In Kill Bill Vol. 2, Esteban Vihaio, one of Bill’s many father figures, tells Beatrix Kiddo about one time when he took the 5-years old Bill to the cinema to watch The Postman Always Rings Twice starring Lana Turner. Compulsively sucking his thumb whenever Turner would appear on the screen, Vihaio knew that Bill was a “fool for blonds ?. Quentin Tarantino tells a similar story of his first true exposure to Blaxploitation movies.
In an interview, he narrates how once his mother’s boyfriend took him to Downtown LA and he watched Bad Gunn starring Brenda Sykes, “the prettiest woman in Blaxploitations ? as he describes. With such a similar approach in mind, one can see Tarantino’s “foulness ? for Blaxploitation movies as he grew up in the cinematic world to continue mimicking them using his own twists. His mimic can be clearly detected in his movies throughout his female figures always associated with blackness and illustrating an example of “black-white alliance ? as Crouch puts it.Order now
These women are usually powerful, threatening, and presented as capable of castrating. By analyzing the women figures Jackie Brown, Death Proof, Kill Bill and Inglorious Bastards, I will show how Tarantino tends to associate himself with his female protagonists that get more and more powerful with every movie of his. I will then set Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers as a comparison showing different figures of women’s empowerment. To analyze Tarantino’s movies, one should start with True Romance as Crouch suggests.
The empowered female figure resonated in this movie with the character of Alabama. Presenting a different prototype from the all mouth woman, which is very common in a Jewish-dominated Hollywood, Alabama is an “updated frontier woman ? whose strength was not taken away in favor of urbanization. Both Pai Mei in Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Cruger) in Inglorious Bastards allude to the common prototype that white women of the city’s only concern is to order in restaurants and to spend their men’s money.
A black woman on the other hand is seen to have a natural tendency to take actions with her own hands as she was “toughened by slavery ?. What Tarantino does in his movies is that he presents the powerful white woman as toughened by brutal means in a similar manner to slavery. These women that appear in a similar manner to superheroes have the traditional woman role, the mother, as an alter ego. Bringing up Bill’s monologue on Superman, this traditional role is the mask that these women put on to blend in; this mask is their Clark Kent, which is a “critique on the whole human race ?.
As Paul Gormley states paraphrasing Judith Butler, the norm in cinema is for images of black male bodies to provoke a response “couched in an immediate fear, anxiety and paranoia around the imagined primitivism, violence and authenticity of the masculine black body ?. Tarantino tries to shift this type of image to the female character. Even if the paradigms of these women did not appear on the screen, they are put forward in men’s conversations. Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s all-men movie except for one woman who shoots the undercover cop, Orange, as he tries to take over her car with Mr.
White. Other than that, women are spoken of, and specially in the car scene when is telling the other men about Lady E, a black waitress in one of his father’s clubs from Ladera Heights, “the black Palos Verdes ?, and he calls her a man-eater-upper. Castration is alluded to when Lady E glues her husband’s penis to his stomach. Lady E is compared to Christie Love who is the TV shows version of Pam Grier. This constitutes one of the many references Tarantino makes to pop culture, and in this character it is a black female cop from a Blaxploitation TV series.
These white men in the car who appear racists throughout the movie show at this point an attraction and even appreciation of black women. They even acknowledge a black women’s power and contrast her to a white woman who, using Tarantino’s terminology, would stand a man’s shit. Following a chronological order in the movie, this comes a couple of hours or even minutes before a white blond woman shoots Mr. Orange as he heisted her car. In this movie, Tarantino also brings up the double notion of being black as represented in Blaxploitation movies, which is either that of murder and assault or that of coolness and hipness.
When Mr. Blond goes out of prison, Eddie justifies Blond’s talk about murder and violence as that of a “nigger ?. In the same scene, Joe Cabot, Eddie’s father and the head of the gang, tell his son and Blond after he ceases their fighting that they were acting like a bunch of “niggers ? always saying they are going to kill each other. In a later scene the movie, while Cabot is assigning a name color for each of the men, he does not give anyone the name Mr. Black. “You get four guys all fighting over who’s gonna be Mr. Black ¦Be thankful you’re not Mr. Yellow ?.
And then there is the character of Holdsway who is the perfect depiction for the “hipness ?. The scenes showing Holdsway training Mr. Orange how to act properly while undercover shows a difference in space when compared to the scenes where the other gang members are seen. With the latter being disclosed and up-close, those with Holdsway come to be open and refined, signifying a similarity to Black Realism, as Gormley observes. “African-American culture is fabricated as a space where intertextuality is a means to provide a cinematic affect constructed in terms of contemporary authenticity and cultural authority, ? he adds.
Having assured Tarantino’s perception of African American culture in general and of the figure of black women in pop culture comes his own black female protagonist in Jackie Brown. Again the contrast between the empty white culture and the rich realistic black one is evident here between Jackie Brown (Pam Grier), the black slick flight attendant, and Melanie Ralston (Bridget Fonda), the blond who spends her free time smoking marijuana and ends up shot with Order Robbie (Samuel Jackson) saying in her memory, “her ass used to be beautiful.
Robbie and Louis Gara (Robert De Niro) are watching Miss Orange County contestants modeling shooting guns in the shallowest manner with their American flag-printed swimsuits and their teddy bears targets. When Brown is first presented, it appears as if she is being processed in a machine. She stands motionless on a moving walkway and is presumed to be immobile. It is only after she is caught by the police in the mischief of transferring drug money to Robbie that she starts toughening up and the first thing she does is pointing a gun to Robbie’s crotch.
The morning after, when the bail bonder Max Cherry (Robert Forster) visits her after she had taken his gun, Brown is situated within the frame of African American culture. A painting of four women with different shades of black surmounts one of her walls above a stack of vinyl records of black artists such as The Delfonics. Another painting by Frank Franzier, with his name and the title, “Visions in Black ? is hanged on another wall. Cherry and Brown are an example of a “black-white alliance ?, an archetype he also presents with his black assistant, Winston (Tommy ?Tiny’ Lister) whom Robbie describes as “big Mandingo-looking nigger ?.
In the last scene, Brown is driving a car to her vacation with “Across 110th Street ?, the same music that was playing at the beginning while she was on the moving walkway. At the end, she is mobile, and the meaning of the song shifts from the beginning where she was a pertained as a victim to the end as she was able to defend herself successfully. But going back to the scene when Robbie got killed, it is not Brown who shot him but the white cop. So brown did evolve into a powerful woman but not enough to be doing the primary action in her revenge.
Another black-white alliance appears in Death Proof that talks old Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) executing his perverted murderous plans using his black stunt car, a 1969 Dodge Charger, as he targets women. He usually watches women, track their moves, and in the right time hits in what appears to be his indestructible car with the women’s car. The two women groups in the movie show an apparent contrast between two black-white alliances. The first one that ends up getting killed constitutes of a blond Shanna (Jordan Ladd), a brunette Arlene (Vanessa Ferlito), and black Jungle Julia (Sydney Tamiia Potier).
From the beginning with the camera moves invade some body parts of the women from Arlene’s feet in the car to Jungle Julia’s butt as she is looking out of the window to Shanna extreme close up of her face while driving, just like it did with Melanie in Jackie Brown. What is really interesting is how Jungle Julia is depicted at the beginning stretching on the sofa in a similar manner to a blonde in the photo above her, and then a wobbly doll of herself appears in the frame, implying somehow to her career as a model.
Depicted from the beginning as mundane shallow girls whose biggest joy of the night is daring their friends to give a stranger a lap dance that happens to be in this case Stuntman Mike, they end being killed by him as he speeds up with his front lights shut off and bring their car to wrecks. The other group on the other hand is formed from the blonde Zoe Bell playing herself, the black Abernathy (Rosario Dawson) and Kim (Tracie Thomas), and the brunette Lee (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).
All four of the women are involved in the movie industry wit Zoe Bell and Kim being stuntwomen and Lee an actress, and Abernathy a makeup artist. Even within this group there occurs a contrast between the actresses whose biggest joy is finding an issue of Italian Vogue in Lebanon Tennessee and the stuntwomen whose thrill lies in doing a “ship mast ? using a 1970 Dodge Challenger. But these are the girls who survive and end up not only crashing Stuntmen Mike’s car but also giving him a deadly kick offered to him by Abernathy.
The significance of the car crashing from the beginning of the movie emerges as sexual . From the twisted obsession of watching women and focusing on certain parts of their bodies as he does with the second group to him seated on his car with the duck at the front placed between his crotch. After the Sheriff checks on the first group of girls, he quickly assumes it is a “sex thing ¦high velocity-impact, twisted metal busted glass, all four souls taken exactly at the same time. Probably the only way that diabolical degenerate can shoot his goo ?.
When the plot twists while he is chasing the second group of women and the women end up chasing him, Kim uses sexual terminology describing the car chase with the back of the car being the ass and with every hit she asks him if he is feeling hot. The women here appear as castrating figures by simply reversing the process rape, as being not only a sexual assault but also an act of dominance and power. A similar act of castration is seen in Spring Breakers when Brit (Ashley Benson) places a gun between her legs and forces, along with Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Alien (James Franco) to perform a blowjob on it.
Hinting to the phallic-like notion of guns and firearms, another reverse of domination and power in a sexual act is observed here. These two girls are the one who remained till the end after Faith (Selena Gomez) and Cotty (Rachel Korine) left the dream-like haze of the spring break. And it is these two girls who revenge for Alien who gets shot by the end of the movie. After shooting an entire mob, the two girls go into the bathroom where Archie (Guccia Mane), Alien’s old friend and new rival, is sitting in his Jacuzzi while two of his escorts are taking a shower, one black and the other blond.
In their neon like bikinis and guns in their hands pointed toward Archie, Brit and Candy are set in a frame with the two naked escorts in the back, vulnerable and dominated. These two girlies in their twenties, offering from the beginning of the movie a mix of seduction in their provocative acts and revealing clothes and innocence with their sharp giggles and hopping around as they walks, constitute a new and more dangerous types of the female heroine.
Although they appear from the beginning subjects of voyeurism, a guilty one to be precise, considering their young ages, their emergence at the end as the two survivors of a clash between a wannabe-black white rapper/drug and arms dealer and his old partner. Voyeurism is based on sexual pleasure. In her book entitled Voyeurism and Other Pleasures, Laura Mulvey shows the role of the camera and the power of gaze in the cinematic world in reinforcing the male power and subduing that of females. Woman stands in a patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning, ? she indicates (Mulvey 15). In Kill Bill, the bride/Beatrix Kiddo/Black Mamba/Mommy (Uma Thurman) is panting in pain at the beginning as her face bruised and cut is lying on the floor while the voice of a male guy who happens to be the perpetrator of violence at this moment is heard until a shotgun blasts and the screen blacks out.
This man is Bill and as the title hardly infers, Kiddo’s mission is to kill Bill. The next scene shows Kiddo in a coma in a hospital as one of the male nurses used to let men sleep with her, as she lied there motionless and unconscious. When she finally wakes up, she starts her revenge by biting off one of her “visitors ? tongue and then killing the male nurse. And that is when the revenge, or as she says at the beginning of Vol. 2 quoting movie advertisements, “a roaring rampage of revenge ? begins.
The Black Mamba does not get tamed by the Snake Charmer, aka Bill (David Carradine). She ends up instead killing everyone with her own hands and revenging her torture, except for Budd (Michael Madsen), who ironically gets killed by a real black mamba. Stealing a pussy wagon from the nurse pimp and with a rage ignited, she goes on to check one name after the other on her bucket list while getting closer to Bill. In Vol. 2, she appears to be mesmerized by his flute playing and she actually appears like a snake held spellbound he her charmer.
At the end, she takes his life with her hands using no weapon whatsoever and watches him as he slowly walks towards his death. Her dominance over male characters is clearly seen in the fight scene with the crazy 88s, especially in the scene when she snatches one of the men’s eyeballs, a direct assault to male voyeurism. Later in Vol. 2, she also snatches Elle Driver’s (Daryl Hannah) eye, which makes Kiddo as a threat to both the male and female gaze. Making up for the supposedly hereditary rage in African-American women, Tarantino builds up plots to make white man beholders of such rages and thus action.
In Reservoir Dogs, Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) as a Jewish revenges for the murder of her family by burning down a movie theater having inside it the top ranks in the Nazi army. Minutes before she does so, she applies in a montage shot red war paint adding a touch of primitivism to the act she was about to do. In her book on women in Blaxploitation movies, Yvonne Simes says that even if these heroines appeared to be powerful, they are still attached under the title “sexy ? or “attractive ?.
Figure of women in literature have always been either the deceiving seductress or the innocent woman, but it is not really the case for female heroines in Blaxploitations as Simes says. Yes these women do appeal to the eye but only to snatch it later and that constitutes them a more threatening figure than the male perpetuator of violence. Tarantino and Korine seem to be identifying themselves with female characters who would do whatever it takes to cross limits of race and gender to exercise their power, even if it were momentary or just a dream.
Crouch, Stanley. “Blues in More Than One Color: The Films of Quentin Tarantino .
Death Proof. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax Films, 2007. Film.
Gormley, Paul. The New Brutality Film. Race and Affect in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema. Bristol: Intellect, 2005.
Inglorious Bastards. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax Films, 2009. Film.
Jackie Brown. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax Films, 1997. Film.
Kill Bill Vol. 1. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax Films, 2003. Film.
Kill Bill Vol. 2. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax Films, 2004. Film.
Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Print.
Reservoir Dogs. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax Films, 1992. Film.
Simes, Yvonne D. Women of Blaxploitation. How the Black Action Film Heroine Changed American Popular Culture. Jefferson: McFarland & Company, 2006.
Spring Breakers. Dir. Harmony Korine. A24, 2012. Film.