Quentin Tarantino Snubs “Selma,” Puts Himself At Center of Black Culture

Quentin Tarantino has said a mouthful in his New York Times Style Magazine interview with American Psycho author Bret Eaton Ellis. In short, he’s made much of whom he considers his demographic, black people, upset. As they should be. 

Some choice clips include dissing Ava DuVernay’s powerful film, Selma, and talking about how Tarantino feels wrongly targeted for being a white man writing black stories:

“She did a really good job on ‘Selma,’ but ‘Selma’ deserved an Emmy. [Ellis goes on to posit his own viewpoint: “‘Django Unchained,’ with its depictions of antebellum-era intstitutionalized racism and Mandingo fights and black self-hatred, is a much more shocking and forward-thinking movie than ‘Selma,’ and audiences turned it into the biggest hit of Tarantino’s career. But it was also attacked for, among other things, being written by a white man.”]

“If you’ve made money being a critic in black culture in the last 20 years you have to deal with me…You have to have an opinion of me. You must deal with what I’m saying and deal with the consequences…If you sift through 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 could 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 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.

I have a contentious relationship with Tarantino. First, I, like a lot of people, do like Pulp Fiction. I’m not sure if it was because I was taught to like it and about what aspects of film creation and writing makes it good, or if I’d like if I came upon it outside of my film studies classes. But I like it. It’s a good film. I’m still not sure what kind of juju Tarantino has to make so many black people like him despite him saying the N-word in Pulp Fiction, gleeful that he had gotten some kind of permission from someone black to say it. Or perhaps he was gleeful to say it because he was finally living out his blaxploitation fantasies he might have had as a kid. I don’t know, but tons of black people and film geeks (black, white and otherwise) love Tarantino.

I’ll also admit that I actually liked Django Unchained when I saw it in the theater. Perhaps it was because I was happy to know something about Tarantino and to be in the unmentioned club of Tarantino films (I’d also bought and watched Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, even though the action was too much for my sensitive nerves). Perhaps it was because I was new to Miami and viewed anything familiar, like movie theaters and Tarantino films, as great. Perhaps it was solely because I wanted to support Jamie Foxx and I liked the idea of bringing slavery into the hack-slash genre, with the slave coming out on top (which is what Foxx promised all of us when promoting the film). It could have also been that when I read about the film, I read that Tarantino was actually quite nervous about making this film and got a blessing of sorts from the Black Actor of Black Actors, Sidney Poitier. Whatever the reason(s), I loved it.

But then I got to thinking about it as I read people’s critiques. Do black people get nervous when a white person is writing a black story? Yes, and, as Hollywood has shown, they have a reason to be. Do you know how many stories in Hollywood include us as maids, butlers, slaves, and unrealistic buffoons? But, isn’t there a point to be made when Django‘s biggest issue is that a film written by a white guy has a white guy a the actual killer of the bad white guy? Spoiler alert, but why didn’t Django get to kill Calvin Candie? Why did Schultz (Dr. King Schultz) kill Candie? As much as I love how lovable and noble Schultz was in the film (or maybe I just love Christoph Waltz), Candie wasn’t Schultz’ to kill. Django was after Candie because Candie had his wife! But it seems like Schultz gets to kill Candie because of an unconscious injection of white guilt from the writer. Through Schultz, Tarantino gets to position himself not just as a “down” white guy, but as a white guy who truly knows the black experience so well that he gets to speak for them (aka avenge them through Schultz’ breaking point and subsequent killing of Candie).

My point is backed up with just how much Tarantino says his films are at the center of black culture and how Selma, written and directed by an actual black person, isn’t worth the outrage that happened during the Oscars. Ellis makes things worse by erasing Selma and placing Django in its place as the ultimate contemporary film of the black experience. The thing that’s being missed, among many things, is that where as Django is literally a comic book put to celluloid (or digital printing), Selma is a history book. Meaning that Selma is portraying things that actually happened in real life. It’s just as valid of a film as Band of Brothers and other films that could be considered too nostalgic by some, but necessary by most.

These are just my thoughts, but what do you think about these quotes? Give your opinions in the comments section below!

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Quentin Tarantino at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival Juror Awards Ceremony. Photo credit: Jemal Countess