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In early February, Uma Thurman told Maureen Dowd of The New York Times how she was seriously injured on the set of Kill Bill because director Quentin Tarantino demanded she perform a stunt she was not trained for. Instead of using a professional driver as Thurman's stand-in for a shot of her character driving down a dangerous road, Tarantino had insisted she do it herself.
“Quentin came in my trailer and didn’t like to hear no, like any director,” she told Dowd. “He was furious because I’d cost them a lot of time. But I was scared. He said: ‘I promise you the car is fine. It’s a straight piece of road. Hit 40 miles per hour or your hair won’t blow the right way and I’ll make you do it again.’
"But that was a deathbox that I was in," she continued. "The seat wasn’t screwed down properly. It was a sand road and it was not a straight road.”
Thurman wound up crashing the car, just as she feared she might. The steering wheel jammed into her stomach and injured both her knees and neck.
“I felt this searing pain and thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m never going to walk again,’” she explained. “When I came back from the hospital in a neck brace with my knees damaged and a large massive egg on my head and a concussion, I wanted to see the car and I was very upset. Quentin and I had an enormous fight, and I accused him of trying to kill me. And he was very angry at that, I guess understandably, because he didn’t feel he had tried to kill me.”
This is far from the only example of a white male director bullying an actress into doing things with which she's not comfortable in a way that's borderline abusive. Aside from case after case of sexual harassment and assault that's been uncovered within the past few months as part of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements, there have been reports of these directors screaming at their actors and forcing them into unsafe situations, all in the name of "art," for literal decades.
Alfred Hitchcock, for instance, reportedly made Tippi Hedren's life hell during the making of 1963's The Birds, and even had its crew throw live birds at her during the five days it took to film one of the movie's final scenes, according to People.
On the last day of shooting, Hitchcock went so far as to instruct the crew to tie live birds to Hedren's costume while throwing others at her, claiming the mechanical birds they'd used previously weren't working properly. The scratches and terror on her face in the climactic scene are 100% real.
“I was too focused on my own survival to notice, but I was told later that it was even more horrifying and heartbreaking for the crew to watch than the previous four days had been,” she wrote in her memoir, Tippi. “And there wasn’t a thing anyone but Hitchcock could do to put a stop to it.”
Stanley Kubrick, director of 1980's The Shining, has been accused of being similarly abusive towards Shelley Duvall, the actress who played Wendy Torrance. The way writer Andy Greene described his methods in a 2016 piece for Rolling Stone, Kubrick's obsessive behavior was almost torturous.
"Kubrick's meticulous methods caused the production to run way over schedule, forcing Duvall to spend more than a year in England away from her family," Greene wrote. "Certain scenes were filmed again and again until the actors were nearly in tears, with the famous baseball bat confrontation between Duvall and Jack Nicholson supposedly taking a world-record 127 takes."
Duvall recounted having to "cry 12 hours a day," describing the experience as "excruciating" and "almost unbearable" — but despite her level of dedication to the film, Kubrick would reportedly yell at her for something as simple as missing a cue.
Tarantino, Hitchcock, and Kubrick have all been hailed as geniuses, taking the twelfth, first, and second spots (respectively) on AMC's list of the 50 Greatest Directors of All Time. Time and time again, their behavior — and that of many other white male directors — has been excused because, supposedly, it makes for good art. But why is it that women are always the ones who have to suffer on "art's" behalf? Why are these men allowed to risk, harm, abuse, and nearly destroy women for a good shot, while women (not to mention people of color) so rarely even get a chance to sit in the director's chair?
It's time to stop letting white men get away with near-murder of their actresses. If they can't treat their fellow artists with even the most minimal levels of respect and decency, maybe they just shouldn't be directing at all. How about more Ava DuVernay instead?