Somehow, the banana-faced motormouth got away with it. So sublimely fresh and entertaining was his 1994 sleazefest Pulp Fiction that people are willing to forgive and forget one of the most objectionable characters in recent cinema history. Ask people what their favourite bit is in Pulp Fiction; “Christopher Walken’s watch-up-ass soliloquy!”, they will cry. “Uma and John at Jack Rabbit Slim’s!”, they will holler. “Bruce Willis blowing away a rapist’s penis with a shotgun!”, they will chirrup. Do you know what they’ll never say? That’s right. The bit with Quentin Tarantino in it.
‘The Bonnie Situation’ is Fiction’s third story. With Vincent Vega (John Travolta) having accidentally Jackson Pollock-ed informant Marvin’s head all over the interior of their car, he and partner-in-crime Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) make a stop off at Jules’ friend Jimmy’s house for assistance with the clean-up operation. But Jimmy’s not going to be happy. And neither are we, when we find out who’s playing him.
Tarantino’s extended cameo acts as a powerful microcosm of all that is repellent about the man. It bears his compulsion toward mindless self-indulgence in the face of a total lack of acting ability. In Reservoir Dogs, he cast himself as Mr. Brown, but restricted the character to a few lines, and was also decent enough to kill himself off. But not here; this in Tarantino is full-on whining, wheedling irritant mode. Wince at his delivery. Howl as he steps over line after line. And hark at his attempts to be tough on screen, which ring as true as his attempts to be tough in real life. Witness this cinema-verite classic for evidence.
Also apparent, and most distressing, is the manifestation in Jimmy of Tarantino’s “nigger” fetish, which ultimately reached its apotheosis in the ‘nigger’-tastic Jackie Brown (38 ‘niggers’! That’s one more ‘nigger’ than dicks sucked by Dante’s girlfriend in Clerks!). Jimmy sarcastically demands of Jules if he has seen a sign in his house which reads ‘DEAD NIGGER STORAGE’?, and equates not, because ‘STORING DEAD NIGGERS AIN’T MY BUSINESS’. In reality (I know it’s called Pulp FICTION, but let me make my point Goddammit) not only would these two never be friends, but a hardened yet proud criminal such as Jules Winfield would have sent Jimmy the same way as Marvin after the second, if not first, N-Bomb, rather than being strangely, calmly OK with it, as if speyed and neutered like a good dog in his presence.
Furthermore, as if to bulletproof the director from any potential accusations of racism, Tarantino’s Jimmy is married to a black woman – the ‘Bonnie’ of the segment’s title. In Tarantino’s head, it appears that black people will happily stand there and lap up this nerd’s offensive doggerel because “he’s down”, and black people, in turn, are “down” with his films. Of Tarantino, Spike Lee once said
Quentin is infatuated with that word ‘nigger’. What does he want to be made — an honorary black man?
Lee is opinionated about a lot of things, and often alienatingly strident and inflexible, but on that occasion, he was right. Samuel L. Jackson immediately leapt to Tarantino’s defence in this war of words, but we must remember that Jackson, God bless him, will appear in anything (anything. Literally anything) and is more concerned with his cheque than the maintenance of artistic integrity.
I’m not saying Tarantino is a racist, rather he’s just a bit of a clown, and moreover, an appalling actor. None of this is intended to take away from the vibrancy of the film or the director’s obvious talents, but Quentin, please, “DON’T JIMMY ME!” ever again.