Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood Fact-Checked: What the Movie Gets Right and Wrong
Quentin Tarantino's film takes history into its own hands
Warning: Spoilers for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood are below.
Quentin Tarantino‘s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a fairytale only he could have envisioned.
The film, opened Friday, is set in the backdrop of 1969 Los Angeles and the horrific murders of Sharon Tate and her three friends by four members of the Manson Family.
Set in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt play Rick Dalton and his stuntman Cliff Booth, respectively, and chronicles the ups and downs of an acting career that is taking a downward spiral for Dalton.
While the film includes fictionalized versions of real people such as Tate, Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee, Tarantino famously takes history into his own hands and gives audiences a twist of his own (just see Inglourious Basterds).
Here’s every deviation the auteur took in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood.
1. Sharon Tate’s Fate
Tarantino departs from Tate’s actual fate in his film, giving her the happy ending many wished she could have had.
Instead of breaking into her home and murdering her and her three friends, three members of the Manson Family — including Austin Butler as the real-life Charles “Tex” Watson — targeted the fictional Dalton’s home which, in Tarantino’s movie, is right next door to Tate’s.
Booth gets high on an acid-dipped cigarette and is surprised by the intruders but doesn’t hold back when it becomes clear they’re not there for a friendly drink.
Pitt, 55, has one of the most satisfying and gory fight scenes in cinema as he takes on three Manson family members on his own with the help of his character’s adorable bulldog Brandy.
Even DiCaprio, 44, has a moment when he sets alight the final Manson Family member with a flame thrower he kept in his shed.
While Robbie’s Tate ends the movie greeting Dalton at her home and offering him a drink with her friends (Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski), the reality is Tate was killed while heavily pregnant with her first child, whom she was expecting with husband Roman Polanski.
2. Was Bruce Lee as Cocky in Real Life as in the Film?
A point of contention in the film is the portrayal of iconic martial arts fighter and actor Bruce Lee. Played by Mike Moh, 35, Lee has a comical moment in the middle of the film when he challenges Booth to a fight to see who the best fighter is.
Brash and full of bravado, Lee manages to get in the first punch against Pitt’s Booth, but it’s the stuntman who manages to throw Lee against a car hard enough to dent its passenger door.
Matthew Polly, the author of the biography Bruce Lee: A Life, said Lee’s depiction onscreen exaggerates the actor’s personality too much.
“Bruce Lee was often a cocky, strutting braggart, but Tarantino took those traits and exaggerated them to the point of caricature,” Polly told USA Today.
Even Lee’s daughter, Shannon, objected to Tarantino’s depiction of her famous father.
“I can understand all the reasoning behind what is portrayed in the movie,” she told The Wrap. “I understand that the two characters are antiheroes and this is sort of life a rage fantasy of what would happen and they’re portraying a period of time that clearly had a lot of racism and exclusion.”
She continued, “[Lee] comes across as an arrogant a—hole who was full of hot air. And not someone who had to fight triple as hard as any of those people did to accomplish what was naturally given to so many others.”
What the movie did get right, however, is Lee’s work as a martial arts trainer for some of the biggest stars of the era such as McQueen, Polanski and even Tate herself for scenes in the 1968 film The Wrecking Crew.
3. Sharon Tate’s Friendship with Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen
Tate first met Lee in 1965 when Sebring, who was her boyfriend at the time, helped Lee break into acting. After Tate broke up with Sebring and began dating Polanski, she continued her friendship with Lee and Sebring.
Polly claims Lee was paid $11,000 to give Tate martial arts training for The Wrecking Crew. There is a scene in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood in which Moh’s Lee is seen giving Robbie’s Tate training.
McQueen (played by Billions star Damian Lewis) was also a good friend of Tate’s, enough so that he was invited to join her, Sebring, Folger and Frykowski for dinner the night of their murders.
The actor escaped that fate when he “ran into a chickie and decided to go off with her instead,” according to his ex-wife and actress Neile Adams who spoke to the National Post in 2017.
“Going off with that girl saved his life,” Adams said. “After that, he became more paranoid and wouldn’t let me go anywhere without a gun.”
McQueen gave the eulogy at Sebring’s funeral, which was held on the same day as Tate’s.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is now playing in theaters.