Home2016-2017Sexual assault made palatable

Sexual assault made palatable

By Ariadne Wolf
Opinions Editor

I’m confused. Since when is some guy groping a woman’s body without her consent NOT rape?

The answer du jour: since she is a famous actress.

Bernardo Bertolucci is famous for his role in a series of cutting-edge films. “Last Tango in Paris” (1978) is Bertolucci’s most famous film.

This movie features a variety of questionable and disturbing sex scenes. Worst is when Marlon Brando’s character smears butter across the protagonist’s anus, then penetrates her while she cries and begs him to stop.

Actress Maria Schneider played the protagonist. She was 19 at the time, Brando 48.

A 2011 New York Times article reports Bertolucci’s comment that he cast Schneider because she seemed “like a Lolita, but more perverse.”

Although often mischaracterized, Lolita of Nabokov’s novel was a 12-year-old orphan raped by the pedophile Humbert Humbert. She was not, as often described, a young slut; rather, she was a child horribly taken advantage of by a much-older adult.

It is easy to see the parallel between Humbert and Bertolucci.

A 2013 interview with Bertolucci has recently resurfaced. The interview reveals that Brando and Bertolucci decided to include the detail of the butter without informing Schneider until the scene was in progress. Schneider explained in a Daily Mail interview that she was enraged at this change, but was too inexperienced to understand she had the power to resist changes to the script.

People reports director Bertolucci’s statement that he wanted Schneider to “feel, not act, the rage and humiliation.”

It’s difficult not to see this as a director seizing the opportunity to essentially rape, certainly to sexually violate, a young woman in a relatively socially acceptable way.

Whether actual penetration happened is unclear; what is obvious from these interviews is that Bertolucci schemed to ambush Schneider with the specific intention that she experience a violation.

Schneider reports in The Daily Mail that she did, indeed, feel “raped by Brando.” Afterward, she attempted suicide and became addicted to drugs.

The real human cost of Bertolucci’s decision to exploit a vulnerable young woman is obvious.

It is easy to recognize the evidence that such attitudes persist in Hollywood. Most A-list actresses I can name had their start in films featuring either rape scenes or sex scenes, and most have endured at least one bout of onscreen nudity in order to gain the right to demure now.

Major movie stars from Jessica Chastain to Chris Klein have commented on the controversy on behalf of Schneider. However, while Schneider is now deceased, many young women and men are in similarly vulnerable positions in the film industry today.

As The Guardian reports, actresses continue to face “casting couch assaults,” as do many actors.

People have the right to be safe from anything that happens to our bodies without our consent. There’s no excuse for men like Bertolucci.

They’re not the ones in need of defense.



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