HBO has sat at the center of an ongoing debate concerning the portrayal of sexual violence on television, especially against women. Game of Thrones has repeatedly come under fire for repeated rape sequences (as well as the overwhelming ratio of nudity in women vs. men over the years).
As HBO prepared to talk about their new series, this debate roared anew when HBO's new programming chief, Casey Bloys, came under fire for what he had to say regarding the premium network's use of sexual violence as a storytelling device. On the subject of Westworld specifically, Bloys said, "The point in Westworld is they’re robots. How do you treat a robot with human-like qualities? Is that reflective of how you would treat a human? It's a little bit different than Game of Thrones, where it is human-on-human violence."
That was not sufficient for some critics, but it also may not have been sufficient for Westoworld showrunner Lisa Joy, who spoke with journalists in greater detail not only about the reboot series but about its treatment of sexuality and sexual violence specifically.
Word is that in the opening scene of the new Westworld, Dolores Abernathy (a robot played by Evan Rachel Wood) is dragged offscreen and sexually assaulted. Responding to questions regarding this scene, Joy had a lot to say, not just about Westworld, but about humanity:
"It was definitely something that was heavily discussed and considered as we worked on those scenes. Westworld is an examination of human nature, the best parts of human nature -- paternal love, romantic love, finding oneself -- but also the basest parts of human nature -- violence and sexual violence. Violence and sexual violence have been a fact of human history since the beginning. There's something about us -- thankfully not the majority of us -- but there are people who have engaged in violence and who are victims of violence."
Another Westworld star, Thandie Newton, has been open about her own survival of sexual violence, which is all the more reason Westworld owes it to its performers, as much as its audience, to be mindful of how they tell certain stories. With that in mind, Joy spoke even more candidly about how she and her team would be handling some of the more violent aspects of Westworld.
"When we were tackling a project about a park with premise where you can come there and do whatever desire you want with impunity and without consequence, it seemed like an issue we had to address. In addressing it, there's a lot of thinking that goes into it. Sexual violence is an issue we take seriously; it's extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying. And in its portrayal, we endeavored for it to not be about the fetishization of those acts. It's about exploring the crime, establishing the crime and the torment of the characters within this story and exploring their stories hopefully with dignity and depth and that's what we endeavored to do."
Joy specified what kind of robots we would see in the reboot. "They're the product of our inputs, the product of how we designed them — good and bad. They're a reflection of us."
Will Westworld fare better than Game of Thrones has with fans when it comes to the treatment of sexual violence in their stories? We'll find out soon enough.