Gender in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

At the last Cannes International Film Festival during a press conference for Once Upon A Time…Hollywood, a reporter asked Quentin Tarantino why actress Margot Robbie had so little screen time and dialogue as Sharon Tate. Tarantino responded, “I reject your hypothesis.” What hypothesis was that?

One could argue that it’s a career-long one for Tarantino, in which his ability to write about and work with women is questioned. Of course, the reporter was really referring to the criticism of how Tarantino treats women in the film. More specifically, the missed opportunity to give tragically-slain actress Sharon Tate a voice. Hollywood has never been kind to Tate. Her death is sited as the end of the 60s, but no one really knows anything about her beyond that.

Many thought that Tarantino’s retelling of this time in Hollywood would be a chance for him to do what he does best; rewrite history to right wrongs. Fans and critics assumed Tarantino would use his ode to 1960s Hollywood to change the fate of Tate and the others that were killed that night in August 1969. And he did, but he used two fictional male characters to do it; Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth (Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt).

By creating a fictional narrative around the 1969 Manson Murders, Tarantino is denying not just Sharon Tate’s voice, but female-driven narratives in general. Instead, he uses the characters of Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth to take Tate’s agency away in the final moments of the film, in order to redeem a story of male aging in Hollywood. In saving Tate’s life, the film’s narrative shifts from one about redemption against a terrible crime, to one about saving a fragile male ego.

DiCaprio and Pitt’s fictional characters reinforced gender norms. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood denounces the importance of telling female-driven stories in film by replacing them with male-driven narratives. This article will explore gender-enforced roles in the film. It uses Sharon Tate as a device to elevate the male narrative of aging in Hollywood, while denouncing the importance of her story

The Girl from Valley of the Dolls

Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

To better understand the use of Tate in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, we can look at Malinalli Lopez Arreguin’s essay “The Importance of Female-Driven Narratives” about Do the Right Thing. In it, Arreguin argues that Rosie Perez’s character, Tina, is just a symbol to show Spike Lee’s Mookie character’s short-comings.

“Film critic Angharad N. Valdiva interprets the character of Tina as an objectified body within the structure of the film and warns that the simple addition of female characters to storylines are not enough: ‘Portrayal then, is not the entire answer or strategy from a multiculturalist position especially after we have experienced many instances of portrayals that were not necessarily a major improvement over absence’” (Arreguin 392).

Here, Arreguin explains that all too often female characters are placed in film as a body to play next to a male character. They are only there to move the male character’s storyline along. Tate’s story in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood merely exists to give purpose to Rick and Cliff. By putting Rick directly next to Tate in terms of location, he is tied to her, even if the two characters don’t interact until the end of the film. She represents new, young, free-spirited Hollywood, while he represents the older generation of 50s TV cowboys. She has an entire career ahead of her. He has already experienced most of his. Tate only exists in this narrative then to show Rick what he’s up against, what aging in Hollywood means for his career. It’s comical that Tarantino chose to make male aging the center of his film, when we know that historically women age out of Hollywood much earlier than men do.

Critics have been quick to call Tarantino’s film a movie about white men aging in Hollywood under the false pretense of a Manson Murders story. Richard Brody wrote in his review of the film in The New Yorker that it was an “obscenely regressive vision of the Sixties.” He goes on to explain that the film almost feels like it has an agenda of pointing out what the good old days looked like and why they were ruined.

“If only the old-line Hollywood people of the fifties and sixties had maintained their pride of place—if only the times hadn’t changed, if only the keys to the kingdom hadn’t been handed over to the freethinkers and decadents of the sixties—then both Hollywood and the world would be a better, safer, happier place. There’s no slur delivered more bitterly by Cliff and Rick than “hippie,” and their narrow but intense experiences in the course of the film are set up to bear out the absolute aptness of their hostility.”

Promotional photo of Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

Here we see how Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood takes a clear stance on Tate’s alliance with the new-wave of Hollywood stars. She is a threat to everything Rick Dalton believes in. She represents the very thing that is forcing him out of a job and out of relevance.

Some might argue that Tate’s role as Rick’s younger mirror is important because it helps you better understand his character and arc. But, at what cost? It is not enough to simply have a female character present. And, all too often, those female characters do not get to have their own distinct voice. We can see the result of Tate’s loss of voice in the movie theater scene where Robbie attends a matinee of Tate’s film The Wrecking Crew.

Before going into the theater to watch her own movie, Tate introduces herself to the worker at the ticket booth. The theater worker does not recognize her and just tells her the price of a ticket to see the show. “What if I’m in the movie?” Tate asks her. “You’re in this?” the theater worker asks her sounding unsure. Tate nods, but the worker is still not convinced, telling her that the blonde in The Wrecking Crew is the girl from Valley of the Dolls. Eventually Tate convinces her that she is in fact the girl from Valley of the Dolls, and the theater worker asks for her photo. When she goes to take the photo of Tate she pauses and repositions the actress in front of the film poster in the theater lobby. “Why don’t you stand by the poser so people will know who you are,” she tells Tate. Robbie smiles and shrugs, as if to show that Tate wouldn’t have been bothered by this either.

But this scene is bothersome. It seems to be Tarantino’s way of excusing himself for not focusing his film on Tate. He’s telling the audience that Tate was not that famous. People didn’t recognize her if she was walking down the street without Polanski. Perhaps this is his way of justifying why Rick Dalton is a more important character to care about in his movie. Rick has had a career. He was the star of a TV show. People know him. People love him. Tate will have that someday. In fact, because of Rick, she will get to live out her life and have a long, happy career. The irony here, of course, is that the real-life Tate was not so lucky. And by dismissing her young career in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Tarantino is implying that her history as an actress, however short or small it was, is not important enough to explore. Her agency is not important.

Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man

For all the fun Brad Pitt is as Cliff Booth in the film, he’s also problematic. To understand gender identities in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, we must examine Cliff’s overly macho persona. In Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” she explores why men are given powerful roles in film, while women are only given roles where they can be a visual next to male characters. One of the reasons audiences connect to Cliff so much is because he is cool.

“A male movie star’s glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror” (Mulvey 5).

Pitt is an example of how a male movie star is often presented as perfect. He’s cool under pressure and always knows how to save the day. Even his job—stunt man—makes him seem effortlessly cool and, more importantly, tough. He then represents the gender that appears more important in a film’s narrative. Although Cliff is technically seen as a supporting character like Tate, he is given more to do in the film because he is a man. We’re told we need him in the narrative as he is the only gender who can face evil, in this case the Manson Family.

Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

Cliff decides to give a ride to a hitchhiking hippie teen named “Pussy,” who happens to be a part of the Manson Family cult. She has him drive her back to Spahn Ranch, where the Manson Family lives. From the moment Cliff steps onto the set where he used to film Rick’s now-canceled cowboy show “Bounty Law,” he senses something isn’t right. Cliff asks if George Spahn, owner of the ranch, still lives there. He does, but he’s napping. Eventually, Cliff argues his way into the house where George is living with Family member, Squeaky, so he can make sure George is OK. George doesn’t remember him, and Cliff becomes increasingly worried that the hippie group is taking advantage of his old friend.

This scene creates much of Cliff’s hero narrative. First, it positions him as a caring friend, as he worries that his old colleague may be in danger or being used by people who may not have permission to be on his property in the first place. It also presents Cliff as that classic male protagonist who won’t take no for an answer. He demands to see George. When he decides he needs to leave the ranch he doesn’t act scared, even though the audience knows by the lingering camera shots over the blank stares of the Family members that he is not among friends.

Finally, as Cliff goes to leave, he is met with a flat tire on his car, resulting from a trick (or threat) from Family member “Clem” who sits on the sidelines laughing at Cliff. Cliff demands Clem fix the tire, and to show his macho persona he punches Clem three times, to the horror of the onlookers from the Family. Two things happen in this scene. One, Cliff is shown in a dangerous situation, while simultaneously getting out of it by thinking on his feet and not letting the Manson Family intimidate him. Secondly, he uses violence to show his dominance. The Family may present a hostility towards him for coming to the ranch, but he shows them that he is not someone they will be able to defeat. Cliff is in the company of eventual murderers, and he manages to escape without a scratch.

Tarantino has stated that there were a lot of actors lined up who wanted to play the Cliff character in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. It’s not hard to see why. He’s the perfect fictional masculine figure, to Tate’s delicate femininity. Mulvey explains, “In a world ordered by imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female” (4). Cliff is the active male tough guy, while Tate is quite literally the damsel in distress. And, therefore, makes him a more exciting character to spend time with. She cannot be the character we connect with because she’s there to bring the audience comfort.

Meanwhile, Cliff is given power and the ability to argue and win against evil, making him a more prominent character. Ultimately, this shows us how Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is reinforcing gender norms. Both Rick and Cliff have clear and defined agency, making them the ideal heroes of our story. Gender is often thought of as a result of a patriarchal society. Although this is true, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood seems to be saying that reinforced gender norms are also a result of a lack of female narratives in film. “Gender identity is no less a construction of patriarchal culture than the idea that men are somehow superior to women; both are born at the same time with the same stroke of the pen” (Rivkin and Ryan 896). Gender identity, then, is not necessarily a difference in men and women, but rather a way in which the narrative is written.

Men are written as strong characters who save the day, while women are written as the characters that need saving. And there rarely seems to be a reverse of this identity for either gender, even in modern day Hollywood. In terms of Tate’s character in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” we can see that gender norms are bestowed on her as she is left out of most of the important action of the film, as well as being left out of any important dialogue that propels the storyline forward.

More Than a Brother, a Little Less Than a Wife

Rick and Cliff’s macho male identities play out in the final moments of the film as they, by sheer luck, kill the members of the Manson Family who have come to kill Tate and her friends. After Rick yells at the Family members, they back their car down Cielo Drive and park, discussing what had just happened. They realize who Rick is – a once famous TV cowboy – and decide it’s him who they should kill because his TV western, like many shows in the 50s, showed violence and guns, teaching them, the audience, how to kill. Suddenly, the narrative moves away from Tate’s infamous death, and creates a scenario in which Rick and Cliff take control over both her fate, and the fate of the Manson Family. The Family bursts into Rick’s living room and square off against a tripping Cliff (he’s smoked an acid-laced cigarette) and a drunk Rick. There’s a lot happening in the scene, with a lot of the fake blood and gore Tarantino is known for. However, we don’t see Tate in any of this action. Even though the Family members were a last-minute decision away from entering her home and killing her.

It goes without saying that this, of course, is not what really transpired in real-life the night Tate and her house guests were killed. There were no Rick and Cliff to save the day. And herein lies the problem with this new narrative. Male characters are usually the ones moving a narrative forward, deciding how the story will end. Men control the film and represent power on screen. As a result, female characters are supporters, often dropping to the back of the action. Tate is nowhere to be found while Rick and Cliff kill the Manson Family.

Why? Why isn’t she seen as powerful enough to kill them? If we are playing with a fictional ending, why couldn’t she have saved herself from them? By giving Rick and Cliff the action of killing the Manson Family and, by extension, protecting Tate, shows that men are more persuasive than women. When the Family decides to turn on Rick because of the power he and his TV show represent, they are saying that Tate is not important enough to kill. Rick is cool to them. Rick is powerful. And for that, he is worthier of their wrath.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.

Rick and Cliff even use overly macho, powerful ways of killing the Family members, asserting the idea even further that men are tough and men can save the day. They bring out flame throwers and smash a woman’s face into a telephone. None of it seeming real or plausible in real-life, yet giving the audience even more of a reason to establish the men as the heroes of the story and to root for them. Tate then becomes simply a device in their game.

“Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” (Mulvey 6).

Rick and Cliff live out the fantasy of stopping the Manson Family from doing what they did that night in 1969.

As a result, Tate bears meaning in the narrative, but she does not make her own meaning. She has no action in this final scene. She has no agency in helping decide her own fate. She did not have this choice in real life, so it’s disappointing to see that a film that begins with Once Upon a Time, does not allow her to live out a fantasy of her own. “Perpetrators? They were just hippie assholes,” Cliff tells the police after the fact. Is this to say that the Manson Family would not have been as big of a threat to a man? Is this a way of saying that Tate was always destined to be silenced in her own narrative, even one that turned out to be a fantasy?

And yet, in the final moments of the film as Cliff is loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital because of injuries he sustained in the fight, Rick is invited into Tate’s house where he is greeted in the driveway by the actress. She introduces him to her friends as a “wonderful actor.” Suddenly, Rick has all of the validation he ever needed to know he is still relevant in Hollywood. Gender is fabricated, meaning it’s culture and society that have taught us to believe in things associated with being a man or being a woman. Therefore, a woman’s role in film is often associated with being a device in which the male characters plays off of. By Tate inviting Rick into her house, she is inviting him into the Hollywood elite that she and Polanski have some ownership of. The narrative is showing that the rewriting of history isn’t to save her at all, but rather to help Rick, and Cliff by extension of their friendship, face their aging out of the business.

Therefore, Tate is a device to elevate the male narrative. Nothing more. Gender in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood reinforces the imitated stereotypes of gender. Gender is determined in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood by the simplified idea that Hollywood male-led narratives are more important than female-led narratives, because we have been conditioned to find male narratives more believable and relevant. Judith Butler explains that we are surrounded by gender stereotypes that have formed over time and been passed down from parents and grandparents. We believe them because they are the only thing we’ve ever been told.

“The naturalistic effects of heterosexualized genders are produced through imitative strategies; what they imitate is a phantasmatic ideal of heterosexual identity, one that is produced by the imitation as its effect. In this sense, the ‘reality’ of heterosexual identities is performativity constituted through an imitation that sets itself up as the origin and the ground of all imitations” (Butler 956).

Here, we can see how Tate serves as merely a device in the film as she becomes an imitated gender stereotype. She is forced to play into a traditionally female role as a woman who is meek and mild and not at all capable of torching someone with a flame thrower like her male neighbor.

By placing Tate just next door to all the action, Tarantino only adds to a reinforced gender stereotype in film by glorifying the pieces of the golden age of Hollywood that worked directly against the female narrative. In doing so, he creates a work of art that celebrates white, male stardom, and dismisses the strides that women and film have made over the decades since his fictional characters ruled Hollywood. And, gender is Hollywood’s way of separating heroes from supporting actresses.

Works Cited

Brody, Richard. “Review: Quentin Tarantino’s Obscenely Regressive Vision of the Sixties in ‘Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood.’” Review of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, directed by Quentin Tarantino. The New Yorker, July 27, 2019.

Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” Literary Theory: An Anthology, edited by Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, Wiley Blackwell, 2017, p. 955-962.

Lopez Arreguin, Malinalli. “The Importance of Female-Driven Narratives.” The Journal of South African and American Studies, VOL. 20, NO. 4, 2019, p. 391-394.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Screen, VOL. 16, NO. 3, Autumn 1975, p. 6-18.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. Directed by Quentin Tarantino, performances by Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt, Sony, 2019.

Rivkin, Julie and Ryan, Michael, Editors. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Wiley Blackwell, 2017.

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Stephanie is a writer and editor based in Minnesota. She can usually be found writing about culture and TV.

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  1. Samantha Leersen

    Great article!
    While I am not familiar with this film, the way in which women are portrayed in film (and literature and tv) has always been interesting to me. But also, “I reject your hypothesis” says a lot, doesn’t it?
    This is an interesting insight and I’m definitely curious to see the film now (I had never actually heard of it)!

  2. In literary terms, OUATIH is Tarantino’s “Ada”; an intensely personal work that is the culmination of his entire career; a film that weaves a tapestry of a dream-bright Hollywood. Like Nabokov before him he has taken a classic framework and created an alternate, even fantastical hyper reality to suit his own whims and fetishes. Watching this I experienced what can only be described as pure, oneiric pleasure. It’s Tarantino’s boldest, most mature film to date and a masterpiece.

  3. Scarlett

    Sharon Tate was not a fully fleshed out character like the main male characters were. Which I found strange, since she was a real person—you’d think that would have given Tarantino even more incentive to flesh out her character, but apparently it didn’t. I liked the film, but the ending of it was some complete macho fantasy crap that almost ruined it for me.

    • As a character, she is not in the movie enough and does not have enough agency to really be a “Mary Sue.” Oddly enough the main characters barely interact with her at all.

      • I don’t think you even have to look at screen time or agency to make this determination. The defining characteristic of a Mary Sue is that they exist to be a comfortable author and/or audience surrogate. Sharon Tate (as a character in this particular movie) is painfully obviously an objectified fantasy. There is no attempt to make her an audience surrogate, and the author certainly isn’t living through her.

  4. Great analysis, thanks. I feel the movie is using characters in ways that reflect the attitudes of that time.

  5. Michelle

    I used to really like his films. I bought the 20th anniversary box set of all of his movies on Blu-ray. But something clicked in the theater while watching Hateful Eight that I felt like I had enough of his whole thing.

  6. I was an extra in OUTIH and QT came to the table where I and a co extra were filling space in the scene, gazed at himself in the mirror, stroked his hair back and then walked away without even noticing us. The guy is a maniac filming till the sun rises. Literally from call time at 12 in the afternoon till dawn the next day, the same scene over and over and none of the pictures I see in the media reflect how plump he has become. It is surprising Robbie has such little dialogue since on set she was reading books on the murder of her character as research. I will never watch the film but from what I’ve seen and heard in person her character was campy and infantile.

  7. Patrick

    At the risk of outing myself as having terrible taste in film, does anyone else find most of his work unwatchable? I’ve just never understood the appeal of such a high violence to plot ratio and it’s really off-putting to me.

    Honestly though, I have no developed cinematic taste, and I definitely gave up on him so haven’t seen plenty of his works. So do feel free to tell me what I’m missing. I will then nod in appreciation and recognition of my artistic appreciation shortcomings and then never see the films because he sounds like an asshole.

    • The few films of his I’ve seen didn’t appeal to me for the same reasons you mention. Tarantino is overrated.

    • I’ve only ever actually watched Inglourious Basterds, and while I love that movie, I have literally zero impulse to watch any of Tarantino’s other films. I feel some guilt over never having seen Pulp Fiction, but that’s more because it’s part of the cultural zeitgeist and that I feel an obligation to watch it over actually being interested.

    • I loove Kill Bill (vol 1) but I think it’s a lot about what the actors brought to those rolls. He has a unique narrative style that stands out, and they paired well with it. The Bride & O Ren Ishi were such a good pairing. I didn’t mind the violence as much in THAT movie because it’s just campy, like blood gushing fountain-like when arms get chopped off.

      But I also never feel like re-watching Kill Bill (vol 2)….

    • I’m a movie nerd and I used to be absolutely obsessed with Tarantino because a lot of his work comes off as being made by a nerd’s nerd, so-to-speak. If you’re into the grindhouse gore and B movie campiness as much as you’re into the epic scale of a great western/samurai movie and elegant plots of a great noir, his films were like everything you ever loved about movies put into a blender and served chilled. BUT he’s become less of a nerd’s nerd and more of a big Hollywood cliche who thinks being a nerd means he doesn’t have any power or privilege he should consider when making what he likes to think of as “art” but most people are consuming as entertainment. It’s a very disappointing evolution, or actually a lack thereof.

    • amandaa

      It’s like music, some people like something you might think is garbage. I’ve enjoyed all his films, just like I enjoy Morrissey’s music which is polarizing to some. If you don’t like it, you’re not wrong, it’s just not you’re thing and that’s okay.

    • I love his films, but they aren’t for everyone. I feel this film was always doomed on Jezebel though, there was zero chance this review was ever going to not tell it’s readers, women in particular, how they should feel about the film. And the comment section was always going to be filled with folks that have ALWAYS disliked Tarantino and his films, and that they’ve ALWAYS been bad and overrated.

  8. This is a very entertaining and thought-provoking movie about the 1960s and earlier. Yes, things were different then. It’s very deliberately a period piece, which the writer seems not to understand.

    But even despite that, I see no reason why making a movie should align with a checkbox list of characters behaving in a certain way and displaying ‘approved’ values. It’s a movie about some figures several decades ago who were of their time and a bit dodgy. What’s wrong with that? There are plenty of films these days with great lead parts for women — good. No doubt there are plenty of victories over stereotyped men if that’s a requirement. I make no such demands on movies myself — they’re either good or bad, or in between. I don’t care which gender or race or sexuality is getting the upper hand. Just enjoy the film instead of feeling you have to approve of its diversity score — which I strongly suspect works in one direction only.

  9. Brianette

    I saw OUATIH In a packed theatre opening weekend. Two other women were in my party. All three of us enjoyed the movie. From the buzz afterward in the lobby, lots of women felt the same way we did. Brad Pitt’s performance was a revelation to me, and he deserves the Oscar he is an odds on favourite to receive. I say this as someone who has plenty of objections to other QT films and as one of a small club that doesn’t find Brad Pitt sexy or good looking.

    I was a bra burning hippie feminist, Earth Day enthusiast and anti-war activist in my youth. However, in my day, we could be all those things with being dour, humourless, judgmental, stick-up-our-arses prigs.

  10. Sarah Butler

    This was a really cool read! I hope there are more write ups like this in the future. Really important to discuss the point of view regarding how the question of how ‘feminist’ something is or isn’t.

  11. On the topic of women in QT movies. There is no one better than Pam Grier! She is 100% the best and most badass QT character (period). (Shosanna from Inglourious Basterds is maybe #2?)

  12. It seems to me that the real message of movies like this is that even hardcore directors like Quentin Tarantino have lines they’re not willing to cross. In this case, he’s essentially rewriting history to give it a “happy ending” because to reproduce reality (by having Sharon Tate be murdered while pregnant) would be too dark even for him. He does the same kind of thing in “Inglorious Basterds.”

    For that matter, I get the sense that Quentin Tarantino struggles to depict any sort of marginalized group all that well (except maybe Black Americans). One of the issues I took with “Inglorious Basterds” was how boring the Jewish characters seemed compared to the entertaining and charismatic Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz, and how little interest the narrative seemed to have in them. The only exception was Shoshana, but even she didn’t have much of a personality.

  13. alehandro

    I’m not surprised Tarantino idealizes the late 60s; he was a child of that era. Much in a similar way to how big 90s nostalgia is right now with people in their 30s.

  14. Tarantino made us want to protect Sharon Tate and KNOW WE COULDN’T, then…miraculously discover the evil people who hurt her would actually get their comeuppance.

    I wish it the film showed the reality. The film was better than the events of that night.

  15. That scene with the young girl and DiCaprio talking on the deck was the best in the film.

    • The most cerebral and professional actor is this young lady’s character.. the next gen. in HWLand… of the day.

  16. I enjoy Tarantino up to Kill Bill because it has that Leonard feel, and Kill Bill I like because I enjoy the story and the tropes. But, the older I get, the more I’d rather read an Elmore Leonard novel than watch Tarantino just try to do Leonard, or, in this case, Pynchon (from what I’ve read about the movie, having not seen it yet).

  17. Hollywood is shitty toward women. This movie is about Hollywood. Is it really a talking point that Pitt’s character killed his wife and got away with it? Isn’t that a nod to Natalie Wood? Are all main movie characters supposed to be a good shining example of how we all should be?

    • That’s absolutely a callout to Natalie Wood. A pretty damn obvious one, too.

  18. The plot is about another (fictional) character that gets involved in a complex real-world event that Sharon Tate was only a part of.

    Not a story specifically about Sharon Tate.

  19. The parallels in the film with the current industry is striking. TV is the dominant force here not movies, and the protagonist’s distain and fear of this and nostalgia for the glory days of Hollywood is really the theme of the first two acts. Similarly Sharon Tate’s movie experience is based on being in the forth instalment of a tired franchise, hardly a shot at immortality. Steve McQueen tells us that the stars at the Playboy party are more notable for their convoluted private lives than their art, plus ca change. I thought this movie was a wonderful balancing act of comedy and tension; and a real love letter to movie stardom through Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie’s sweet natured attractiveness, something CGI enhanced superpowers could never compete with.

  20. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a mighty and magnificent piece of work! Both a love story between two best friends and a love letter from Tarantino to the Los Angeles of his youth, which he wants to revisit, save and remould.

  21. Sharon Tate represents the openness, innocence, beauty of that time. Shes not a Tarantino character.

  22. I’m more surprised no one thought it was weird that Brad Pitt’s character was able to fight with Bruce Lee and beat him.

  23. A general note to everyone. Tarantino actually writes female characters well. I understand objecting to his off screen actions, but to call his on screen work something like misogynistic is simply untrue.

  24. This is exactly what makes you hungry for reading.

  25. I find pretty much all of his movies to be fantastic.

  26. Antonia Shaver

    Let’s not forget Inglorious Basterds, Shoshanna is a strong and independent leading lady who kills her alpha male suitor all while dressing modestly.

    • See also: Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Death Proof, Pulp Fiction.

  27. MaceM

    I remember seeing this movie in theatres and thinking the same as this article. I wasn’t familiar with the Manson murders at the time of watching, but it definitely struck me as odd that such a great actress was wasted on this film. And for what? To walk pretty and say a total of five lines the whole time? I totally agree that this movie romanticizes traditional gender roles, and Tarantino’s statement of “I reject your hypothesis” is super telling. Thanks for writing.

  28. Spot on analysis on the gender role on this work of Tarantino which is a mandate in his films.

  29. Joseph Cernik

    An interesting perspective on a female role in a movie.

  30. I really liked the intent of this article however, I have to say that the point of it was repeated in almost exactly the same way, over and over and over again. It reminded me of a film that truly lost it’s way and is trying to convince you of it’s message by showing the same scene over and over again but with marginally different dialogue. I’m sorry about Sharon Tate, but that point was made multiple times in a row. Paragraph after paragraph is dedicated to telling us exactly what was already pointed out to us in the first 8 paragraphs. I get it…women are marginalized by the Hollywood system but I fell like that was the only point made and it certainly was repeated to the reader exactly 11 times to many. I could not finish this article because the point was made and then made again and then again and then again. I congratulate the writer for being able to write essentially the same thing over and over by using different perspectives and different words to make the point that Sharon Tate got dissed by QT and that Brad and Leonardo were elevated but then again, THAT was the WHOLE point of the movie in the first place. I understood it after paragraph 3 and then again and again and again and again…see what I mean? Again and again and again…. it’s not interesting to simply repeat the same perspective over and over because you can.

  31. I was initially excited to see this movie, as I was looking forward to seeing how they would bring Sharon Tate’s character to life. I like Margot Robbie and thought the a lot could be done with her playing Sharon Tate. However, I was extremely surprised that she had only a small role. I thought that majority of the film would be based on the premise of her story, but I was shocked when she was really only in the ending. I didn’t think the film was bad by any means, but I was just surprised. I hadn’t thought much of it, but this article did a good job at dissecting the more questionable parts of the film. I feel this article has helped enlighten me to now view movies differently and to question aspects of film that leave me confused.

  32. Gnat

    Tarantino’s got plenty of strong women. If anything, the male characters are subverted through stereotype more than the female ones. The flamethrower scene is, I suppose, one that shows agency. But it’s more a comic scene than an assertion of power.

  33. Great read. The absence of dialogue or agency exhibited by Robbie’s character in the film is indeed quite striking. She dances more than she speaks in this film. Tarantino’s portrayal of Tate works to fulfill, for a second time, the scopophilic objectification of Sharon Tate by rendering her representation an on-screen female icon-object as well.
    Additionally, sadism, scopophilia’s counterpart in castration-anxiety remedying tactics of film as detailed by Laura Mulvey in Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema, feels quite present in Once Upon A Time. The sadistic tendencies of the film appear throughout as a specter via the American audience’s given anticipation of how the story of these Manson Murders will end, given the historical outcome. As we watch Robbie as Tate (Hollywood princess of carefree smile, airs of vapidity, and constant dancing), we as the audience inevitably anticipate a violent end for the character that follows Tate and her unborn child’s gruesomely violent murder. Tarantino teases this out, building expectations and wonder about the gendered violence of a pregnant woman. Of course, there is no reveling in the Sharon Tate murder, because it does not occur in the film’s revisionist account. Instead, the anticipation of violence that the film has been building for hours is resolved in the scene in which Cliff and Rick kill the three Family members. It is relevant to note that two of three of these characters are young women, and though they all die violent deaths, it is the pool-and-flamethrower death of Katie that revels in Tarantino’s brand of ridiculous and tortuous violence. With this scene, we are given what we have been set up to anticipate: the slow, gruesome death of a young woman. Other moments in the film indulge to lesser degrees in the sadistic treatment of women as well. For example, it appears when Rick gets his groove back while filming Lancer by throwing the child actress on the ground, or through the specter of Cliff’s murdered wife, an event the film never explicitly confirms to have occurred at his hands, but hints to its distinct possibility through the flashback to Cliff and his wife on the boat. Indeed, the inclusion of the boat scene, in which she yells at Cliff belligerently, sets the viewer up to sympathize with Cliff if he did kill her: as she stands there in front of sprawling ocean, yelling at him, with no other witnesses around, the film dares you to see this from Cliff’s perspective and begs the audience to say to themselves, “well, could you blame him?” as if being a woman who is annoying a man is justification enough for her murder by the otherwise “cool” Cliff Booth.

  34. Tarantino is known as a sexist director – not saying this is good, but I’m not surprised to hear that Sharon Tate’s role in the film is merely reinforcing gender stereotype. After all, this is a Hollywood film!

  35. Sunni Rashad

    This was a great read. I didn’t much care for the movie itself for many of the reasons you addressed not to mention the Bruce Lee controversy and the general politics of the film as a whole but this was a great critique of the picture.

  36. Paul Eaton

    What a terrible assessment of the movie. If Tarantino has always had such a problem with women and giving them significant roles in movies, how do you explain Jackie Brown? This is obviously just some feminist garbage written by an obvious man hater.
    You should screen your writers and their content before you publish such drivel.

  37. I see no reason why the main characters (or one of them at the very least) couldn’t be female. Why should Sharon Tate have to be rescued by two men, if she could be “rescued” by a woman? “Oh but this is a fairytale, so the princess has to be rescued by a man!” Says who? Besides, wouldn’t a washed-up Hollywood actress who doesn’t like the changing times and the up-and-coming young actresses and eventually rescuing her neighbor from a psychopath be a more compelling story? Since actresses age out of Hollywood far quicker than men, this would be more realistic rather than just men complaining about “aging out” of Hollywood.

    Also, since this is supposed to be a “fairytale” ending, I think a real happy ending would have been Sharon never marrying Polanski to begin with, so as a result, Polanski got killed instead of her in the house. OR rather than the Manson girls getting killed (regardless of how you feel about their real-life counterparts) have Manson get killed, since he was the ringleader. Instead they leave him alive, that doesn’t solve anything. There are SO many alternative ways this could’ve been done that would’ve been far more satisfying.

    How about the fact that Cliff had killed his wife in his past and got away with it? Sure, the characters mention it, but we the audience just aren’t supposed to care because he’s just soooo charming and charismatic and looks like a prince. Plus his wife was a nag so she probably deserved it (sarcasm).

    Actually, why include any real names to begin with? The “Sharon Tate” character could’ve been a completely fictional character who’s an up-and-coming actress, just like Cliff and Rick were fictional, and likewise all the other real people in the movie could just be fictional, and the setting of 60s Hollywood is just that, the setting.

    Call me a bitter woman all you want, but when it’s supposed to be a movie that’s a fantasy, and an alternate reality, you can use SO many liberties, and instead it just reinforces gender stereotypes. I used to watch QT’s other movies, but I had felt his films went down in quality after Inglourious Basterds.

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