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HBO chief spars with critics over rape scenes

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HBO via YouTube

TV critics’ rising frustration with rape scenes in entertainment programming resulted in a clash with HBO’s new programming chief at the Television Critics Association’s press tour in Beverly Hills on Saturday.

During a Q&A to discuss the network’s content, reporters pressed the network’s new top executive Casey Bloys on the issue after watching the pilot for upcoming sci-fi thriller Westworld — which includes a scene (spoiler ahead) where a life-like female android “host” is raped off-camera by a human male guest inside the show’s ultra-realistic theme park. Acclaimed new crime drama The Night Of also includes a storyline about a woman being victimized, and some critics have long taken issue with the sexual violence in fantasy hit Game of Thrones.

“For the Westworld pilot, the point in Westworld is they’re robots,” said Bloys, who took over the network’s top programming job two months ago. “How 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. But to your larger point: Is it something we think about? Yeah, I think the criticism is valid. I think it’s something that people take into account. It’s not something we’re wanting to highlight or trying to highlight, but I think the criticism is point taken on it.”

Later in the afternoon, Westworld showrunner Lisa Joy added: “It was definitely something that was heavily discussed. Westworld is an examination of human nature, the best parts of human nature, but also the basest parts of human nature, and that includes violence and sexual violence that have sadly been a fact of human history since the beginning. So when we were tackling a project about a park where you can come there and act out any desire you have, without impunity, it seems like an issue you have to address. Sexual violence for everybody on my team is something we take very seriously, it’s extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying.We really endeavored to not have it be about the fetishization of those acts, it’s about exploring and establishing the crime, and the torment of the characters.”

Back in the executive session, Bloys was asked if the network — and premium cable in general — were relying heavily on sexualized violence as a way of scene-setting and world building. “I’d like to not think so,” he said. “Using Game of Thrones, violence is not just specific to women, it’s men and women. It’s indiscriminate, I would say, so I don’t think so. I think it’s violence in general. I don’t know that it’s specific to women. Men are killed as well.”

Critics pressed: Why were women being assaulted more than men?

“I don’t necessarily see it as specific to women,” Bloys pushed back. “The point of is there a lot of violence in Westworld and Game of Thrones? Yes, but I don’t necessarily think that it’s specifically isolated to women.”

Critics continued to ask about the issue, specifically making the point that shows don’t depict sexual violence on men. “No, you haven’t seen men being raped,” he agreed. “But the point I would make in Game of Thrones for example is men are castrated, a guy is fed a cake made of his sons. The violence is pretty extreme on all fronts. I take your point that so far there have not been any male rapes, but my point is the violence is spread equally.”

When asked if HBO shows would eventually depict that same type of violence toward men, Bloys quipped, “We’re going to kill everybody.”

HBO also announced Westworld would premiere its debut season on Oct. 2. See the trailer below.

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