Uma Thurman recently revealed that Quentin Tarantino forced her to drive a malfunctioning car on the set of “Kill Bill: Vol. 2.” It resulted in a car crash that nearly killed her, according to The New York Times.
To his credit, Tarantino apologized for his part in the accident, and even helped Thurman secure the crash footage from Miramax years later. What Tarantino has never shown remorse for, however, was his decision to be the person to choke her with a chain in one scene and spit on her in another.
Violent actions like these are typically carried out by stunt actors and makeup artists, and yet Tarantino did it himself. Which begs the question: why do we allow male directors to make women suffer in the name of art?
Some of Hollywood’s most powerful and iconic relationships have been composed of a director and his muse. These relationships have turned the pairings—like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren and yes, Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman—into film legends.
In Greek mythology, muses are the inspirational goddesses of literature, science and the arts. Similarly, the word “muse” now refers to any person who inspires a musician, artist or writer.
Thurman’s case shows the problematic implications behind the label “muse.” The partnership is not an equal one; just as the director gave his muse prestige and fame, he could take it all away. Historically, it was all too common for directors to abuse their power and even view their influencers as objects.
Tippi Hedren, for example, alleges that after she denied Hitchcock’s sexual advances, he refused to allow her to work with other directors. In her book, “Tippi: A Memoir,” she also recounts an incident where she was attacked while filming “The Birds.” On the day they began shooting, she was informed they would use live birds, subjecting the actress to near-torture, according to Hedren.
In another example, on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” Shelley Duvall was intentionally isolated and antagonized by the director. Kubrick forced her to film 127 takes of the iconic baseball bat scene. By the end of filming, clumps of Duvall’s hair had fallen out due to stress, according to a behind-the scenes documentary created by Kubrick’s daughter.
For a long time, being a muse was the only way a woman could achieve power in show business. Perhaps the answer to this problem is more gender diversity not only in front of the camera, but behind it as well, so that women are not just objects, but also creators.
Progress does appear to be imminent; cinematographer Rachel Morrison of “Mudbound” just became the first woman ever nominated for an Oscar for cinematography. There is still a long way to go, nevertheless.
Women made up just seven percent of the directors who take on the top 250 films in 2016, according to San Diego State’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. How many of these are big budget films? It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that it’s not that many.
Furthermore, when women are given the opportunity to direct films, such as Greta Gerwig with Lady Bird, they are snubbed Best Director awards. There seems to be a lack of equality in the magnitude of studio campaign for male and female directors.
The argument that female-run movies don’t sell as much is invalid. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman was the third highest-grossing film of 2017.
When given the opportunity to do so, women deliver. If women aren’t given the chance to create stories just like men, then you have to question how “empowering” a movie really is.
Clearly, Hollywood still has a long way to go before women are treated properly. Perhaps the first steps are eradicating the word “muse,” encouraging diversity behind the scenes and de-romanticizing female abuse that is enabled for the sake of art.