Quentin Tarantino Writes Strong Women But Didn't Stand Up Against Weinstein: Time to Rethink Filmmaker's Feminist Reputation?

From left: Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Every Quentin Tarantino movie you've seen was produced by a Harvey Weinstein company. And that means every Tarantino "strong female character" you love—Beatrix Kiddo, Jackie Brown, Mia Wallace—came from a collaboration with an alleged sexual abuser. Tarantino told The New York Times on Thursday that he knew "enough" about his longtime friend Weinstein—who is accused of crimes ranging from sexual harassment to rape—and yet did nothing. Where does this failure to support real women leave Tarantino's supposed feminist reputation?

"I knew enough to do more than I did," he said, "There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn't secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things." He told the Times that his former girlfriend Mia Sorvino, one of the women who accused Weinstein of harassment, did share stories of unwanted advances from the former mogul. He also said he knew about Rose McGowan's settlement with Weinstein (the Charmed star has now accused Weinstein of rape), and another similar situation with an unnamed actress. "What I did was marginalize the incidents. Anything I say now will sound like a crappy excuse." Tarantino claims he didn't know about the rape allegations or how many women had been affected, but that many of the incidents were familiar. He said he "chalked it up to a '50s-'60s era image of a boss chasing a secretary around the desk." The filmmaker says he now sees the error of his ways.

Tarantino's actions (or lack thereof) aren't surprising. One assumes many of Weinstein's colleagues knew of his allegedly sexually abusive behavior, given the scope of the scandal and rumors going back decades. His honesty now is surprising, given that Weinstein's other pals—Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, George Clooney—all claim ignorance. Tarantino's total ownership of his culpability feels like the correct response—but it came only after weeks of media pressure. More than 20 years of silence still remain. So now, the question that women who are fans of Tarantino must ask is: How do we reconcile his passive dismissal of sexual harassment with his many iconic female characters?

Uma Therman as Beatrix Kiddo in "Kill Bill" (2003). Miramax Films

The women of Tarantino's movies are dynamic and complex. They are fascinating in ways the throwaway phrase "strong female character" doesn't capture. These women are not the mindless, gun-wielding sex objects action movies try to pass off as nods to feminism. Kill Bill's Beatrix Kiddo is a cold-blooded killing machine and a loving mother. (Not to mention, she's the star of her own franchise—not relegated to the sidelines the way many interesting female characters are.) Jackie Brown, the titular character Tarantino wrote out of a deep respect for actress Pam Grier, is not physically strong or particularly violent, but intelligent, vulnerable and determined to survive. Shosanna Dreyfus of Inglourious Basterds literally defeated the Nazis. (And she did it for her family and her people: a tragic hero with a rich backstory.)

Tarantino has given female characters their due in a way so many male screenwriters never do. Yet while he was creating those characters, he was knowingly working with, and normalizing, an accused sexual predator. Can you praise the feminism of a man who uses his gender privilege to profit from fictional women but did not use that same privilege to defend real ones?

Perhaps it's not Tarantino's job to be a feminist. He's a storyteller, not a policy-maker. But his compliance in Weinstein's alleged crimes makes it hard not to see those characters in a new light. Suddenly, Tarantino's deep fascination with strong, assertive women feels a lot less like respect and a lot more like exploitation.