Once Upon a Time ... in Social Justice
If you haven't seen Quentin Tarantino's latest film, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, you should probably stop reading this column right now. I'm not saying this because I intend on dropping some spoilers, or anything of that nature. It's just a really great movie, and much more worth your time than looking for a political piece to get fired up over.
But if you have seen the movie, you may have picked up on something that I didn't (or at least didn't give a second thought to) — something that very much caught the attention of Time Magazine writers, Anna Purna Kambhampaty and Elijah Wolfson. The pair noticed that actress Margot Robbie, who portrays real-life murdered actress Sharon Tate in the nearly three-hour-long film, has relatively few lines.
This isn't just in comparison to Robbie's co-stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. It's also relative to how much time she spends on-screen. In fact, in her longest scene (by far), Tate slips into a sparsely filled movie theater and watches a film she co-starred in with Dean Martin. Sitting by herself, she smiles and glows with confidence whenever her performance is well-received by the audience. But she doesn't say a word...because she's sitting in a movie theater...with no one next to her.
Kambhampaty and Wolfson found the dialogue discrepancy between Robbie and her male co-stars to be more than a little curious. So much so that the two of them embarked on a cinematic crusade for Time to watch all 10 of Tarantino's feature-length films, from beginning to end, and count "how many lines of dialogue were spoken by male and female characters in each."
They took their investigation pretty seriously too, setting strict ground-rules for what constitutes a "line," comparing scripted lines to spoken lines, and producing charts and graphs to illustrate their findings.
Their conclusion after hours and hours of analysis: "men have gotten the majority of dialogue in Tarantino’s films."
Insert audible gasp here.
They point out that this is due, in part, to most of Tarantino's movies having male leads and/or a mostly male cast. But they do add this finding: "But even Tarantino films with female leads and more female characters tend to give more dialogue to men: in Kill Bill: Volume 2, for example, the share of lines going to male actors was 17.5 percentage points higher than those given to women; in Jackie Brown, it’s a startling 39.8 percentage points higher."
Just prior to crediting three additional individuals for assisting in their reporting, they wrap up the article with this sentence: "Interestingly enough, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is almost a perfect microcosm of the gender breakdown in Tarantino films, coming surprisingly close to matching the average share of male vs. female lines across his entire body of work."
Now, I'm going to go ahead and assume that the data they presented is accurate; I have no reason to believe otherwise. But I do take strong issue with the word "interestingly" accompanying it. I mean, do normal people find this revelation even remotely interesting? And who would be startled to learn that there's much more male dialogue than female dialogue in movies written by a male director?
The only thing that fascinated me about this very time-intensive research project is the fact that Time Magazine (not a school newspaper) not only published it, but presumably paid these people to watch a bunch of movies (hey, maybe I should send them my resume) and accumulate data for no explicit reason or broader value.
But it's safe to say that there is a point being made here, even though it wasn't specifically stated in the piece. And I think it goes beyond Tarantino's history with disgraced film producer, Harvey Weinstein.
We live in a time when political correctness and identity politics have seeped their way into every element of our culture. Not even something as pure as creative expression can be left to be appreciated on its own merits. A good portion of society has instead been conditioned to evaluate nearly everything along subjective measures of equality and fairness, whether the subtext is ethnicity, gender, economic class, or any item from a growing list of social constructs.
Not even art — our timeless and cherished outlet for the expression of societal irreverence — can escape the growing reach of the P.C. police.
It's one thing to pursue and expose real-life injustices in Hollywood (and numerous other industries), like the #MeToo movement has. This is not only appropriate but crucially important (and much overdue) work. But treating the art itself as a violation of equitable standards within a society is absurd.
Tarantino is far from the first Hollywood-type to face such scrutiny, of course. Even classic films from very different eras have come under fire in recent years for not rising to the decorum of modern sensibilities.
But at some point, it's detrimental and even dangerous to our culture not to have some safe-havens that we as a society (not lawmakers) deem off-limits to the tireless pursuit of social justice. And it seems to me that art should be at the top of that list.