You knew this was coming, right? If you have a pile of dry brush and a whole bunch of people with matches in their pockets, it wasn’t going to be long before someone lit it up. All it took was one question at the Cannes film festival and an (appropriate) reaction by Quentin Tarantino, there with his latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, for the bonfire to rage. Perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration. We built the machine to do exactly this. Clickbait headlines drive traffic. Traffic keeps media outlets in the green. Users log on to Twitter to exert what little power they have to speak their mind, get RTs, and likes. There has to be a victim and there has to be a villain. Here, we have the background of the #MeToo movement that somehow got Tarantino involved due to on-set direction of Uma Thurman, wherein the actress was injured. With very few facts on hand, and even Uma herself walking back that accusation, somehow Tarantino got thrown in with the Weinsteins — although truth be told, it’s hard anymore to see clearly through the fog of war when it comes to how the hive mind reacts to accusations. If they point and accuse, the hive mind responds. Will Moby ever sell a record again now that the hive mind disapproves of his claiming Natalie Portman and he “dated” while she counters with, “no way, creepy old man.”?
Also thrown on the scrap heap of our war between art and purity of behavior are Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, and Liam Neeson… to name but a few. “Am I allowed to like their movies?”, people ask. “Am I allowed to WATCH their movies?” They wrestle with this because it is human nature to want to belong. Also baked into our DNA is the desire not to be exiled from the tribe for survival reasons. None of us particularly likes being called out, shut out — it is a powerful thing to be part of the mob that decides who stays and who goes. Just ask the 200+ residents of Salem way back in 1692.
And so it was that Tarantino was asked by a reporter at the New York Times reporter why Margot Robbie wasn’t given more to do as Sharon Tate. The reporter cited I, Tonya and Wolf of Wall Street as evidence that Robbie is more than just a pretty face and so why didn’t Tarantino use her as more than set decoration. “I reject your premise,” Tarantino said back, and then said no more. It was definitely tense in the moments following, because no one really needed to say anything. He was being called out and it probably was the first time of many times he will be called out as his film makes landfall. He knew this because everyone knows that this is how works. Dry brush meets lit match.
Why it matters is simply that the hive mind can have an impact in one way and one way only: it can harm sales. That is why corporations drop to their knees and bow before the gods of the hive mind, and why Disney and Marvel are doing the same thing. They can’t make the kinds of money they need to make if the hive mind balks at casting choices that are too white and too male. Somehow this is seen as activism and progress, but really it’s just good old fashioned economics at work, capitalism evolving to suit modern tastes.
Margot Robbie doesn’t have a lot of lines as Sharon Tate in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” We asked Quentin Tarantino why. What happened next was a surprise.https://t.co/Do21kpEolv
— The New York Times (@nytimes) May 23, 2019
At a time when movies like the upcoming Tarantino are struggling to be shown in theaters at all, the last thing anyone needs is a shitstorm that will come down hard on films like this, or on Green Book last year, or any movie that is trying to actually make money the traditional way — by selling tickets. The hive mind really doesn’t care, though, because to it — driven by the extremes of hysteria much of the time — this IS activism. The only thing about that, though? It really isn’t. It’s Lord of the Flies. Go back and watch the movies of the 1970s where the women wore no bras, when you can see all of their breasts — THAT was supposedly activism. You know how easy it was to shut down feminism after the 70s whether women wore bras or not, whether movies were ABOUT women or not? It was pretty easy. Policing art isn’t going to “fix” society. It will simply hold back the truth about what we think at a given point in history.
I have not yet seen Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, though anyone who wants to judge Tarantino on his woman cred is going to have to explain Jackie Brown and Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. I wasn’t much up for Jennifer Jason-Leigh getting the shit beaten out of her in The Hateful Eight, but that was because I thought it didn’t work due to her size difference. It might have worked for me if she’d been tall and mighty instead of small and frail but I would never condemn him as a man or an artist because of that choice, just as I won’t now because Margot Robbie, probably like many other characters in the film, is there to represent a visual marker of a time and a place, a woman who really was known mostly as a pretty face back before the Manson family chopped her up.
Reporters should feel free to ask any questions they want, but here Tarantino was right to reject the premise of this one because the premise was saying: hey sexist asshole, why is the biggest female star in the movie objectified where the male characters aren’t? I would say to that — she might be the biggest female star in the movie, but she is still there to represent Sharon Tate, as the others are there to represent famous icons of the time. Not everything is as flat and linear as the hive wants it to be.
Too often now we are looking for weaknesses, for “flaws” in what should be correct behavior among the newly puritanical left that seeks to tinker with its utopian diorama to make sure all the boxes are checked, all of the needs are serviced, and that no one is the victim of anyone’s personal expression. That is fine if you are running a kindergarten school or even a university — but you know, you might want to consider letting art, and the artists who create it, breathe. Just a thought.