One of the stars of Westworld has hit back at criticism of the show on the grounds it portrays sexual violence, and has said the hit show isn’t sexist.
Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Dolores Abernathy in the hit HBO series, said that accusations levelled at the show are unfair.
As soon as the show aired – true to Heat Street‘s predictions – armchair critics condemned it for using female suffering and sexual violence for entertainment.
#DebateAlternatives: Watch the most violent, sexist, racist impulses in American history meet robotic programming…or see Westworld on HBO?
— Doug Molitor (@DougMolitor) October 9, 2016
— Astril Tifs (@firstilast) October 9, 2016
The criticism mirrors a storm caused by Sansa Stark getting raped in HBO’s biggest-ever show, Game of Thrones.
But, as Wood pointed out, there’s one difference – Westworld has no actual rape scenes.
In an interview with Variety magazine, she denied that the attacks her character suffers off-screen are “gratuitous”, but instead are a vital part of the show’s concept, which sees humans pay $40,000 to enter a Wild West-themed situation and do whatever they want to lifelike robots there, like Wood’s character.
…there are no scenes of rape. It’s all implied. Early on when we were getting that criticism, I just encouraged people to stick with it and wait for the context, because obviously that was the starting point, and it’s so we have a place to go to show the motivation of this character — and also a conversation about rape culture and what’s acceptable and entertaining and what has become the social norm.
We are making this up, but if this park really did exist, there really are those people who would come in and do that for fun. I think we’re really examining that — not in a gratuitous way, but in a way that really looks at the crime and the pain that’s inflicted and gives us all sides of it. It’s not just a device or there to be gratuitous.
And yet Wood has said that Dolores is “a great character for women on-screen” and that she doesn’t think the show is sexist.
Westworld was great but I'm sure we can find SOMETHING sexist or racist about it to ruin it for every one
— Joe Cabello (@joecabello) October 5, 2016
A sexual assault survivor herself, Wood said she was “okay with the show” because the sexual violence was there to “traumatise” rather than just entertain.
“It’s not just a device or there to be gratuitous. It really is there for a reason, to send a message, and for us to take a good hard look in the mirror.”
Plenty of sexist scripts have crossed her desk, says Wood. But Westworld is not one of them.
“Just speaking from experience, most of the scripts I get, I’m a prop or a device for the male lead or to be abused or to be sexualized in some way. So you really have to sift through a lot of scripts that really do not speak to me or to most of the women that I know, which is another reason why I loved playing Dolores.”
me: I enjoy Westworld
internet: Westworld is sexist and homophobic because reason
me: okay werk
— sexy fashion cactus (@nicosprezz) October 17, 2016
While the “hosts” of the park, Dolores being one, are there to satisfy the desires of the “guests” – whether that be for adventure, sex or physical violence – we are starting to see the abused hosts fighting back and making their own story.
Dolores, remembering parts of her history, anticipated the loop by placing a gun in the hayloft where she might be attacked. Originally programmed not to fire guns, she was able to overcome this in last week’s episode four and kill her would-be rapist.
Now, as she heads towards the mysterious “maze”, where it has been hinted robots can gain further knowledge, the actress has said that Dolores will get rid of her cornblue farm dress for some more fitting road gear.
For Wood, Westworld is at heart an instructive show: “You have an obligation as an artist sometimes… do we perpetuate this and put it out into the world, do we censor it, or do we show it for what it is?”
Not conceiving of sexual violence to women in a lawless word was not an option for the show’s lead actress. “We also have responsibilities,” she said, “to not whitewash over it”.