Updated: Jun 18, 2020
“I reject your hypothesis,” a comment said by director Quentin Tarantino in panel at the premiere of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at Cannes earlier this week. As of recent, the comment has sparked debate across multiple platforms in terms of men silencing women’s voices to this day. I believe that it is something worth diving into, while understanding what it truly means for women in front of the camera.
“I just wanted to know why that was - why we don’t hear her speaking very much?” A journalist asked Tarantino on May 22nd, 2019 at the Cannes Film Festival. After asking actor Margot Robbie to comment on her role as well, Tarantino responded with “I reject your hypothesis,” the panel, Robbie included, chuckled to themselves as Robbie prepared her answer. After looking through responses on blogs and social media websites, I have found that most fans of Tarantino and film lovers in general seem divided on how they should feel about his comment. Women in the film world see this as a way to silence their female counterparts on screen, but I feel that it is much deeper than this.
Quentin Tarantino has been known for his controversial statements to press over the course of his film career, but one staple he has had since early on is his use of strong women and characters within his universe. Of his nine films, five have featured prominent roles that have fleshed out character arcs for women (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2, Inglourious Basterds). He has been able to highlight women as strong, independently minded people throughout the course of his career. So, there has to be something more to what he said at Cannes.
Knowing Tarantino’s affinity of “copying” (as he puts) other films (especially Westerns), it’s no surprise that a film like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will have significant ties to Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone, 1969), a three hour Western Opera with little to no dialogue. It’s token female character played by Claudia Cardinale has almost no lines, but still plays a significant role in the film. She uses her natural acting ability while Leone utilizes Ennio Morricone’s haunting score to move the plot along. Bringing this back to Tarantino, a director who is greatly influenced by western films, it would be shocking if these films did not have significant ties to each other. The idea of using a fictional story from 1969 to highlight the truth from a tragedy in 1969 is not too far fetched.
Margot Robbie followed up his statement with a more eloquent explanation. She said, “I think the moments on screen show those wonderful sides of [Sharon Tate] could be adequately done without speaking,” Robbie continues with saying that she took the role because she, “felt that I could honor the memory of Sharon Tate."
"Quentin said to me she’s the heartbeat of the story. I saw her as a ray of light,” she said, thus highlighting the importance of her role. Margot Robbie is not an actress known for her submissive side, her roles in The Wolf of Wall Street (Scorese, 2013) and I, Tonya (Gillespie, 2017) show that she is a strong leading actor who chooses her roles wisely. Playing Sharon Tate in this film was not an act of silence, but one of liberation for a woman who was subjected to senseless violence.
Quentin Tarantino stating, “I reject your hypothesis,” was in argument to the journalist’s notion that his choice was against the progression of women in film. The murder of Sharon Tate silenced a significant woman in Hollywood 50 years ago, Tarantino’s need to utilize this silence in contrast from most of his other films was not a choice against women, but a choice to highlight the pains of silencing them for too long.