To state the obvious, Martin Scorsese has made some of the best movies ever, and even within his filmography, Taxi Driver commonly ranks highly. The thriller movie starring Robert De Niro is a beloved part of American cinema. Even Quentin Tarantino considers himself a fan, but one choice wasn’t right to him.
In his book Cinema Speculation, he states his belief that the studio, Columbia Pictures, was too “timid” about the picture, flipping the races of some characters, including Harvey Keitel’s Sports, from Black to white. This, Tarantino states, went against Paul Schrader’s screenplay.
“The film makes it obvious [Travis Bickle, protagonist] sees black males as figures of malevolent criminality,” Tarantino says, per IndieWire. “He’s repelled by any contact with them. They are to be feared or, at the very least, avoided. And since we watch the film from Travis’ point of view, we do as well.”
Tarantino contends that Schrader was asked by Columbia Pictures and the drama movie‘s producers to make these alterations “because the race riots a few years earlier still cast a long shadow.” Ultimately, he questions who this decision was meant to benefit because he believes the script as it was served to highlight Travis’s despicable racism even more for the audience.
“Who couldn’t handle that? Black audiences? Or is it more likely that the white folks financing the movie were the ones made to feel uncomfortable by the imagery in Schrader’s original script?” Tarantino adds. “So uncomfortable that a fear of Black males causing violence in cinemas was conveniently trotted out as an excuse to change Schrader’s Sport from Black to white?”
He adds that he encountered a certain reluctance from the same studio on the back of his 2012 Western Django Unchained and ends by declaring the whole thing endemic of wider issues. “Any way you slice it, Scorsese, and producers Michael and Julia Phillips, and Columbia Pictures changing the pimp character of Sport from black to white was a societal compromise,” he states.
Cinema Speculation is available now.