Why Quentin Tarantino Needs to Stop Deflecting The Violence Question
Quentin Tarantino probably had a vastly different idea of how the months leading up to the 85th Academy Awards would transpire for him. As he began to promote Django Unchained, he no doubt expected to spend the majority of Awards Season talking about America's legacy of slavery, about his decision to portray it as unambiguously horrific, and how the peculiar institution has historically been treated in film.
That's how this awards season started, of course. At the beginning of December, Tarantino was explaining that his goal was to make audiences feel, viscerally, the brutality of slavery. Later in the month, he was making the very excellent point that the legacy of slavery continues to this day, in the form of America's massive prison complex and the war on drugs.
'Django Unchained' & The Sandy Hook Shooting
Unfortunately, just 10 days before Django Unchained premiered, the massacre in Newtown, CT happened. Making matters worse, in the weeks since Sandy Hook there have been a succession of other mass shootings. (In fact, there was another school shooting Thursday, near Bakersfield, CA). As a result, all anyone is talking about is the influence of violent media on actual, real world violence, and unluckily for Tarantino, the conversation about slavery has been terminated and replaced with nearly constant demands to address the dubious notion that his violent films may contribute to that problem.
Perhaps that's why he's beginning to lose his shit about the issue. Now generally, Tarantino's responses to these questions have been measured; he's made the excellent case again and again that, no, his movies are not responsible for societal violence. That's changed somewhat since the beginning of the new year. Speaking to NPR on January 3, Tarantino got rather testy with Terry Gross, but that was nothing, compared to his low-temperature freak-out aimed at the U.K.'s Channel 4 news host, Krishnan Guru-Murthy.
The Question About Violence In Movies That Shut The Interview Down
“Why are you so sure there is no link between people enjoying movie violence and people enjoying real violence?,” Guru-Murthy asked, during an interview that aired last night. Tarantino's response revealed, like nothing else, that he's getting goddamned tired of talking about this. “I’m going to tell you why I’m so sure? You’re not asking me a question like that. I’m not biting. I refuse your question. I refuse your question,” he said. “I’m not your slave and you are not my master,” he continued. “You can’t make me dance to your tune. I’m not a monkey. I am saying I refuse.”
Tarantino then added, “The reason I don’t want to talk about is because I’ve said everything I have to say about it. If anyone cares what I have to say about it, they can Google me and see 20 years of what I have to say about it.” It's hard to blame Tarantino for being extremely annoyed with the whole thing. Hell, I'm annoyed with the whole thing. Django Unchained has been unfairly singled out for scorn despite hardly being unique in how violent it is, and one can't help but feel that the conversation about it has changed less because of a sudden rediscovered concern about how violent his films are, but because people would so much rather talk about something that feels nebulous, like societal violence, rather than talk about something that remains, almost 150 years after being abolished, a very taboo subject.
So it's absolutely appropriate that Tarantino rejects the premise. However, this conversation is happening whether he likes it or not, especially after Django Unchained's five Oscar nominations. And outbursts like this are going to make him an easy target for stupid people who think Americans are so impressionable that we can't watch a fictional depiction of violence without immediately running out to kill our neighbors. (Not to mention rather dishonest people who enjoy stirring up tabloid-levels of moral outrage just for fun.)
Falling back on the dodge that he's already said everything that must be said on the issue is just going to make media-concern trolls even more determined to play gotcha with him — especially when his angry outbursts contain terminology that, considering what Django Unchained is actually about, are rather... unfortunate. So if nothing is going to make the question go away, maybe the time has come for him to figure out a way to change the subject back to what it should be.
I keep waiting for someone to ask him what I think is a far more interesting question about violence in America. America has a long history of pretending half the country didn't start a war that killed nearly a million people just to keep their slaves, The manufacturers of our popular culture also have a history of minimizing just how bad slavery actually was for the enslaved, and of course,there's also the country's unwillingness to discuss the continued disenfranchisement and oppression of the descendants of those slaves. Doesn't that, more than any film ever could, contribute to a national culture that seems terrifyingly comfortable with acts of massive public violence?
Maybe, maybe not, but since no one else is asking, maybe it's time Tarantino said it for them. It might not make the idiotic conversation stop, but it makes for a better quote than the word 'monkey.'
Ross Lincoln is a LA-based freelance writer from Oklahoma with an unhealthy obsession with comics, movies, video games, ancient history, Gore Vidal, and wine.
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