Why Tarantino is right to stand with the victims of US cops brutality
After taking a public stance in solidarity with the victims of lethal violence in the United States, Hollywood filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is learning that free speech in the land of the free comes at a price.
The movie director recently attended a public demonstration in New York to commemorate the victims of police killings in the US. He did so, he said, because he “stood on the side of the murdered.”
These are undoubtedly strong words, which predictably have met with a fierce reaction in the shape of politicians, chiefs of police, and commentators attacking him. Even more extreme has been the campaign launched by police unions across the country to boycott his movies - the latest of which, The Hateful Eight, is due for release in December.
Indeed, such has been the controversy stirred up by Tarantino’s public stance that his own father, Tony Tarantino, has publicly distanced himself from his son’s sentiments, stating: “Cops are not murderers, they are heroes.”
Yet no amount of criticism of Quentin Tarantino, and no boycott campaign against his movies, can alter the fact that there is a serious and growing crisis within US law enforcement.
According to figures compiled by the website, the Counted, run by the UK Guardian newspaper, 950 people across the US have been killed by the police so far this year alone, 189 of them unarmed. Moreover, the majority of the victims, measured as a proportion of the population, have been black.
The crisis is both social and cultural in dimension. The increased militarization of law enforcement in the US – involving the regular deployment of the kind of weaponry and equipment you would associate with a warzone – has only succeeded in feeding a machismo ‘take no sh*t’ law enforcement culture that has long been prevalent. It underpins a ‘them or us’ outlook, one responsible for the growing polarization between police officers and the public they are meant to be protecting and serving. Add to the mix institutional racism and mass poverty, especially within minority communities, and in the United States social cohesion is close to disintegrating completely.
Paradoxically, Quentin Tarantino was already part of the debate on the prevalence of gun violence in the US due to his movies, known for regularly portraying violence and violent characters in a flattering light, making both appear cool and sexy. However, the filmmaker has always vehemently denied any connection between movies, such as his, which regularly depict gun violence and violent characters, and the prevalence of gun violence in society. In this regard he has consistently claimed the violence in his movies is so exaggerated and outlandish, it is more akin to cartoon violence than real life.
But regardless of his movies, Quentin Tarantino is perfectly entitled to raise his voice along with others protesting the extent to which people are being gunned down by the police, and with seeming impunity. The problem, surely, is that police brutality and killings have reached the point where people feel the need to come out and protest against it in the first place. In fact, it has now reached the point where people – especially minorities and from low income communities – are entitled to believe that rather than ensure their safety, police departments across America exist to intimidate, terrorize, and kill people. As Edward Snowden said: “Police officers kill more Americans than terrorism.”
One theme that comes over consistently in Tarantino’s body of work – Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill, Django Unchained, and so on – is sympathy for those on the margins of society; its criminals, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, and killers, etc. It suggests an affinity that his critics will now seek to exploit to denounce his appearance at an event on the side of the victims of police violence.
However, as well as diminishing the scope of the crisis, this misses the point entirely.
Quentin Tarantino is someone who has done very well in life. He is one of the world’s highest paid movie directors with millions of fans around the world. He is lauded as one of the greatest screenwriters and directors of all time, credited with creating a distinct oeuvre that has changed the nature of movie making. His work is even credited with having a marked impact on American culture, an achievement very few artists in any field can claim. As such, the filmmaker is someone who doesn’t need to expose himself to the kind of heat he has just generated in standing up against a law enforcement establishment that has circled the wagons in defense of the indefensible.
Much easier for someone in his position to instead remain ensconced in their Beverly Hills mansion, shut off from reality in a bubble of affluence and celebrity.
Instead, he chose to come out and raise the profile of the victims and the communities most affected by the rising tide of police brutality in a country the world is continually being told is synonymous with liberty and freedom. This takes courage, the kind of courage very few in his position possess.
Ultimately murder is murder, whether committed by someone carrying a gun and a badge, or whether by someone carrying a gun and no badge. Denying the connection between both is to deny justice to the victims of the former and their families.
The only problem with Quentin Tarantino’s stance is that there aren’t more like him. It is he, and not those calling for a boycott of his movies, who is standing on the side justice in the land of the free.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.