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A Feminist Defense Of Quentin Tarantino

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When thinking of top feminist film directors, the name Quentin Tarantino is rarely on anybody's radar, and on the heels of The Hateful Eight, I want to know why. In a genre that is so male-dominated, Tarantino takes careful consideration of each and every female character. But is any violence towards any woman unfeminist, even if the men are getting blown up the same way?

Paul Feig makes Bridesmaids and an all female cast of Ghostbusters, and he is immediately seen as feminist, but QT has built a career placing woman in his leading roles and center plots without making them love interests or scantily clad airheads, yet he is so easily overlooked as a feminist. Is it because his intricate filmmaking overshadows the pro-woman undertones? Is it because of the violence in his movies? Or that there is a lot of blood occasionally coming out of the female body? Feminists like blood, blood is beautiful. Is it because there may have been one rumor about a consensual foot fetish Tarantino indulges in? Is that enough to put the nail in the coffin and not call his movies feminist?

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These are groundbreaking movies and whether you like them/him or not, he is going down as one of the greatest directors of our time. It is also to be noted that a woman named Sally Menke edited every one of his films until her untimely death in 2010. Why deny him the feminist title when he has actually contributed to making exactly the kind of films that empower women, even if it is by the omission of sexist platitudes?

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Those who have seen The Hateful Eight (no spoilers here, I promise) might jump at the chance to claim misogny, due to the fact that Jennifer Jason Leigh is hit rather brutally several times before any other character is, but indulge me for a second. If you can get your head around the inevitable violence, it’s Tarantino—not Disney, in the end the woman is probably accosted with the least violence. Then again, thinking in terms of true equality, if it wasn't a woman who was wanted for being a killer, but a man being hit and treated in this way, would that be okay?

This is equality, man, and it’s more feminist to think that a criminal is getting treated the same despite her gender. They don't treat her like a fairy princess because she is a woman, they treat her like a killer because she is a killer. She also has a hand at running the show at one point, giving her character depth, meanwhile, the entire movie centers around this woman, as do most of QT’s films. The film also passes the Bechdel test (barely, but it still counts).

WithThe Hateful Eight, I braced myself for sexism quite unnecessarily. It's a film about the Midwest in the 1800s, one woman, a room full of 8 men in the middle of a blizzard, and there is not one whisper of fucking or raping her, or any woman in the film for that matter (Note: not one Tarantino movie ever touches on the subject of female rape, except for one scene in Kill Bill where some asshole has a thing for comatose women, but gets his tongue bitten off before he can even French kiss Uma Thurman).

The Hateful Eight may not be the poster child for feminist movies, but it is subtly feminist, and could be the poster child for equal treatment. The fact is that the character of Daisy Domergue could very easily have been a man, but she isn't. This struck a cord with me. So I did some research, and by research, I mean I watched and rewatched all of QT’s eight movies and realized just how pro-women Tarantino is. This could be the subtle feminism that we need to show the typical action demographic what women are really made of, like when you hide your dog's medicine in a piece of cheese.

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Now there are the obviously empowering movies like Kill Bill, Jackie Brown, and Death Proof , which show badass broads avenging themselves. One could easily argue that this is too on the nose, being a man's version of what feminism is, or still sexualizes/fetishes women. But the effort of making so many films with strong female leads is clearly there, even with a few small mishaps that blinking at the right moments can be avoid.

In obvious ways like Kill Bill and subtle ways like The Hatefeul Eight, Tarantino's films and his characters should be feminist-approved. The characters are always more than one dimentional, never used as just a piece of eye candy, and the films never include a rape scene or talk of rape. If you’ve had you're doubts about Quentin Tarantino, allow me to point out some rather subtle acts of feminism in his movies and try to convince you.

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You could make a good argument against Tarantion's feminism because his first film, Resevoir Dogs, does not include one woman. I get the feeling that Tarantino quickly realized his mistake and spent the rest of his career making sure that would never happen again. Still, despite not one female role, there is a long discussion about "Like A Virgin" and the postmodern idea that Madonna is singing about having lots of sex and is proud enough to write a song about it rather than her innocence being compared to a virgin. They do this without an ounce of judgement being passed on to her. More importantly, they discuss the unjustness of the job of a waitress being the best-paying job a woman without a degree can get, and how the government taxes them unfairly. Another very subtle aspect is that one of the bank robbers, Mr. Brown (Tarantino’s character), is shot by a woman who he tried to carjack.

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Pulp Fiction is Tarantino's second film, and though some argue that it is also a very male centric movie, I feel Uma Thurman’s character has perhaps two of the most memorable scenes in cinema history. She is also in control of the conversation, and keeps it alive with her stories and prerogatives. Honey Bunny, the female half of the couple that holds up the diner, convinces Pumpkin, her male counterpart, to do so. Samuel L. Jackson’s character has several bits of dialogue that speak highly of women, including referring to the vagina as the holiest of holies. He also says his girlfriend is a vegetarian, which therefore makes him a vegetarian. When Travolta’s character asks if a guy fucked/raped Mia, Sammy L. responds earnestly, saying “no, nothing that bad.”

Lastly, Bruce Willis's girlfriend Fabienne discusses how sexy a woman with a stomach pouch/pot belly is. (Remember, this is in the '90’s when heroin chic was at its peak). She then goes on to say that she doesn't give a damn what men think of her body, that she is going to have her body the way she wants it.

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Kill Bill and Jackie Brown are so women-centric it's almost not worth discussing, but I feel people might have opposing opinions about Kill Bill. Even though one of the characters wears a tight nurses outfit, it can still be said that sexuality takes a back seat to the storyline, cinematography, plot, not to mention an entire movie of badass woman. 

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Consider this: Daryl Hannah is the oldest of all the women, and at 42 she is put in the most revealing clothing of any Tarantino film. (There is also a 17-year-old modestly dressed school girl who serves as a bodyguard, and the juxtaposition of age and sterotypes is awesome.)  I don't know about you, but I’m all for giving tiny school girls the role of the muscles and women older than 40 the leading sexpot role.

Granted, I might be a tad overzealous about what he doesn't do, but compared to so many movies that are glorified in the genre, women just aren't seen as the "love interest" or "eye candy" in Tarantino's movies. The women in his films are front and center and they are often the smartest people in the movie. Out of Tarantion's eight films, five-and-a-half are completely female centric. I have to hand it to this man, there is very little misogny, chauvinism or sexism to be seen.

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Death Proof could arguably be considered missing the mark on empowerment with good intentions, but I believe it is up for debate for several reasons. There are eight main characters, and just one of them is a man. The movie centers around girls being stalked by a crazed Kurt Russell, who for whatever reason gets his kicks by preying on women, killing them with his car. The death scenes are gory and brutal and, yeah, one or two girls have on short-shorts, but we are quickly introduced to women who will not give up without finding this sicko.

The girl dancing and wearing the least amount of clothes (a t-shirt and shorts is the worst of it) has curves and is the size of an average woman, instead of rail thin. A director known for being super violent and bloody takes care of his female characters and by extension, his female audience.

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Finally, Inglorious Bastards is entirely focused around a Jewish woman (played by Melanie Laurant) whose family was slaughtered by Nazis and how she gets her revenge. She doesn't let the distraction of a cute rich German war-hero-turned-actor get in the way of her plan for vengence. She is very clearly the main character, even though the movie boasts names like Brad Pitt and Christolph Waltz. The character also serves as the mastermind for a different plan to infiltrate Nazi's. 

Django Unchained could also potentially ruin my entire point because one of the main plots is to rescue Django's wife. However, there is nothing truly sexist about the movie, and when asked about the weak female role, Tarantino responded by saying that he was sticking to what was realistic for the time period.

I can stand behind Tarantino and say I believe in him 100% as a feminist. This isn't to say he does not have his flaws when it comes to the discussion of race. I personally am not in a position to be able to discuss what is racist and what isn't. The use of the N word could be considered far too prevalent in his films, while others could consider it appropriate for an accurate dipiction of the time period. The use of the word "ghetto" in his Golden Globes acceptance speech has also drawn criticism. What I will say is that Tarantino has provided a wide range of strong female roles for women of color. Pam Grier, Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Chiaki Kuriyama, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, and Marcy Harriell are just a few of the Tarantino's leading ladies that make up a wide range of women of color. 

The man really is trying to change images of women in film. They aren’t Michael Bay's women, dressed in clothes so tight and small that the plot of whether a wardrobe malfunction is going to happen is far more riveting then the actual plot. The women aren’t stupid or one dimensional that they need saving by a man. The women fight, sweat, and look terrible, the way they would if they’d been through what they actually went through. If anyone disagrees, I invite you to fight me on it. 

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Image: Sebastian Kim/GQ

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Courtney Bissonette is a New York based writer and improv comedienne. She writes primarily about movies, pop cultures and feminist heroes. She gets along best with old people. She has seen more old movies than your grandma, probably. Salt from Salt n Pepa once took her Trick'r Treating. You can follow her on instagram at @gddamnitcourtney or twitter @courttette

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