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After keeping mum for more than a week, The Weinstein Co. is breaking its silence on the spiraling controversy surrounding Quentin Tarantino’s comments about police brutality.
“The Weinstein Co. has a long-standing relationship and friendship with Quentin and has a tremendous amount of respect for him as a filmmaker,” a Weinstein Co. representative told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement. “We don’t speak for Quentin; he can and should be allowed to speak for himself.”
Just as TWC issued its statement, Tarantino addressed the controversy for the first time, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wouldn’t be intimidated by the growing number of police boycotts aimed at him. “Instead of dealing with the incidents of police brutality that those people were bringing up, instead of examining the problem of police brutality in this country, better they single me out,” he said. “And their message is very clear. It’s to shut me down. It’s to discredit me. It is to intimidate me. It is to shut my mouth, and even more important than that, it is to send a message out to any other prominent person that might feel the need to join that side of the argument.”
He added: “All cops are not murderers. I never said that. I never even implied that.”
Behind closed doors, sources say TWC board members have been pressuring co-founder Harvey Weinstein to clean up the mounting mess that has emerged in the wake of Tarantino calling police officers “murderers.” Sources say some on the board are fearful that the company’s upcoming Tarantino film, The Hateful Eight, will take a direct economic hit thanks to a widening police boycott of the director. TWC and its predecessor, Miramax, have released nearly all of Tarantino’s films, beginning with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs.
The controversy stems from comments Tarantino made at a rally in New York on Oct. 24 when he told the crowd, “When I see murders, I do not stand by. … I have to call a murder a murder, and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”
In his Times interview, Tarantino remained defiant. “I’m not taking back what I said,” he said. “What I said was the truth.”
One by one, the NYPD, LAPD, Philadelphia PD, Houston PD and Chicago PD unions — representing the five largest police-department unions in the country — announced that they are boycotting Tarantino’s films. On Nov. 2, the national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the world’s largest organization of sworn law-enforcement officers, fired off a letter to the Weinstein brothers, saying that the FOP’s 330,000 members have joined the boycott of The Hateful Eight, which is scheduled to be released Christmas Day.
“In addition, we will advise our members not to accept assignments or perform off-duty work, such as providing security, traffic control or technical assistance to any project involving Mr. Tarantino,” wrote FOP president Chuck Canterbury.
Tarantino isn’t the first artist to invoke the wrath of police groups for his controversial stance on law enforcement. Police groups have banded together in the past to exert force on media companies in protest of anti-cop content. Such was the case in 1992 when several launched a campaign to force Time Warner to withdraw Ice-T’s album Body Count with the single “Cop Killer.” Stockholders threatened to bolt if Time Warner didn’t yield. Bowing to pressure, Ice-T eventually removed the song from the album himself.
In the late 1990s, police groups called for a boycott of Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys to protest their support of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose death-penalty sentence was dropped in 2011.
In more recent months, the head of the NYPD’s union called for a boycott of the upcoming film Back in the Day, which co-stars former Sopranos actor Lillo Brancato, who served eight years in prison for his part in a burglary that left an off-duty police officer dead. The movie, which has no distributor or release date, also stars Alec Baldwin and Danny Glover.
Still, one of the most incendiary missives against police in recent months, Universal’s Straight Outta Compton, escaped without a police boycott, despite the fact that the film featured N.W.A’s anthem “F— tha Police” in a key concert sequence, as well as on the film’s soundtrack. The song’s lyrics — which include such lines as: “And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath of cops, dying in L.A.” — would seem more problematic to police groups than Tarantino’s rally comments. But Universal might have escaped the ire of law enforcement thanks to a bit of self-policing. Sources say that in earlier versions of the Compton script, a scene depicting a riot that broke out at a Detroit concert after N.W.A defied a warning not to perform “F— tha Police” implied that police actually started the mayhem. In the film, it’s vague who fired the shots that sparked the riot.
In the run-up to Compton’s release, Universal chief Donna Langley walked a delicate line between angering police and sticking to the authenticity of the N.W.A origins story. “The movie itself is not a call to arms against police or anything like that,” she told THR. “You see that the music was born out of a frustration about their surroundings and their environment, and that’s it.”
As for Hateful Eight, a Western starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh, a simple explanation likely won’t assuage police groups, who are particularly agitated by the timing of Tarantino’s comments. The rally came just days after an NYPD officer was shot and killed while chasing an armed suspect in East Harlem. Furthermore, sources say a straight-up apology seems highly unlikely.
“Quentin is not one to apologize,” said one source. “He might try to explain himself, but the idea of Harvey getting him to apologize is completely absurd.”
As for how the flap will impact box office, the verdict is out. “Quite simply, there’s no way to know whether it will affect box-office,” notes analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Even after it opens, you can’t quantify whether or not a boycott ultimately had an impact. But it has to cause a headache. It’s not the kind of thing you want surrounding your movie, especially in the crowded Christmas frame when it will be going up against movies like Joy. And this situation is gaining traction. The idea that there’s no such thing as bad press isn’t necessarily true here.”
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