Glamorous Hollywood stars have made their yearly descent on Cannes, but the biggest story coming out of the French Riviera isn’t about high fashion or the plots of the highly anticipated films. It’s about a tense moment between a female reporter and Quentin Tarantino, regarding how many lines one of its main stars actually has in the flick. Yesterday, while at the first press conference for his ninth film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Tarantino gave a very terse reply to journalist Farah Nayeri, a culture writer for The New York Times, who asked the director why one of his main characters, Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, has so few lines in the film. In our opinion, Nayeri was respectful in her inquiry— although Twitter has a lot of other feelings on the matter. While mentioning that Robbie is an accomplished actor and filmmaker, Nayeri says, “and yet you haven’t really given her many lines in the movie and I wondered, I guess that was a deliberate choice on your part, and I wondered why we don’t hear her actually speaking very much?”
Tarantino replied, “I just reject your hypothesis,” before sitting back and shifting in his chair. Robbie was left to defend the role. All. By. Herself. She said, “I think the moments I was on screen gave a moment to honour Sharon. I think the tragedy was the loss of innocence. To show the wonderful sides of her could be done without speaking. I did feel like I got a lot of time to explore the character without dialogue, which is an interesting thing. Rarely do I get an opportunity to spend so much time on my own as a character.”
At the very least, Nayeri handed Tarantino an opportunity to praise Robbie for her skill as an actor, while talking about the visual medium of film. But playing into why we’ve come to know him as such a divisive director, the Hollywood stalwart came off as defensive, leaving the only woman in this situation to defend her choices — which is glaring in this case considering that Tarantino is not only the director, but also the screenwriter and a producer on the film.
What is now most interesting is how the team will pivot, because it will likely be a topic of conversation as the press tour rolls on. Will this be a teachable moment? And can this be meaningful for the underrepresentation of women in general?
According to the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, female leads and co-leads featured in 40 of the top 100 films last year, which is up 8 percent from 2017 (and 20 percent higher than 2007). Movie ticket sales in 2018 movie ticket were also up four percent from two years earlier.
On a more local level, just this morning the Academy of Canadian Film and Television announced that it is now accepting applications for its 2019 women directors program, which has been running for three years, (applications will be accepted until June 21, 2019), and aims to give women creators experience and exposure in the film industry.
And while all of this is promising, it doesn’t solve the issue of gender bias in film and television entirely. After Game of Thrones wrapped earlier this week, research from Ceretai, an analytics firm out of Germany, showed that even though the series had pivotal female characters, they only spoke 25 percent of the time, and their dialogue most often included the words “please” and “husband.” Not surprisingly, the one episode with the most female dialogue was directed by a woman, Michelle McLaren.
Back on the Croisette in Cannes, Robbie was put in an impossible position sitting next to her male director, who didn’t feel the need to explain his position beyond one quick quip. Would a female collaborator have done the same? One thing’s for sure, Robbie’s clearly proud of the work she did on the film, but was made to defend a filmmaking choice that Tarantino should have responded to in a thoughtful manner. And it is no surprise Robbie handled the situation deftly — she’s an outspoken feminist. “I already work with a ton of female writers who are brilliant, and I want to work with female directors,” she said to Australian Vogue in 2018. “I really want to work with actresses my own age. I’m trying so hard to get projects up and running with an ensemble of young female characters, because that’s my life, my group of girls, we’re a gang and we roll together and I’m like: ‘Why is that not reflected in film?’”
Robbie is a strong advocate for women, so she could actually be the right person to guide Tarantino through this. But quite frankly, it’s not her responsibility — can we all agree that it shouldn’t just be up to women to teach men how to be better allies?
The one small glimmer of hope is that Tarantino has expressed regret regarding his past treatment of Uma Thurman on the set of Kill Bill, so perhaps he is open to learning.
Then there’s Brad Pitt, another of the film’s stars, who’s made some progressive choices in his filmmaking over the past few years. Will the A-lister bring his A-game to the press conferences to come? So far, Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio have remained mum on the subject (which, to be fair, the question was directed at Tarantino and Robbie specifically). Let’s hope that this isn’t an Olivia Munn at TIFF situation, where Robbie is left to speak about these issues without any support from her co-workers. And is it terrible to say I don’t expect much from DiCaprio when it comes to speaking up for Robbie and women in the industry? It’s not that there’s a precedent with Leo, per se, but given his profile as someone who only dates women under the age of 25 (see here for a hilariously on-point graph), I am not holding out much hope. The idea that there are surprises to come from this press tour, which is just ramping up until the flick’s release at the end of July, is why I’ll be paying close attention.
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