Following the resurfacing of a controversial interview with director Bernardo Bertolucci in which he essentially admitted that a rape scene in the movie Last Tango In Paris was filmed without the consent of the leading actress, Maria Schneider, many directors and showrunners are speaking out against the use of rape as a plot device on the big and small screen.
“I felt humiliated, and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci,” said Schneider, who refused to do nude scenes after her experience shooting Last Tango and who died of cancer in 2011. “After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
Now, a handful of TV higher-ups are calling into question the writing in a handful of shows and committing to not repeating the mistakes of the past. Jeremy Slater, creator of TV's The Exorcist, discussed encountering tasteless rape narratives with frightening frequency while reviewing spec scripts: “I would say out of those 200 scripts, there were probably 30 or 40 of them that opened with a rape or had a pretty savage rape at some point ... It has become a plague on the industry.”
“It’s become shorthand for backstory and drama,” agreed a female writer who wished to remain anonymous. “Everyone knows rape is awful and a horrific violation, so it’s easy for an audience to grasp.”
“For male showrunners, sexual assault is always the go-to when looking for ‘traumatic backstory’ for a female character. You can be sure it will be brought up immediately, like it’s the obvious place to go when fleshing out a female character ... You can use it as a reason for anything she might do. She’s ‘damaged goods,’ physically, emotionally and mentally, and I think that is a bad, bad message to send to women who have been sexually assaulted.” added another anonymous female writer.
Bryan Fuller, the openly gay genius behind shows like Hannibal and Pushing Daisies, also had thoughts on the subject: “I personally think that it stains a story, in a way, in that it prevents you from being able to celebrate different aspects of sexuality. America as a country has a very f*cked-up attitude regarding sex and sexuality, so there is something [troubling] about the punishing of characters for their sex and sexuality ... As an adult, as a gay man, looking at my own sexuality and looking at how complicated it is, it’s hard to project a total experience of that kind of story and not be overwhelmed by the reality that this happens every day. It’s hard for me to evaluate as entertainment.” Notably: Hannibal regularly featured artfully-shot scenes of extreme violence but never once told a story about sexual assault.
Two popular shows that have faced significant criticism for this tactic are American Horror Story and Game of Thrones. "I'm going to have to throw a flag on the field for that one ... It's not provocative; it's stunt outrage ... and kind of disrespectful," wrote Refinery29's Lauren Le Vine about the rape-filled debut of the fifth season of Ryan Murphy's current most popular production. The Telegraph's Charlotte Runcie described a GoT rape scene as "grim ... difficult for the show to justify."
You can read Variety's full article on this over here.
[Photo: Getty Images]