While reading Uma Thurman’s recent interview in the New York Times detailing her story of the breakdown in her working relationship with Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino, I was FURIOUS.
I’m from the generation of movie-goers that were the first to discover and embrace new boy wonder director Tarantino; whose movies, by default, catapulted Weinstein into the big leagues of heavyweight Hollywood studio players. We worshipped Tarantino’s ground-breaking style of story-telling; his willingness to use mixed genres of live action and cartoons throughout the narrative; his ability to revive the careers of forgotten actors (John Travolta was a renewed star after his turn in possibility one of the coolest movies ever made, Pulp Fiction); the glorious songs peppered throughout the soundtracks of these über cool pieces of pop culture. But mostly we loved his ‘muse’, the sensational Uma Thurman.
Reading Thurman’s interview, and having a pretty good understanding of her relationship with her director Tarantino over the years, alongside her seemingly good relationship with the head of the studio making most of her films, Weinstein, I saw red when I read how that triangle became toxic after she turned down Weinstein’s alleged advances.
Thurman had just become another card-carrying member of the group of performers manipulated by Weinstein. And seemingly towards the end, Tarantino.
As a producer, and also having been a director, I understand only too well how intimate the relationship has to be between a performer and the person guiding their performance. There’s an unspoken awareness that as the ‘boss’ on set, your job is there to protect and nurture the people who choose to be at their most vulnerable when laying their souls out for anyone to see through their performance.
Alongside the emotional safety of your performers on set, without trying to sound like a representative from Work Safe NZ, the safety of your team is of paramount importance. As a producer, your job is to ensure that the right people are hired to keep everyone on set as far from risks and hazards as possible. Whether that means a stunt performer for a fight scene, a fall, or driving a vehicle in a dangerous way (most studio productions don’t even use a real car for regular driving scenes as it’s a vehicle mounted on a flatbed and driven by someone else), or a stand-in for scenes involving explosions or fires, your job is keeping the lead actors as far away from the messy craft of film-making as possible. (Except for Tom Cruise. That guy has a death wish).
Watching the terrifying footage of Thurman trying to drive a car that had already been flagged as unsafe, and hearing how she was coerced into going ahead with the scene by Tarantino, as a producer, I was absolutely appalled.
I know how vulnerable a performer is on set, and entrusting your safety completely and absolutely to the people in charge is one of the prerequisites of the job. A performer will often be incapable of hearing their own inner voice warning of any danger signs as they have ‘become’ the character they are playing. They entrust that the people in charge will protect the ‘performer’ while they give in to being the ‘character’. Thurman was in no position to argue the case given that she had entrusted Tarantino to keep her safe. She was grossly let down.
Female actors, by and large, are working on mostly male-dominated sets. As a woman on set, the ability to speak up and say no to something without sounding like you’re being ‘difficult to work with’ can be hard. We’ve heard much about the imbalance of power that leads to situations where women feel coerced into doing something they would rather not do, whether that be performing in an unsafe environment, or performing sexual favours.
As a female producer in the industry, Thurman’s story makes me even more determined to protect the performers I am privileged to work with. It’s my job, and every other producer and director’s job, to create the best possible on-set atmosphere to create powerful stories.
Change is already in the air, and I’m grateful to be a part of it.Support Villainesse