Over the weekend, Uma Thurman spoke publicly for the first time about the assault she said she experienced at the hands of film producer Harvey Weinstein. In an interview with Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, she recalled two incidents that took place at a hotel in London: One in which Weinstein tried to force himself on her, and a second (which she doesn’t have a clear memory of) in which she was persuaded to visit Weinstein in a hotel room. But Weinstein’s malevolence extended beyond hotel rooms, Thurman said, and a story she told about an incident on the set of Kill Bill — which was executive-produced by Weinstein — has cast a shadow not only on him, but also on the movie’s director, Quentin Tarantino.
As Thurman described, she was told by a stunt person on set that the Karmann Ghia convertible she was to drive for a scene in the film wasn’t in good shape, and so she was initially hesitant to get behind the wheel. But Tarantino convinced her: “He was furious because I’d cost them a lot of time,” Thurman told Dowd. “But I was scared. He said: ‘I promise you the car is fine. It’s a straight piece of road.’” As Thurman was driving, she lost control of the car and crashed into a tree. Thurman said she suffered a concussion and came back from the hospital in a neck brace, and that the accident left her with a “permanently damaged neck” and “screwed-up knees.”
“Quentin and I had an enormous fight,” Thurman added, “and I accused him of trying to kill me.” The incident only grew uglier and more contemptuous when Miramax worked to cover its tracks. When Thurman requested the footage from Miramax, she was told she would get it only if she agreed not to sue. It took her 15 years to acquire the footage, which was only recently uncovered and given to her by Tarantino; the video was included alongside Thurman’s quotes in The New York Times.
Speaking with Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. on Monday, Tarantino attempted to clear the air surrounding the Kill Bill car accident, and also answer questions about how much he knew about Thurman’s account of the assault by Weinstein. Tarantino insisted that he confronted Weinstein after Thurman told him about the assault. “I made Harvey apologize to Uma,” he said. “I said, ‘I don’t believe you. I believe her. And if you want to do Kill Bill, you need to make this right.’” While taking responsibility for urging Thurman to drive the car, the director also asserted that he was not involved with Thurman’s legal battle with Miramax over the crash footage. “Uma thought I had acquiesced to them not letting her see the footage,” Tarantino said. “I didn’t know any of that was necessarily going on.” As a way to atone for his role in the whole thing, Tarantino says he took on the “herculean task” to find the footage. On Monday, Thurman thanked Tarantino in an Instagram post for “doing the right thing.”
Thurman’s interview shined a larger light on Tarantino’s problematic on-set conduct, beyond the way he coerced her to do the car stunt. As Thurman told the Times, Tarantino decided he would be the one to perform some of Kill Bill’s more violent shots, spitting in her face during a scene in which Michael Madsen’s character does so, and choking her with a chain for another scene. Tarantino defended his actions to Deadline, saying he wanted to get through the scenes as quickly as possible and, as the director, knew he could find the shots he wanted if he did them himself:
Naturally, I did it. Who else should do it? A grip? One, I didn’t trust Michael Madsen because, I don’t know where the spit’s going to go, if Michael Madsen does it. I talked to Uma and I said, look. I’ve got to kind of commit to doing this to you.
As Tarantino told The Graham Norton Show in January 2013, he also took it upon himself to choke Diane Kruger with his hands during her death scene in Inglourious Basterds. “When somebody is actually being strangled there is a thing that happens to their face, they turn a certain color, and their veins pop out and stuff,” he said. “[In movies] it always seems fake.”
The director finds himself in a hotbed of controversy after Thurman’s interview with the Times — not to mention his long-standing relationship with Weinstein and the gratuitous nature of the auteur’s films. Graphic scenes from his films, like in Inglourious Basterds when Kruger’s character is choked to death, are now being reexamined. (Kruger, for her part, defended Tarantino via Instagram on Tuesday, saying the director “treated me with utter respect and never abused his power.”)
On Monday night, a reader sent Jezebel an interview Tarantino did with Howard Stern in 2003, in which the director defended Roman Polanski’s rape of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer, saying she “wanted to have it.”
“Wait a minute,” Stern replied. “If you have sex with a 13-year-old girl and you’re a grown man, you know that that’s wrong.” “Look, she was down with this,” Tarantino rebutted.
Actresses Jessica Chastain and Busy Philipps have condemned Tarantino:
SORRY YOU HAVE TO LISTEN TO THIS FUCK QUENTIN TARANTINO YOU ARE FUCKING CANCELLED. https://t.co/ucjMfftBdO— Busy Philipps (@BusyPhilipps) February 6, 2018
When violence against women is used as a plot device to make the characters stronger then we have a problem. It is not empowering to be beaten and raped, yet so many films make it their 'pheonix' moment for women. We don't need abuse in order to be powerful. We already are.— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) February 4, 2018
How this will affect Tarantino’s forthcoming films remains to be seen. He is currently rounding out the cast for a still-untitled movie set during the summer of 1969 against the backdrop of the Charles Manson murders, eyeing an August 9, 2019, release date to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the LaBianca murders. He’s reportedly looking for the right actor to play Polanski, who was married to actress Sharon Tate, the Manson cult’s most infamous murder victim. Tarantino is also reportedly considering directing a Star Trek movie. However, with Tarantino’s contentious behavior now in the spotlight, and outcry only growing in volume, the director’s future may legitimately be in question.