Another casting rumor surrounding ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ comes to fruition.
Quentin Tarantino has officially offered Margot Robbie the role of Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The Oscar-nominated I, Tonya actress is currently in final negotiations to play the starlet of late 1960s in the director’s highly anticipated ninth feature.
The facts about the plot — however few exist at the moment — are these: Set in Los Angeles during the time of the Manson Family’s killing sprees, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about an aging TV Western star watching as Hollywood morphs before his eyes and forgets about him. Leonardo DiCaprio, the first cast member to be confirmed for the film, will play said star Rick Dalton, whose next-door neighbor is also none other than Tate. Pitt will play Rick’s stunt double, Cliff Booth.
The movie is possibly shaping up to be more about fading stardom than the actual Manson murders. All of Tarantino’s movies play out like gratuitous referential fantasies living in their own microcosm of stylistic flair and bloodshed, even his “historically-based” ones, so it’s more than likely that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could be a similar kind of spectacle.
Celebrity culture is always evolving, and as a result Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could be as timely a movie as ever. Nevertheless, whether the film will provide any critique about the fleeting, seedy nature of stardom and commodity is debatable. Whether Tarantino’s movies in general even do anything other than pay homage to his favorite styles and other filmmakers before him is dubious.
Tarantino’s adamant spaghetti-Western-ing of all genres of movies just prove that you’re really supposed to forget reality as you watch them and have a good time. This is a valid manifesto to work off of, but it doesn’t entirely bode well for films that rewrite actual history. The film world loves Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained — the latter of which won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay — but part of that has to be because these films operate in universes that only slightly resemble reality. They demonstrate that Tarantino makes revenge narratives that we can clearly escape into, where fictional characters like Hans Landa can get a swastika carved into his forehead as the ultimate form of retribution and Shosanna Dreyfus can kill Hitler and his elite in a movie theater. But you can barely transpose what you see in his movies to real life after finishing them.
What do these representations then mean for characters based on real people, like Tate? It’s not difficult to imagine then that Tarantino’s take on the Manson murders could give her a prominent voice to maybe even escape death. If Django could burn down the symbol of his oppression and save the girl, it feels like anything can happen in Tarantinoland. But then you remember the fact that Django Unchained clearly doesn’t address the ripple effects of slavery that last to this very day. The movie was never meant to address that, and in the end it feels facetious about a topic and experience that should be treated with nuance and sensitivity.
The fictionalization and inevitable aestheticization of Tate’s image in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is thus an uncomfortable notion. Using her image specifically and doing silly “edgy” nonsense like releasing the movie on the 50th anniversary of the murders are antics done in poor taste knowing that it’ll likely mean very little for Tate’s actual memory. I’m a huge fan of Robbie’s, and have consistently written about her upcoming project, but this news is not something I’m extremely excited about.
A movie about a changing Hollywood could be done with any era as its backdrop, especially if the male protagonists in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood aren’t real themselves. Tarantino himself would’ve been enough of a draw for big actors like DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie to sign up anyway too. All the pieces of the puzzle could fall into place for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood — including that possible Tom Cruise casting — but it’s important to remember the ill-timed nature of the subject.