Flirting With Empowerment: Quentin Tarantino’s Troubling Depictions of Sexual Assault

McCarty-Simas, Payton Alexa

Quentin Tarantino, auteur director of such hyper-violent, exploitation-inspired films as Inglourious Basterds (2009), and Django Unchained (2012), has become one of those male filmmakers whose personal lives and filmographies have–– deservingly–– come under scrutiny in recent years in light of the #MeToo movement and its accompanying social focus on the way women are treated both on and off screen. Like Woody Allen, Tarantino has come to be associated with sexism and controversy, particularly following Uma Thurman’s public revelations about his manipulative and dangerously irresponsible treatment of her on the set of Kill Bill which led to her being seriously injured and then, in her words, treated as a “broken tool” as opposed to a creative contributor to the production. This complaint, coupled with his history of performing his most degrading stunts himself –– from choking Diane Kruger to spitting in Uma Thurman’s face–– already makes for a strong case for the sexism of his films. That being said, while many criticisms have been leveled at his films’ treatment of women and how that reflects on him as a director (and as a person), he has also created a number of fantastically dynamic and iconic female characters from Mia Wallace to Jackie Brown. His depictions of women are, for this reason, in truth much more complex than they’re often made out to be. There is, however, one particularly troubling and consistent element of his filmmaking connected to these same issues that has gone noticeably unaddressed: his graphic depictions of sexual assault and the way they reflect both internalized homophobia and a disregard for women’s suffering. Tarantino’s uses of male homosexual rape as the ultimate form of victimization, in contrast to his deployment of female heterosexual rape–– which is largely treated as a drama-enhancing tool rather than a central plot point–– is reflective of a prioritization on his part of manhood and traditional masculinity over women’s trauma as a result of sexual assault.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Pat Anderson Prize in Film Reviewing
Published Here
April 21, 2020