It started with Uma Thurman revealing that Quentin Tarantino bullied her into driving an unsafe car that crashed and now days later it is Tarantino’s reputation and possibly career that is skidding at dangerously high speed.
With accusations flying at the Pulp Fiction director from all over Hollywood, his status as one of America’s most revered auteurs is at risk, prompting speculation about his future.
Tarantino apologised on Monday for putting Thurman in harm’s way during the filming of Kill Bill, calling it “the biggest regret of my life”, but by Tuesday he was facing a growing outcry over other perceived offences.
Audio emerged of him defending fellow director Roman Polanski’s sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl in 1977, saying she was “down with it” and that rape was a “buzzword” that didn’t apply to the situation.
A clip and transcript of the comments in a 2003 radio interview with Howard Stern surfaced and ricocheted around the internet on Tuesday. “He had sex with a minor,” Tarantino said in the recording. “That’s not rape. To me, when you use the word rape, you’re talking about violent, throwing them down – it’s like one of the most violent crimes in the world … she wanted to have [sex]! Dated the guy!”
It also emerged that Tarantino personally performed some violent actions in his films, including spitting on Thurman’s face and choking her with a chain in Kill Bill and strangling Diana Kruger in a scene in Inglourious Basterds.
The actor Busy Philipps tweeted her regret at seeking a role in one of his films. “I’m embarrassed that I ever auditioned for him.. that I fucking showed up in SHORT SHORTS AND FLIP FLOPS as requested because I WANTED THE JOB. This business sucks and enables predators.”
Tarantino’s name trended on Twitter, with many echoing Philipps’ declaration that the director was “cancelled”.
The Oscar-nominated actor Jessica Chastain tweeted that films used violence against female characters as a plot device to make them stronger. “We don’t need abuse in order to be powerful … how many images of women in media do we celebrate that showcase abuse? When did this become normalized ‘entertainment’?”
Melissa Silverstein, founder and publisher of Women in Hollywood, a gender equality initiative and film news site, denounced Tarantino’s comments about Polanski, saying it signalled a watershed moment for the director that could have lasting impact on his career. “This feels epic. I think people are really disgusted,” she told the Guardian.
Tarantino, 54, conquered Hollywood through a close, long-term alliance with the producer Harvey Weinstein, who tumbled into disgrace last October amid multiple allegations of sexual assault. Tarantino confessed he could and should have done more to stop Weinstein’s alleged predations – “I knew enough to do more than I did” – but seemed to dodge the #MeToo hurricane sweeping Hollywood.
Thurman’s revelations last weekend about the Kill Bill car crash – she called it “dehumanisation to the point of death” – prompted more contrition from Tarantino. He told Deadline he was wrong to ask her to drive. “I told her it would be safe. And it wasn’t … she got into it because she trusted me.” He said he recently gave Thurman footage of the accident to help give her closure.
The story, however, prompted renewed scrutiny of the Reservoir Dogs director, leading to excavation of the 2003 radio interview.
His image took a separate hit last week when Rose McGowan’s memoir Brave alleged that he brayed in public about fetishising her feet. “He told me about it loudly, over and over, for years in front of numerous people.”
Others recalled the controversy over Tarantino’s use of racial epithets, especially the word “nigger”, in his films, which has earned rebuke from Spike Lee. Later, the director also criticised Tarantino’s slavery thriller Django Unchained. “American Slavery Was Not A Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western,” he tweeted. “It Was A Holocaust. My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them.”
Despite social media outrage over the Polanski comments, and predictions that Tarantino’s time in Hollywood might be finished, it was unclear whether his career would suffer lasting damage.
Two members of a Hollywood film awards institution said the director would probably survive since he had not been accused of sexual harassment.
Kruger, who played the strangled character in the 2009 film Inglourious Basterds, defended the director in an Instagram post: “I would like to say that my work experience with Quentin Tarantino was pure joy. He treated me with utter respect and never abused his power or forced me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with.”
Sony Pictures will face an acute dilemma if the controversy escalates since it has bought worldwide rights to Tarantino’s next film – a reported $100m production about the Charles Manson family murders in Los Angeles in 1969. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise and Margot Robbie have been tipped to star.
The fact that Manson’s followers murdered Polanski’s then wife, Sharon Tate, presents an added complication given Tarantino’s comments about the director.
“Now Tarantino is going to make a movie about Polanski. Why is someone financing this?” tweeted Judd Apatow.
Sony declined to comment on Tuesday about the film. Tarantino has also been tapped to direct a Star Trek film for Paramount.
Silverstein, the gender equality activist, said audiences which sensed that Tarantino’s work was not pro-women would have to decide whether to see his movies in the future.
“There are a lot of men in our culture who are put up to us as visionaries and auteurs,” she said. “The stories that we’ve been told about them are stories that are based on a culture that is now no longer acceptable. We all want to ask the question, why are these people and why are these films the narrative of our culture? We are saying we want different kinds of narratives, and we want different kinds of stories.”