‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ Has a Haunting True Story Behind It That We Shouldn’t Forget

'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' Film - 2019
Photo: A Cooper/Sony/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock.

With its spaghetti Western name and larger-than-life characters, it’s easy to question if all of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a true story. We know that the Oscar-nominated film is set in a real place and period, of course: 1960s Hollywood in all of its countercultural, dwindling allure was indeed its own era. But not all of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood‘s characters are based on real-life figures, nor is the film’s plot entirely tied to reality. Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of parallels to draw between Tarantino’s cinematic playground with that of past events. If you know Tarantino, then this is what he’s best at—finessing fiction out of facts.

First, let’s unwrap the fiction. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood stars two leading men: Cliff Booth, a longtime stunt double played by Brad Pitt, and Rick Dalton, his best friend and struggling actor, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Tarantino needed an unbiased perspective in his film to catalog all the real stuff; hence, he created two characters who didn’t actually exist in real life to lead the plot. He sets his curmudgeonly stars in the midst of a changing Hollywood landscape—only to have them encounter two of the town’s real personalities. Which is where we get to the facts.

Margot Robbie plays Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood—an old Hollywood starlet who was brutally murdered by the Helter Skelter-charged mass murderer, Charles Manson in real life. As history goes, the Hollywood’s golden age met its end for good once a cult of Manson’s followers—a.k.a the Manson family—went on a killing spree across Los Angeles in 1969. One of the Manson family victims was Sharon Tate, who at the time of her murder on Aug. 8, 1969, was pregnant by her husband, director Roman Polanski.

If you’ve seen the film, you know this isn’t quite how things play out. Let’s just say that Tarantino has a flair for the gruesome revenge plot—in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, for example, a group of Jewish soldiers ultimately assassinate Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, whereas in 2012’s Django Unchained, a freed slave joins a bounty hunter in a gruesome mission to win back his wife from a plantation. By the time we see the Manson family complete their home invasion in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, we know their fate reaches an exceptionally bloodsoaked end instead.