There’s a scene partway through Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino’s ode to Tinseltown, virility, and Brad Pitt’s genes, that raises red flags. Told in flashback, it sees Pitt’s stuntman on a yacht, balancing a speargun on his knee. His wife is upbraiding him, questioning his manhood and by extension, self-worth. He slowly raises the weapon, aiming it squarely at her. Whether or not you believe he killed her, as many in his industry do, the message rings loud and clear: Tarantino believes that shrewish women with the temerity to emasculate a man deserve to be punished. It echoes a sequence in Jackie Brown, wherein Robert De Niro’s ex-con brutally executes Bridget Fonda’s surfer girl in a parking lot for the high crime of nagging.
But that is the least of the movie’s problems.
With its Golden Globe, National Board of Review, and AFI Awards wins, Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood has emerged as the frontrunner for several major Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (for Tarantino), and Best Supporting Actor (for Pitt). Yet somehow, the celebrated filmmaker and his age-defying star have managed to avoid any scrutiny over their troubling relationships with Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstein, the influential movie mogul behind hits like Pulp Fiction, Chicago, and The King’s Speech, has been publicly accused of sexually harassing or assaulting nearly 100 women over four decades. He is currently on trial in Manhattan, facing charges of predatory sexual assault and first-degree rape; if that weren’t enough, he’s been hit with four counts of sexual assault in Los Angeles. Though “everyone who was close to Harvey had heard of at least one of those incidents,” a culture of complicity allowed the superpredator’s reign of terror to continue unabated. And one of the industry people closest to Weinstein was none other than Tarantino himself.
Through Miramax and The Weinstein Company, Weinstein has, with the exception of Once Upon a Time, distributed every Tarantino film since his 1992 debut, Reservoir Dogs. And he’s served as a mentor of sorts to Tarantino, who’s described the two as having a “father-son” relationship. Meanwhile, the monetary success of Tarantino’s films allowed Weinstein’s companies, which were in a perpetual state of financial peril, to stay afloat. The worst part about it, though, was that Tarantino knew what Weinstein was up to; in fact, his own girlfriend, the actress Mira Sorvino, told him he’d tried to assault her.
“I knew enough to do more than I did,” Tarantino told The New York Times. “There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things.”
“I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard,” he added. “If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.”
In addition to Sorvino, Tarantino told the Times he knew about an incident with another actress (believed to be Uma Thurman), and about how Rose McGowan has reached a settlement with Weinstein over her alleged assault at the Sundance Film Festival. (Weinstein has denied all allegations.)
Then there’s Brad Pitt. When his former fiancée Gwyneth Paltrow came forward to accuse Weinstein of trying to assault her, Pitt confessed to the Times that he knew of the attack, and had gotten in the predatory producer’s face over it.
“Brad threatened Harvey. He got right in his face, poked him in the chest, and said, ‘You will not ever do this to Gwyneth ever again,’” a source told People, adding that if Weinstein did try anything again, the Springfield native told the New Yorker he’d get a good “Missouri whooping.”
In addition to Paltrow, Weinstein is also said to have assaulted another of Pitt’s exes, and mother to their many children, Angelina Jolie. So Pitt knew about Weinstein’s behavior and yet was so keen on working with Mr. Oscar that he signed up for the Weinstein-produced Tarantino film Inglorious Basterds (2009), and had Weinstein bankroll his passion project, 2012’s Killing Them Softly—replete with a $20 million ad spend.
As one of the most powerful actors in the world, and a power-producer in his own right with production company Plan B, Pitt, like Tarantino, had the power and cachet to expose Weinstein with the snap of a finger. Instead, they let it slide, opting for cashing dirty checks and chasing awards. (Pitt and Tarantino did not respond to numerous requests for comment.)
Oh, and did I mention that another of Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood’s stars, Emile Hirsch, strangled a female film executive in front of dozens of onlookers at the Sundance Film Festival?
So, no matter how you feel about Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood’s awards potential, it’s worth asking whether it sends the right message to honor two Hollywood power players who turned a blind eye to Weinstein’s sexual abuse, and whether it’s fair that they’ve artfully dodged any questions about it this entire awards season.
As Tarantino said of Weinstein’s predation, “We allowed it to exist because that’s the way it was.” Well, that’s not good enough. Not by a long shot.
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