Film Festival. Photograph via Wikimedia, by Joan Hernandez Mir.

Content warning: this post includes conversations about sexual assault and violence. While not explicit, it may not be suitable for all readers. This piece also contains spoilers for the film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Director Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to controversy, as he has been writing and directing violent, R-rated films since the early 1990s. His second feature film, Pulp Fiction, made Tarantino a household name. The film was a critical and commercial success, received the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes that year, and earned Tarantino his first Oscar for screenwriting.

But Pulp Fiction wasn’t (and isn’t, to this day) a film for everyone — and the same sentiment rings true for the director’s ninth feature film. Twenty-five years after the release of his most famous & known piece, Tarantino is making headlines yet again, especially when it comes to violence and misogyny in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, released in U.S. theaters July 26 after premiering at Cannes in May.

For the majority of the film’s hefty run-time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, onscreen violence is virtually non-existent. Its final scene, however, is aggressively violent and features the brutal death of two young women. As the women in question are members of the Manson family, audiences are supposed to have little remorse for the fate of their characters. But that mindset is problematic and essentially serves to normalize violence against women. The issue isn’t solely on Tarantino’s shoulders, however; women are treated as second-class citizens across the entertainment industry as a whole.

Tarantino, Thurman, and the Weinstein Debacle

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s first film since 2005 that isn’t associated with The Weinstein Company. The company’s head honcho, Harvey Weinstein, has seen his career derailed in recent years following numerous allegations of misconduct towards women. The alleged events took place over the course of several decades, yet it took awhile for the entertainment industry to see Weinstein as a perpetrator rather than a respected force in Hollywood.

Tarantino, in fact, initially supported Weinstein when the allegations first came to light. He has since changed his tune, severing ties with The Weinstein Company prior to starting production on Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. To his credit, the director told the New York Times that he regrets not taking action against Weinstein sooner. “I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard,” Tarantino said. “If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.”

Longtime Tarantino collaborator Uma Thurman is one of the most vocal of Weinstein’s accusers. Thurman starred in three Tarantino films, including the aforementioned Pulp Fiction, in which she was the only female cast member with a significant amount of lines and screen time. Thurman has made no secret about her negative feelings towards Weinstein and how Hollywood fails to address sexual assault and discrimination. The actress has also spoken out against human trafficking. According to researchers at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, sexual violence is becoming normalized within the entertainment industry, and that normalization may spawn more instances of human trafficking and violence against women.

Rape Culture in the Entertainment Industry

The problem of looking at women who come forward with stories of sexual assault and harassment as liars or manipulators stretches way beyond Hollywood. The U.S. as a whole has a poor track record when it comes to responding to sexual assault allegations. While it’s estimated that someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes, more than 175,000 rape kits were untested as of 2017. That glaring oversight is a blatant indicator that sexual assault is not taken seriously in America today.

But has it ever really been taken seriously? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood serves as an apt talking point in the matter of discrimination based on sex. Tarantino’s latest film is full of dicey humor and essentially serves as an homage to Old Hollywood. Unfortunately, the Hollywood of yesteryear was just as corrupt and misogynistic as it is in modern times (even more so). Today, it’s easy to see how many classic films have helped glorify the discrimination of women and reinforce stereotypes.

Facing an Uphill Battle

The women of Old Hollywood were subject to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, including significant disparity in pay. It’s a subject that resonates with modern women in the entertainment industry as well. From being paid less to do the same amount of work to having to take on a role that essentially amounts to “eye candy,” Hollywood is still mostly a man’s arena.

Further, female workers in every stage of production may be left behind their male counterparts if they’re injured while on the job. For example, many experts find that worker’s compensation insurance policies leave women with fewer protections compared to male workers.

According to some critics, August 9, 1969, changed Hollywood forever, and Once Upon a Time‘s climax and final scenes occur on that fateful night. At her home on Cielo Drive, a very pregnant Sharon Tate entertained three friends while her husband, director Roman Polanski, was out of town. Her life ended sometime before midnight, when four members of the Manson family broke into Tate’s house and brutally murdered everyone inside.

Thanks to the imagination of Tarantino, Tate’s story gets a happier ending, albeit fictional. Yet her on-screen avoidance of death didn’t keep violence against women out of the plot. Tarantino, and Hollywood as a whole, need to do a better job in glorifying violence and the objectification of women on film, as well as on the production floor.


Frankie Wallace is a freelance journalist interested in all things pop culture. Wallace resides in Boise, Idaho and contributes to a variety of blogs across the web.

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