[Editor’s note: Boots Riley’s exclusive follow-up statement to IndieWire has been added to the bottom of the post]
“Sorry to Bother You” writer-director Boots Riley returned to Twitter after a nearly three-month hiatus to share a criticism he has with Quentin Tarantino’s depiction of the Manson Family cult members in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Actors such as Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, Maya Hawke, and Lena Dunham star in the film as Manson followers, many of which are based on real people. Riley took issue with Tarantino’s script for depicting the cult members as hippies with liberal beliefs and not at all dealing with their racism and right-wing views.
“The Manson Family were overt white supremacists who tried to start a race war with the goal of killing black folks,” Riley wrote to his followers. “They weren’t ‘hippies’ spouting left critiques of media. They were rightwingers. This fact flips Tarantino’s allegory on its head.”
The “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” scene Riley appears to be referring to takes place right before Manson followers break into Rick Dalton’s home. Rick (Leonardo DiCaprio) has successfully gotten Tex Watson (Butler), Susan Atkins (Mikey Madison), Linda Kasabian (Hawke), and Patricia Krenwinkel (Madisen Beaty) off Cielo Drive, thus preventing the murder of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). The Manson followers agree to go back and kill Rick after realizing he’s the actor who played Jake Cahill on the television show “Bounty Law.” After explaining to the group how their generation grew up on television shows obsessed with murder, Atkins tells the group, “My idea is to kill the people who taught us to kill.”
According to Boots, Atkins’ declaration as written by Tarantino falsely depicts the actual values of the Manson Family cult members in real life. Boots’ criticism is far from the first bit of backlash Tarantino has received for distorting events in “Hollywood.” The director’s depiction of Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) became an especially loud point of controversy in the weeks after the movie’s release. Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, condemned Tarantino for portraying the martial arts legend as an “arrogant asshole who was full of hot air,” while Lee’s protégé Dan Inosanto said the film did not accurately portray the late action star.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now playing in theaters. IndieWire reached out to Boots Riley for further comment, to which he gave the following statement:
I’m not saying it has to be historically accurate, just that the difference changes the actual meaning of the film. Like when cowboy Cliff Booth met them and heard the Manson Family talking about “the niggers are savages, and are gonna take over” he might have felt a kinship. I actually love Tarantino as a filmmaker and usually go to see his movies about twice each right off the bat, with more viewings later. One correction is that I said they wanted a race war in order to kill black people, but they actually wanted it to end with black people to be enslaved by them. The couple things that they said to sound “counterculture” was said while they were on trial and using that to gain sympathy. The weathermen said stuff in support of them while they were on trial, which they clarified as being sarcastic and taken out of the context which would have shown them as sarcastic.
Also, this doesnt mean I didn’t enjoy the movie separately from that.
Great performances and I appreciated the unorthodox structure. There are other things to say about that movie- as with any movie- but that’s as far down the rabbit hole as I want to go.
Manson was hanging out with Republicans like the Beach Boys and racists like the Hells Angels – that was not at all the left.
But again, the question is really about what the difference in meaning the story has with those facts.
Re Once Upon A Time In Hollywood:
The Manson Family were overt White Supremacists who tried to start a race war w the goal of killing Black folks.
They werent “hippies” spouting left critiques of media. They were rightwingers.
This fact flips Tarantino’s allegory on its head.
— Boots Riley (@BootsRiley) August 24, 2019