Hitchcock, Bertolucci & the horrors of Hollywood rape culture

Manisha Ganguly on not so secret world of #Hollywood macho culture

Last Tango in Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci has admitted in a 2013 video that has resurfaced, to conspiring with actor Marlon Brando against the 19-year old Maria Schneider while filming a graphic rape scene in the film.

In the video, Bertolucci admits that he did not tell her that the rape was part of the script, so she was caught unawares. He justifies blind-siding her by stating that he “wanted her reaction as a girl not as an actress”. In the interview, he explains how on the morning of the shoot, Brando and he were having breakfast on the floor, of baguettes and butter. “We looked at eachother and without saying anything we knew what we wanted”, he says about the butter which was used as a lubricant in the rape scene to follow. “In a way it was horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on, because I wanted her to react as if she felt humiliated.” When asked if he feels regret over the scene, he says, “No, I feel guilty but I do not regret.”

He mentions that he and Maria did not interact after the shooting was over, “She was hating me.” He further explains, “To obtain something I think that we have to be completely free. I didn’t want Maria to act…I wanted Maria to feel her rage and humiliation. Then she hated me for all her life.”

His admissions confirm what Maria had disclosed herself in a 2007 interview with the Daily Mail  where she stated, “I’ve not really forgiven him for the way he treated me and although we met in Tokyo 17 years ago, I ignored him”. About the rape scene she says, “They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry. Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.” She mentions explicitly that she “felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci.” She was traumatised by the scene which Bertolucci calls “The Sequence of the Butter”, and says, “I like to see friends and go to the market and cook. But I never use butter to cook any more.”

This isn’t the first time this year that an instance of sexual assault by veterans of Hollywood has come to the limelight. In Tippi Hedron’s new memoir published in November of this year, titled ‘Tippi: A Memoir’, she recounts the multiple attempts Alfred Hitchcock made to sexually assault her, before punishing her on set the next day for not complying.

In an interview with The Main Edge, the veteran actress disclosed that she had spoken about the sexual assault to a number of people and had felt helpless. “There was really nothing that anyone but I could do about it. Show business is not the only business where those kinds of things happen. Women all over the world have to deal with this kind of thing.” In Hedron’s case, however, the situation was slightly worse as she was contractually obliged to work with Hitchcock for the next seven years. Like Bertolucci, who justified the rape scene for “art’s sake”, Hitchcock’s abuse was repeated and an abuse of his power as a director. When Hedron asked to be let out of her contract, Hitchcock reportedly blackmailed her by mentioning her ailing parents and her daughter who she was supporting. “He said I’ll ruin your career. I told him to do what he has to do.”

All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with sexism in Hollywood. From the male gaze and skewed gender wage gap to recent revelations of sexual assault by actresses Ashley Judd,  Rose McGowan and Evan Rachel Wood, Hollywood has often done very little to ensure that sets are a safe space, or bothered to provide scripts where the actress is not merely a prop in the background or accessory to reflect the heroism of the male protagonist. Though there has been a recent shift with women-centric films like Suffragette and Mad Max: Fury Road, the industry remains sadly reflective of the patriarchal society we live in.

rape tweets

Besides, with the US election of Trump, who has been accused of molesting and groping multiple women, it has become harder for women to report rape. During the election, a viral Twitter hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport highlighted how women raped by men in positions of power are afraid to report the abuse due to a multitude of reasons: the threat it poses to their career, fear of being blamed, lack of evidence, fear of not being believed.

Hollywood, in this respect is a double-edged sword: both the production and direction of films is strictly dominated by men. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, in its recent report, noted that women comprised only 26% of the crew as creators, directors, writers and producers, while 79% of television programs had casts more male characters than men. Thus, it is unsurprising that the lack of representation of women in Hollywood is an impediment to women who do want to disclose accounts of sexual assault, especially by men in positions of power over them.

What the new video exposes is what Maria had already disclosed in 2007. Why did we have to wait for a man to confirm it for us?

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Manisha Ganguly Written by:

Manisha is a freelance journalist covering politics, surveillance, conflict, and social justice. Follow her

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