After The New York Times published Uma Thurman’s #MeToo account on Saturday, one person dominated the coverage — Harvey Weinstein.
But the actress recounted two stories of abuse in the Times piece, one featuring Harvey Weinstein and the other, Quentin Tarantino. Only the Weinstein story featured sexual assault and misconduct, which is why only one would be classified as a traditional #MeToo story.
The allegations against Tarantino are harder to classify. They don’t involve sexual assault or harassment or anything that could be neatly categorized as sexual misconduct. But both stories, however distant from one another they may seem, involve an abuse of power that feels both gendered and familiar, adding a whole other layer of complexity to the increasingly intricate #MeToo conversation.
In the piece (which is worth a full, make-it-to-the-end read), Thurman alleges that Tarantino compromised her physical safety while on the set of Kill Bill. For one particular stunt, Tarantino asked Thurman, who is not an stunt actor, to drive a blue convertible that had recently been refitted with an automatic transmission. According to the actress, a teamster had told her the car might not be operating that well.
Thurman expressed her concerns to Tarantino and asked that a stunt person drive the car instead. She shared what she remembers of Tarantino’s response with the Times:
“He was furious because I’d cost them a lot of time. But I was scared. He said: ‘I promise you the car is fine. It’s a straight piece of road.’” In the end, he persuaded her to do it.
Thurman crashed the car while shooting the scene, leaving crew members to pull her from the wreckage. She said the incident left her with permanent damage to both her neck and her knees.
Thurman pressed Tarantino for 15 years before he agreed to show her footage of the incident. But her description of his behavior on the day of the crash was just one example of a recurring pattern: She said the director also personally performed some of the film’s more sadistic stunts, including spitting in her face and choking her.
Everything about this is difficult to read, and the video is horrible to watch. I can’t stop thinking about how we were sold this narrative about Uma Thurman being Tarantino’s “muse,” and how often “muse” seems to serve as cover for all manner of abuse. https://t.co/DgSaOohLdk
— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) February 3, 2018
It’s hard to know to how to characterize Tarantino’s alleged behavior without minimizing it or making it something it’s not. This isn’t sexual abuse. It’s not physical assault.
What happened to Thurman on the set of Kill Bill is nonetheless a dangerous, seemingly gendered abuse of power. Her story hits home in an industry where male auteurs like Tarantino have so much power over the actresses they call their muses (as Tarantino has called Thurman throughout his career, ugh).
Notably, Thurman says it was Tarantino’s actions — not Weinstein’s — that finally “killed” her.
“Harvey assaulted me but that didn’t kill me,” Thurman told the Times. “What really got me about the crash was that it was a cheap shot. I had been through so many rings of fire by that point. I had really always felt a connection to the greater good in my work with Quentin and most of what I allowed to happen to me and what I participated in was kind of like a horrible mud wrestle with a very angry brother. But at least I had some say, you know?”
The incident transformed Thurman “from a creative collaborator and performer” to a “broken tool.”
Her experience has echoes. It’s also a challenge to pin down. Outside of vocabulary like exploitation and abuse, Tarantino’s alleged actions can’t be neatly classified. In fact, Tarantino’s alleged response may require a more specific vocabulary, one that the #MeToo movement has yet to develop.
Quentin Tarantino choked Uma Thurman, spat in her face, and forced her into a car crash. After the Weinstein revelations Tarantino said, “I knew enough to do more than I did.” He was *part* of the abuse, just as so many other men pretending to be “shocked” or “sorry” are.
— Kaivan Shroff (@KaivanShroff) February 3, 2018
There’s an argument to be made that Thurman’s Tarantino story belongs in a different conversation, one that’s parallel to #MeToo. The behavior she describes fits neatly into debates we have about gender, toxic masculinity and the abuse of power. Since Tarantino’s alleged abuse of Thurman wasn’t specifically sexual, the logic goes, it doesn’t belong in the #MeToo conversation even if it still fits in alongside it.
It’s a well-intended line of reasoning — but one that might eclipse the movement’s fundamental message. Tarantino didn’t harass Thurman, at least not in the traditional sense. He did, however, abuse his position in a way that feels both gendered and, to the thousands of women who will read Thurman’s story, systematic.
There aren’t many women who’ve worked with Quentin Tarantino and can easily identify with Uma’s exact experience. Yet there are millions who’ve been asked to do something they don’t want to do by a man who has more power than they do — and then complied because he demanded it.
You don’t have to be a female star in Hollywood for a story about men who abuse their position to resonate. We might not know where exactly to position Thurman’s story under the #MeToo umbrella. But it can still belong there, even if we don’t know how to label it — yet.
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