Quentin Tarantino’s movies have always been cinematic events, but his last two have been something more: blockbusters. Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained combined to gross more than $746 million around the globe, and his next movie, the Christmas Day-dated Western, The Hateful Eight, had all the marks of repeating that success. But then something happened that placed everything in doubt: Tarantino got political.
On Oct. 24, Tarantino marched in a New York City rally to protest police brutality, in particular the rash of killings of unarmed minorities by law enforcement. Speaking to a crowd, Tarantino said, “I am a human being with a conscience. And when I see murder, I cannot stand by, and I have to call the murdered the murdered and I have the call the murderers the murderers.”
The rally took place just days after a New York police officer had been killed in East Harlem, and the police did not take kindly to Tarantino’s critical remarks. The president of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association called Tarantino a “cop hater” and a “purveyor of degeneracy” and called for a boycott of all his films. Several police unions and organizations expressed support for the boycott, and one police official even said that cops were planning a “surprise” for Tarantino before the film’s premiere.
This wasn’t the publicity and marketing campaign that Tarantino and The Weinstein Company had in mind for their Oscar hopeful, a violent epic starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Lason Leigh, and several other of Tarantino’s favorite players. But rather than run from it, apologize, or walk back his comments, Tarantino has held firm. “I stand by [what I said],” the filmmaker tells EW. “I mean, I was completely misrepresented from what I said. I didn’t say all cops were murderers, or every single police shooting was a murder. We were talking about very specific instances.”
Thus far, Tarantino hasn’t encountered any blowback in terms of some police “surprise.” The film’s Los Angeles and New York premieres went off without incident, and Tarantino seems only slightly concerned. “The only question that I had going in was just natural human trepidation because I knew a lot of fans that were police officers, and I did have a little apprehension about the fact that a lot of them could misread what I was saying and a lot of them might jump to conclusions and not take in the nuance of what I might say or mean,” he says. “All of a sudden, some regular on-the-street patrolman who would now be like, ‘Oh, look Tarantino. F— that guy. F—in’ doesn’t know s—.’ Did I feel bad that they’re not going to kiss me for this? Yeah, a little bit. But not as bad as I feel sitting on the couch watching literally people being gunned down and then the cops just facing some Mickey Mouse cop tribunal and just being put on desk duty.
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“And I completely and utterly reject the bad apples argument,” he continues. “Chicago just got caught with their pants down in a way that can’t be denied. But I completely and utterly reject the “few bad apples” argument. Yeah, the guy who shot [Laquan McDonald] is a bad apple. But so are the other eight or nine cops that were there that said nothing, did nothing, let a lie stand for an entire year. And the chief of police, is he a bad apple? I think he is. Is [Chicago Mayor] Rahm Emanuel a bad apple? I think he is. They’re all bad apples. That just shows that that’s a bulls— argument. It’s about institutional racism. It’s about institutional cover-ups that are about protecting the force as opposed to the citizens.”
The Weinstein Company supported Tarantino’s stance, and boycott or not, the film is receiving a heavy marketing push for its special roadshow engagaments beginning Dec. 25 and its nationwide expansion on Jan. 1. But the negative press did exact a price. Despite being a bloody R-rated shoot ’em up, The Weinstein Company had secured some clever marketing tie-ins, a rare bauble for an R-rated film. Those all went poof when the police proposed their boycott. “One of them was a fast-food restaurant that were going to do little Happy Meal kind of things, with character cups of the different eight and everything,” says Tarantino. “And that would’ve been really fun and really cool; we would’ve been breaking new ground for such a tough movie, to have those kind of tie-ins. But [those companies] got scared, and I understand why they got scared.”
Tarantino might rather be talking about Ennio Morricone’s new Hateful Eight score or the instant-classic speech he wrote for Jackson’s veteran Union officer, a black man surrounded by angry white men with guns. But the bullying tenor of the police response has only emboldened him. “As far as getting my point across, the cops response to it has made my point for me in so many ways,” he says. “They look really bad. Civil servants, even rhetorically, shouldn’t be threatening private citizens. They sounded like bad guys in an ’80s action movie.”
Tarantino chuckles at that last bit. Because no one knows — or appreciates — bad guys in ’80s action movies like Quentin Tarantino.