We knew she had one. Since the red carpet interview where she said, “I’ve been waiting to feel less angry. And when I’m ready, I’ll say what I have to say.” Then came her Thanksgiving Instagram, promising, “Stay tuned.” Well, she’s ready, because Uma Thurman has given an interview to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times about her experiences with Harvey Weinstein, and also Quentin Tarantino. The story has all the now-familiar hallmarks of Harvey Weinstein—the bathrobe, the hotel room, the conveniently disappearing assistants. (He’s threatening to sue her over the allegation but you know he f*cking won’t.) It’s the horror we’ve come to know over the last few months which has been Uma Thurman’s reality for years (has been so many women’s reality for years). Uma Thurman, an indie darling propelled to stardom by Weinstein’s all-powerful hand, was also one of his victims. At this point, it’s not surprising. It’s no less shocking.
But with Tarantino it’s a different kind of hallmark—the hallmark of the tyrannical director. The story Thurman tells of Tarantino is not one of sexual assault, but of emotional betrayal and physical endangerment. Back when the Weinstein story was first breaking, Tarantino apologized for his complicity in the silence that protected Weinstein, and there was mention of an unnamed actress whose story Tarantino knew, but hadn’t gone public yet. Uma Thurman? Probably. Because according to her, he knew Weinstein assaulted her and yet still expected her to work with Weinstein on Kill Bill. For that betrayal, Tarantino has apologized (though he still has not indicated what he, personally, intends to do about making the industry more hospitable to the women with whom he collaborates).
He has not, however, apologized for endangering Thurman’s life on the set of Kill Bill. This is a typical tyrannical director story—seeking the Perfect Shot, a director forces an actor into a dangerous situation. In this case, Tarantino made Thurman drive the convertible in Kill Bill despite being warned the car wasn’t safe enough. She had to go 40 MPH so her hair would blow just so, in a car with an unsecured seat on an unpaved road. The stunt guys weren’t confident in the conditions. A teamster warned her it wasn’t safe. Tarantino demanded it anyway. You can watch Thurman terrifying ride here (video half way down).
After, Tarantino seems concerned. There’s no sound, so we don’t know what is being said, but he seems solicitous, as someone holds her head steady and someone else fetches water. And when she gets out of the car, Thurman is smiling. She must be fine! Everything is okay! Well of course she’s smiling, she can stand up. She refers to her “screwed-up knees” and “damaged neck”, so that crash left her with permanent damage. But hey, Tarantino got his Perfect Shot, with her hair blowing just so.
You know what’s a cute obsessive director story? Wes Anderson staying late to paint sets the particular shade of salmon he mixed himself (The Royal Tenenbaums). That’s dedication to craft. You know what isn’t cute? PHYSICAL ENDANGERMENT. That isn’t dedication to craft. That’s irresponsibility. I’ve said it before but I will repeat it: There is NO EXCUSE for endangering a person on set, ever. Of course, accidents will happen. Sometimes, you plan and you practice and you prepare, and still, Tom Cruise smashes into a building and breaks his ankle. But a director demanding an actress drive a vehicle deemed unsafe is not an accident. That’s a choice. Tarantino was reckless with Thurman’s safety because his shot was more important, never mind that truly great directors innovate around obstacles.
And we’re not even getting into the weird sh*t about Tarantino choking and spitting on Thurman from off camera—that makes two actresses on record, following Diane Kruger, about Tarantino choking them for a Perfect Shot—or the weird echo of Thurman’s crash in Deathproof, in which, ironically, Rose McGowan’s character slams into a windshield. Basically, if I’m Margot Robbie (scheduled to work with Tarantino on his upcoming 1969 project), I’m going into my next meeting with a LOT of questions about what will be done regarding my personal safety on set.
We need to address the sexual harassment/ assault problem in the film industry, yes, of course. But we also need to address the more common, widely tolerated forms of abuse that happen on set and throughout the industry. Tyrannical directors endangering people for the Perfect Shot should be interrogated, so should executives chucking staplers at assistants’ heads (it happens). No movie is so important it’s worth anyone’s safety. Tarantino has apparently apologized to Thurman—he gave her the crash footage after she lobbied to see it for fifteen years—but it would be nice to hear from him how he intends to change his process to account for the safety his talent, particularly his actresses, for whom he has demonstrated such little regard.