Does Quentin Tarantino want to be taken seriously, or doesn’t he?
Based on a new NY Times interview with novelist Bret Easton Ellis, the answer seems to be "as long as you work under the same set of outdated assumptions that he does." Among those assumptions: The color of your skin has no bearing on what you say about race, and film is superior to television.
To be fair to Tarantino, the most dismissive/dismissable moments of the interview are Ellis’ reverent and unconvincing commentary, like when the novelist calls "Django Unchained" a "much more shocking and forward-thinking movie than ‘Selma.’" (On what grounds? Who knows.) Much of the interview is a forum for Ellis to rail against what he views as the excessively politicized culture of today and to posit Tarantino as a "relentlessly un-PC" hero who isn’t afraid to speak his truth — your standard aging white-male stuff.
But plenty of bullshit came out of Tarantino’s mouth, too. Here are the three most WTF-iest:
1. He implies Kathryn Bigelow got the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars instead of him because of the novelty of a woman making a war film: ‘‘The Kathryn Bigelow thing — I got it. Look, it was exciting that a woman had made such a good war film, and it was the first movie about the Iraq War that said something." He concedes oh-so-generously, "It wasn’t like I lost to something dreadful. It’s not like ‘E.T.’ losing to ‘Gandhi.’ ’’
2. He dismisses Ava DuVernay’s "Selma" as a TV movie: "[DuVernay] did a really good job on ‘Selma’ but ‘Selma’ deserved an Emmy.’’ Tarantino’s sniffing attitude toward the small screen is clear from the interview’s final line. "I don’t know about you," he says at the New Beverly Cinema, the LA repertory movie theater he owns, "but I don’t need to watch HBO with a bunch of strangers.’’ Incidentally, Bigelow and DuVernay — both women directors — are the only filmmakers he badmouths in the piece. And the three directors whose works he says he’s enjoyed this year? Judd Apatow, Wes Anderson and David Fincher. (UPDATED: Tarantino has since written that he has not seen "Selma.")
3. Regarding criticism by some black critics of the many instances of the N-word in "Django," he doesn’t think his whiteness should matter when he’s dealing with issues of race: ‘‘If you sift through the criticism… you’ll see it’s pretty evenly divided between pros and cons. But when the black critics came out with savage think pieces about ‘Django,’ I couldn’t have cared less. If people don’t like my movies, they don’t like my movies, and if they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter. The bad taste that was left in my mouth had to do with this: It’s been a long time since the subject of a writer’s skin was mentioned as often as mine. You wouldn’t think the color of a writer’s skin should have any effect on the words themselves. In a lot of the more ugly pieces my motives were really brought to bear in the most negative way. It’s like I’m some supervillain coming up with this stuff.’’ (Emphasis added)
And yet, ‘‘This is the best time to push buttons,’’ he added. ‘‘This is the best time to get out there because there actually is a genuine platform. Now it’s being talked about.’’
In another interview a few weeks ago with Vulture, Tarantino said, "Social critics don’t mean a thing to me. It’s really easy to ignore them, because I believe in what I’m doing 100 percent. So any naysayers for the public good can just fuck off. They might be a drag for a moment, but after that moment is over, it always ends up being gasoline to my fire."
So Tarantino is glad we’re talking about race — he’s even "excited" about it — he just doesn’t want us to talk about his race and how that might influence his worldview. And thinking and talking about race are good — but he definitely doesn’t care how we think and talk about race in his movies. Care about race, but not "for the public good." Talk about the N-word, but not how African-American (and other) viewers might feel uncomfortable when it’s thrown around like a hail of bullets. Talk about race, but not too much for Tarantino’s discomfort.