Please give it a rest, 'Brother' Tarantino

January 20, 1998|By Mary C. Curtis

SO, when did Quentin Tarantino become soul brother No. 1? I say this after being unable to avoid him on talk shows flogging his film ''Jackie Brown.''

There was the director on Charlie Rose's talk show, with the critics from Time, New York magazine and the New York Times, explaining how ''all'' the black people are wearing Kangol caps.

The sight of the three very white critics and Charlie Rose dutifully nodding while Mr. Tarantino ''explained'' black culture to them was surreal. (Besides, Kangols -- those berets with the kangaroo logos -- are more than passe now. And the middle-class flight attendant in the film probably would not have worn one.)

Talking 'black'

And for an unbelievable few moments, when re-enacting a conversation he had with the film's star, Pam Grier, Mr. Tarantino actually reverted to some odd dialect that sounded like a cross between Stepin Fetchit and Butterfly McQueen.

There he was on the "The Tonight Show," talking with Jay Leno about how natural it was for him to write Ms. Grier's title character because he ''knows'' middle-age black women.

I wasn't that excited about seeing the film after this. But the two men of the house insisted on it. (Do all men love Pam Grier?)

To my surprise, I enjoyed it, especially the acting and the parts closest to Elmore Leonard's novel ''Rum Punch,'' on which the movie is based.

But some of the Tarantino-written dialogue? Well, that's another matter. He had said in interviews that he ''was'' the character of Ordell, a killer and gun dealer played by Samuel L. Jackson. What does that say about Mr. Tarantino?

Take away the most derogatory word for black people and the ultimate four-letter word, and the character would have had nothing to say. I have never met a real person whose vocabulary was as laced with those particular obscenities as that character's.

Mr. Tarantino may think it's ''real''; I found it foul and clunky.

In one scene, Ordell is admiring Jackie Brown's looks as they sit in a bar talking strategy. You look so fine, he says, you must need ''[N word] repellent'' every time you come in here.


I'm not saying whites can't write black characters or vice versa. But Mr. Tarantino seems to take great pleasure in promoting himself as a ''black'' expert. Is there such a thing? And he also seems to have a special fascination with the N word.

In one scene in ''Pulp Fiction,'' Mr. Tarantino's own character referred to the N word in his garage with his brains blown out; and he said it over and over again, like a mantra. His character was married to a black woman, which I guess was supposed to make it cool. It wasn't.

Mr. Tarantino is like a spoiled child with a new toy, only his toy is PTC that word and he throws it around because he's the writer and he can. I also wonder whether white folks who don't actually know any black people really think we act that way and talk that way.

Here's some advice for ''Brother'' Quentin: Give it a rest. When you try to be real, it just sounds like you're trying too hard. Life is not a rap video and you are not Tupac reincarnate.

Cut the silly stuff, and maybe your next film won't be two hours and 40 minutes long.


Mary C. Curtis is features editor of the Charlotte Observer.

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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