12 Fascinating Facts About Jackie Brown

Miramax
Miramax

Jackie Brown is the third film from director Quentin Tarantino and the only one of his movies not based on his original material (it’s a liberal adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch). Considered by many fans and critics to be one of Tarantino’s most “mature” cinematic efforts—its pace and bravado stand in stark contrast to Pulp FictionJackie Brown is one of those rare movies that only gets better with age and subsequent viewings. On the 20th anniversary of its debut, here are 12 facts you might not have known about the Oscar-nominated crime drama.

1. QUENTIN TARANTINO ALMOST ADAPTED ANOTHER ELMORE LEONARD BOOK INSTEAD.

After Pulp Fiction, Tarantino’s production company purchased the rights to three Elmore Leonard novels: Rum Punch, Freaky Deaky, and Killshot. He thought one of them would make a great next project, but was unsure of exactly which one. “I thought I was gonna do another one of them,” Tarantino explained in a bonus interview on the Jackie Brown Blu-ray. “I didn’t think I was gonna do Rum Punch. [So] I was just getting ready to give Rum Punch to another director that I knew. And in reading it again that night, I fell in love with it the exact same way I did a couple of years before.”

2. TARANTINO WAS WORRIED LEONARD WOULD HATE THE SCRIPT.

Tarantino made some significant changes to Leonard’s material—most notably changing the title from Rum Punch, making Jackie’s last name Brown instead of Burke (an obvious homage to Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown character), and changing Jackie’s race from white to black. Though Tarantino had purchased the rights to the novel and was allowed to take whatever creative liberties he wanted, he was concerned that Leonard would disapprove.

“He called me right before he went into production on Jackie Brown,” Leonard recalled. “He said, ‘I’ve been afraid to call you for the last year.’ And I said, why? Because you changed the title and the color of the main character? He said, ‘Yeah!’ I said, well that’s alright. Do what you want, you’re the filmmaker!”

As it turns out, Tarantino’s fears were unfounded. “[Leonard] really liked the script,” Tarantino said. “Then he came back and he said not only that he thought it was the best adaptation of his work he’d ever read, he thought it was maybe the best script he’d ever read.”

3. TARANTINO DID NOT SET OUT TO RESURRECT THE CAREERS OF ROBERT FORSTER OR PAM GRIER.

Robert Forster in 'Jackie Brown' (1997)
Miramax

Tarantino has garnered a reputation as a filmmaker with the ability to revive the careers of some of his favorite, albeit often forgotten, actors. But Tarantino doesn’t see it that way. “People do come up to me and go, 'Who are you gonna bring back next time? Who’s next on the radar? Who’s next on the list?'” Tarantino explained on the Blu-ray interview. “I’m not coming from that place. I’m trying to cast the best actors or the coolest actors in whatever role. And I’m just not using the hot star list in order to do it.”

4. GRIER AND TARANTINO WERE DESTINED TO WORK TOGETHER.

Speaking of Pam Grier: Tarantino had long been a fan of her work, and had recruited her to audition for the role of Jody, Eric Stoltz’s wife, in Pulp Fiction. Grier auditioned but Tarantino was convinced there was no way that Stoltz (who had already been cast) was going to tell Pam Grier to shut up. So the role ultimately went to Rosanna Arquette. But Tarantino made Grier a promise: “He said, ‘We’re gonna work together one day,’” Grier recalled. “And I said, ‘Yeah, right!’”

When Grier walked in to audition for Jackie Brown, “there were all my posters from 20 years ago, when I was just a piss and vinegar kid,” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Did you put these up because I was coming over?’ And he said, ‘No. I was gonna take them down because you were coming over!'"

5. ROBERT FORSTER’S RESERVOIR DOGS AUDITION GOT HIM THE JACKIE BROWN GIG.

Like Grier, Tarantino had promised Robert Forster that the two of them would work together after the actor auditioned for Reservoir Dogs. “I was reading for the part that Lawrence Tierney eventually played,” Forster recalled in an interview on the Blu-ray. “But when I read for him, Quentin said, ‘You know what? This may not work out. If it doesn’t, don’t worry. One of these days I’m gonna use you.’”

Years later Tarantino ran into Forster in a restaurant and deemed the meeting fate. He gave Forster the Max Cherry role on the spot. In 1998, Forster earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nod for Jackie Brown (the film’s sole nomination).

6. TARANTINO WAS UPSET THAT GRIER DIDN’T RECEIVE AN OSCAR NOD.

Pam Grier and Quentin Tarantino on the set of 'Jackie Brown' (1997)
Miramax

“Pam and Sam didn’t get nominated for an Oscar, and Robert did. And I was shocked by that," Tarantino said. "I was really surprised. And it was weird because I was really happy that Robert got nominated for an Oscar, but I was like really sad that Pam didn't get nominated … I really wanted Pam to be the first black actress to ever win an Academy Award [for Best Actress].”

7. ORDELL’S LOOK IN THE FILM WAS CONCOCTED BY SAMUEL L. JACKSON.

“That was all Sam’s idea,” admitted Tarantino of the look for Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Ordell Robie. “The whole thing with the long hair and the goatee, the whole kind of samurai, mad priest, mad kung fu priest on the mountain look he had—Sam came up with that. And it was just terrific. It just made it.”

8. MICHAEL KEATON WAS HIS OWN BIGGEST OBSTACLE IN GETTING THE ROLE OF RAY NICOLETTE.

According to Tarantino, Michael Keaton desperately tried to talk the director out of hiring him for the role of FBI agent Ray Nicolette. “His whole process was to convince me that he’s not right for the role,” Tarantino said. “But he never quite convinced me … Michael’s whole thing is to deny himself and to say he’s not right.”

Eventually Tarantino was able to convince Keaton that he was the man for the job and the rest is history. In fact, the following year, Keaton went on to reprise the role of Ray Nicolette in Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Out of Sight.

9. SYLVESTER STALLONE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF LOUIS GARA.

Bridget Fonda, Robert De Niro, and Samuel L. Jackson in 'Jackie Brown' (1997)
Miramax

In an interview with Maclean’s, Sylvester Stallone said he turned down roles in two Tarantino films: Louis Gara in Jackie Brown and Stuntman Mike in Death Proof. Ultimately the role of Louis went to Robert De Niro.

10. PETER FONDA MAKES AN APPEARANCE IN THE FILM.

During a scene where Louis (Robert De Niro) and Melanie (Bridget Fonda) are watching television at her apartment, they are watching the film Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. The film stars Peter Fonda, Bridget's father.

11. TARANTINO SPENT A MONTH WATCHING THE MOVIE IN THEATERS.

Tarantino wanted to gauge the audience reaction to key moments in the film, so he spent the first several weeks following the film’s release watching it in theaters. “I saw that movie … like 13 times at the Magic Johnson Theatre,” said Tarantino. “The whole first four weeks it was there, I just lived there.”

12. TARANTINO CONSIDERS THE FILM HIS RIO BRAVO.

Tarantino compares Jackie Brown to Howard Hawks’ classic 1959 John Wayne western. “It’s a hangout movie,” he explained. “Jackie Brown is better the second time. And I think it’s even better the third. And the fourth time … Maybe even the first time we see it we go, ‘Why are we doing all this hanging out? Why can’t we get to more of the plot?’ But now the second time you see it, and the third time you see it, you’re not thinking about the plot anymore. You’re waiting for the hangout scenes … To me, [that’s] the thing that Rio Bravo did. I remember the first time I saw Rio Bravo, but I remember more the fifteenth time I saw Rio Bravo. It’s about hanging out with the characters.”

Additional Source:
Jackie Brown Blu-ray extra features

When Mississippi Once Banned Sesame Street

Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images
Children's Television Workshop/Courtesy of Getty Images

Since it began airing in the fall of 1969, Sesame Street has become an indelible part of millions of children's formative years. Using a cast of colorful characters like Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch, along with a curriculum vetted by Sesame Workshop's child psychologists and other experts, the series is able to impart life lessons and illustrate educational tools that a viewer can use throughout their adolescence. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone—even Oscar—who would take issue with the show’s approach or its mission statement.

Yet that’s exactly what happened in early 1970, when a board of educational consultants in Mississippi gathered, polled one another, and decided that Sesame Street was too controversial for television.

The series had only been on the air for a few months when the newly formed Mississippi Authority for Educational Television (also known as the State Commission for Educational Television) held a regularly scheduled meeting in January 1970. The board had been created by the state legislature with appointees named by Governor John Bell Williams to evaluate shows that were set to air on the state’s Educational Television, or ETV, station. The five-member panel consisted of educators and private citizens, including a teacher and a principal, and was headed up by James McKay, a banker in Jackson, Mississippi.

McKay’s presence was notable for the fact that his father-in-law, Allen Thompson, had just retired after spending 20 years as mayor of Jackson. Highly resistant to integration in the city during his tenure in office, Thompson was also the founder of Freedom of Choice in the United States, or FOCUS, an activist group that promoted what they dubbed “freedom of choice” in public schools—a thinly veiled reference to segregation. Mississippi, long the most incendiary state in the nation when it came to civil rights, was still struggling with the racial tension of the 1960s. Systemic racism was an issue.

Entering this climate was Sesame Street, the show pioneered by Joan Ganz Cooney, a former journalist and television producer who became the executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. On the series, the human cast was integrated, with black performers Matt Robinson and Loretta Long as Gordon and Susan, respectively, appearing alongside white actors Jada Rowland and Bob McGrath. The children of Sesame Street were also ethnically diverse.

Zoe (L) and Cookie Monster (R) are pictured in New York City in November 2009
Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

This appeared to be too much for the Authority, which discussed how lawmakers with control over ETV’s budget—which had just been set at $5,367,441—might find the mixed-race assembly offensive. The panel's participants were all white.

The board pushed the discussion aside until April 17, 1970, when they took an informal poll and decided, by a margin of three votes against two, to prohibit ETV from airing Sesame Street—a show that came free of charge to all public television stations. (The decision affected mainly viewers in and around Jackson, as the station had not yet expanded across the state and was not expected to do so until the fall of 1970.)

The members who were outvoted were plainly unhappy with the outcome and leaked the decision to The New York Times, which published a notice of the prohibition days later along with a quote from one of the board members.

“Some of the members of the commission were very much opposed to showing the series because it uses a highly integrated cast of children,” the person, who did not wish to be named, said. “Mainly the commission members felt that Mississippi was not yet ready for it.”

The reaction to such a transparent concession to racism was swift and predictably negative, both in and out of Mississippi. Board members who spoke with press, usually anonymously, claimed the decision was a simple “postponing” of the show, not an outright ban. The fear, they said, was that legislators who viewed ETV as having progressive values might shut down the project before it had a chance to get off the ground. It was still possible for opponents to suffocate it before it became part of the fabric of the state’s television offerings.

The concern was not entirely without merit. State representative Tullius Brady of Brookhaven said that ETV exerted “a subtle influence” on the minds of children and that the Ford Foundation, which funded educational programming, could use its influence for “evil purposes.” Other lawmakers had previously argued against shows that promoted integration.

Grover is pictured at AOL Studios in New York City in May 2015
Slaven Vlasic, Getty Images

Regardless of how the decision was justified, many took issue with it. In an anonymous editorial for the Delta Democrat-Times, a critic wrote:

“But Mississippi’s ETV commission won’t be showing it for the time being because of one fatal defect, as measured by Mississippi’s political leadership. Sesame Street is integrated. Some of its leading cast members are black, including the man who does much of the overt ‘teaching.’ The neighborhood of the ‘street’ is a mixed one. And all that, of course, goes against the Mississippi grain.”

Joan Ganz Cooney called the decision a “tragedy” for young people.

Fortunately, it was a tragedy with a short shelf life. The following month, the board reconvened and reversed its own informal poll result, approving of Sesame Street and agreeing that ETV could air it as soon as they received tapes of the program. Thanks to feeds from Memphis, New Orleans, and Alabama, Sesame Street could already be seen in parts of Mississippi. And thanks to the deluge of negative responses, it seemed pointless to try to placate politicians who still favored segregation.

In the fall of 1970, the Sesame Street cast appeared in person in Jackson and was met by representatives from the board, which helped to sponsor the live performance, though it’s not clear any apology was forthcoming.

Sesame Street would go on to win numerous awards and accolades over the proceeding 50 years, though it would not be the only children’s show to experience censorship on public television. In May 2019, ETV networks in Alabama and Arkansas refused to air an episode of the PBS animated series Arthur in which a rat and aardvark are depicted as a same-sex couple getting married.

Attention Movie Geeks: Cinephile Is the Card Game You Need Right Now

Cinephile/Amazon
Cinephile/Amazon

If you’ve got decades worth of movie trivia up in your head but nowhere to show it off, Cinephile: A Card Game just may be your perfect outlet. Created by writer, art director, and movie expert Cory Everett, with illustrations by Steve Isaacs, this game aims to test the mettle of any film aficionado with five different play types that are designed for different skill and difficulty levels.

For players looking for a more casual experience, Cinephile offers a game variety called Filmography, where you simply have to name more movies that a given actor has appeared in than your opponent. For those who really want to test their knowledge of the silver screen, there’s the most challenging game type, Six Degrees, which plays like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with the player who finds the fewest number of degrees between two actors getting the win.

When you choose actors for Six Degrees, you’ll do so using the beautifully illustrated cards that come with the game, featuring Hollywood A-listers past and present in some of their most memorable roles. You’ve got no-brainers like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (2003) and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall (1990) alongside cult favorites like Bill Murray from 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Jeff Goldblum in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). Of course, being a game designed for the true film buff, you’ll also get some deeper cuts like Helen Mirren from 1990’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover and Sean Connery in 1974's Zardoz. There are 150 cards in all, with expansion packs on the way.

Cinephile is a labor of love for Everett and Isaacs, who originally got this project off the ground via Kickstarter, where they raised more than $20,000. Now it’s being published on a wider scale by Clarkson Potter, a Penguin Random House group. You can get your copy from Amazon now for $20.

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