The Most Controversial Quentin Tarantino Moments

Few Hollywood figures attract controversy like writer-director-producer-actor Quentin Tarantino. For starters, his films are provocative. Since his earliest directorial efforts, like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Tarantino has become known for combining witty dialogue with shocking violence, thrilling plot twists, and compelling character development - and all of them have been rated “R.”

But Tarantino's films have also drawn plenty of criticism. Many of his critics accuse him of glorifying violence; others have accused him of racism, objectification, and more. Here are some of the most controversial moments in his career.

  • Uma Thurman starred in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in 1994 and Kill Bill Vol. 1 in 2003, but her experience on the set of Kill Bill Vol. 2 permanently altered their working relationship. While filming in Mexico, Thurman had a serious car accident, driving off a sharp curve and sustaining permanent damage to her knees and neck.

    According to Thurman, she was reluctant to film the shot. The vehicle had recently been converted from manual to automatic, and she felt the driving conditions were unsafe. Tarantino, however, wanted Thurman in the shot, not a stunt driver, so he pressured her into performing the trick.

    For his part, Tarantino later explained he had scouted the road from the opposite direction and didn't think the sharp curve would be a hazard. He also called the stunt “one of the biggest regrets” of his life.

    Despite the episode of peril, Thurman doesn't consider Tarantino the villain of the story. In 2018, Tarantino provided Thurman with footage of the crash, which Thurman then posted on her Instagram. In the post, she accused producer Lawrence Bender and executive producers E. Bennett Walsh and Harvey Weinstein of covering up the accident and lying about it.

  • Some Have Accused Tarantino Of Overusing Racial Slurs In His Films
    Photo: Django Unchained / The Weinstein Company

    No one can deny the fact that Quentin Tarantino's films are filled with racial slurs. Jackie Brown contains 38 instances of the N-word, while Django Unchained uses it more than 100 times. It also appears in Pulp Fiction, including an instance in which Tarantino says it himself.

    Tarantino's use of racial slurs has both defenders and critics. Frequent collaborator Samuel L. Jackson came to his defense, saying:

    You can’t just tell a writer he can’t talk, write the words, put the words in the mouths of the people from their ethnicities, the way that they use their words. You cannot do that, because then it becomes an untruth; it’s not honest. It’s just not honest.

    Jackson did, however, warn Tarantino against saying it in Pulp Fiction.

    On the other hand, Spike Lee has frequently spoken out against the director's habit. After the 1997 release of Jackie Brown, Lee said: 

    Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made - an honorary black man?

    Tarantino responded by calling Lee racist.

    Many have asked Tarantino about the subject over the years, and his replies are usually either defiant or dismissive. In 2012, when Chris Wallace asked Tarantino to respond to those who might be offended by his use of racial slurs, he said:

    If you have a problem with my movies, then they aren’t the movies to go see. Apparently, I’m not making them for you.

  • Tarantino's Revisionist History In ‘Inglourious Basterds' and ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Has Been Polarizing
    Photo: Inglourious Basterds / The Weinstein Company

    Two of Tarantino's films, Inglourious Basterds and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, can be considered revisionist history. (Some include Django Unchained on that list, though that film doesn't involve any historical characters). Each film is a bloody revenge scenario about people seeking payback from some of history's worst villains: Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson's cult.

    While these films are undoubtedly a thrill for some audience members and critics, others worry they gloss over the ugly truths of these eras. Inglourious Basterds never bothers to mention Hitler's crimes, while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood treats the casual racism of the 1960s as a charming quirk of the era.

    As Washington Monthly put it, in his earlier films, Tarantino used violence thoughtfully, but his more recent films are about “revenge for revenge’s sake.”

  • Tarantino Became Angry When Asked About The Potential Connection Between Sandy Hook And Onscreen Violence
    Photo: Django Unchained / The Weinstein Company

    Tarantino Became Angry When Asked About The Potential Connection Between Sandy Hook And Onscreen Violence

    Django Unchained was set to premiere on Tuesday, December 18, 2013. The film tells an undoubtedly violent story about a formerly enslaved man who becomes a bounty hunter, played by Jamie Foxx. On the Friday before the premiere, however, the Sandy Hook shooting occurred in Newtown, CT. In response, the Weinstein Company decided to cancel the film's premiere and replace it with a friends-and-family screening.

    The subject inevitably arose while Tarantino subsequently promoted the film. UK broadcaster Channel 4's Krishnan Guru-Murthy interviewed Tarantino a few weeks later and asked him about the possible link between film violence and real-life violence. A weary Tarantino responded:

    I'm not answering your question. I'm not your slave and you're not my master. It's none of your damn business what I think about that.

    Tarantino went on to complain that he'd already been asked this question numerous times over the past two decades. At one point Tarantino said, “I'm shutting your butt down.”

  • Tarantino Admitted He 'Knew Enough To Do More' About Harvey Weinstein
    Photo: Siebbi / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Tarantino Admitted He 'Knew Enough To Do More' About Harvey Weinstein

    Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published their New York Times report detailing producer Harvey Weinstein's decades of sexual assault and cover-ups on October 5, 2017. Weeks later, the newspaper published an interview with Tarantino, in which Kantor asked him what he knew about the allegations.

    “I knew enough to do more than I did,” Tarantino 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.”

    Specifically, Tarantino pointed to unwanted advances Weinstein made towards Tarantino's former girlfriend, actress Mira Sorvino, as well as a financial settlement Weinstein paid Rose McGowan.

  • Tarantino Made Dismissive Comments About Roman Polanski But Later Apologized
    Photo: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood / Sony Pictures Releasing

    iIn 2003, while Tarantino was promoting the first Kill Bill on The Howard Stern Show, the host asked Tarantino his opinion on director Roman Polanski, who was arrested for drugging and r*ping 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in 1977, and who then fled to Paris the following year.

    Tarantino characterized Geimer as a “party girl” and dismissed the accusations against Polanski.

    In 2018, Tarantino apologized to Geimer and provided a public statement to IndieWire:

    I want to publicly apologize to Samantha Geimer for my cavalier remarks on The Howard Stern Show speculating about her and the crime that was committed against her. Fifteen years later, I realize how wrong I was. Ms. Geimer WAS r*ped by Roman Polanski.

    When Howard [Stern] brought up Polanski, I incorrectly played devil’s advocate in the debate for the sake of being provocative. I didn’t take Ms. Geimer’s feelings into consideration, and for that I am truly sorry.

    The following year, Tarantino's ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, premiered and featured Roman Polanski as a minor but important character; in the film, his wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), is murdered.