More and more questions are being posed with every new episode of HBO's Westworld. Our own Donna Dickens' posited an intriguing one not too long ago which the creators have tried to address and Alan Sepinwall discussed a few more in his latest episode review.
But before the series even began there was much talk about how the creators would use sexual violence in Westworld. While Game of Thrones (the show it's been compared to constantly) can no longer be separated from their flagrant use, it seemed Westworld's Lisa Joy was looking at it deeper.
“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,” she said in part. “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.” There's yet to be a sexual assault on screen in Westworld, and there may be more than meets the eye to the off-screen one we've witnessed.
Speaking to Collider Thandie Newton, who plays brothel madam Maeve on the show, also shared some deeper thoughts as they pertained to her character and with them, is perhaps helping the much-needed intelligent discourse to continue. Newton spoke particularly of the juxtaposition between her time acting fully dressed as a Host in the brothel and being completely nude while in for “repairs.” Contrary to what you'd probably assume, she said it's the nude portion “when she”s most powerful.”
“With the objectification, being in those clothes with the corset pushing the boobs up to my chin and the fishnets, people thought I must be really happy wearing that stuff because it”s so beautiful. I hated it! I totally recognize that it was a beautiful costume. There was no doubt about that. And I was very grateful for the level of expertise, but I couldn”t wait to get out of that fucking corset. It invited looks, even from the crew, and it made people slightly uncomfortable because my boobs were in my chin and they didn”t know where to look. What it did, actually, was devalue our communication. Our communication was second to this discomfort that we felt, but that discomfort is called eroticism. Very often, if you think about what”s erotic and break it down, as we”re feeling the excitement of eroticism, we”re feeling fear. We want to try to dominate our fear and get rid of our fear, so we go towards it and have sex with it, basically. That”s really sad.”
It's a really interesting backstory to hear considering the costume is meant to be the type of thing to grab attention (in this case: from the Guests) but also had a negative effect on both Newton and the crew interacting with her behind-the-scenes. And that she goes further to break down how eroticism and fear interact, well, she's stepping all over the particular fears I had before the show began – that a general audience won't look deeper at entertainment like this, at the story they're actually trying to tell. She went on to say:
“When I was naked, people were really respectful and in awe of my 'bravery.' The thing about sexy, lacy undies is that you”re covering up the sacred stuff, so that you can forget about that. You”re inviting people to think about what”s underneath, but not see what”s underneath. It”s the allure of the unknown. You”re inviting hysteria with your boobs that are nearly showing nipple and your skirt that”s nearly showing muff. You”re exciting this hysteria that leads to a lack of control, which then leads to, “It wasn”t my fault.” But naked, I have all the power because I got there before you did, and what is actually there is vulnerable, life-giving and hasn”t been tampered with. I don”t wax or anything. All of the hosts have full body hair because it”s more period, and even that it shocking. I haven”t done anything to try to invite you in to think about my clitoris, my labia or my vagina. I”ve left myself as I am. And that was really empowering.”
While I wouldn't put Maeve quite on the empowered side of “objectification vs. empowerment” discussion, considering the character doesn't have consciousness as we know it (or have it fully developed yet), it's great that Newton found that particular strength in that side of the role. And the fact that she also touches on rape culture here, something she has a personal history with, is all the more vital. Though I'm uncomfortable with her using the phrase “inviting hysteria” as it sounds like it's lending credence to the reprehensible “she was asking for it” excuse. I think I know what she's trying to say but she doesn't quite take the time to explain it in-depth.
She gave one more personal anecdote about this type of behavior to Collider:
I used to work as a bar maiden in a pub in London, years and years ago, when I was 18 or 19. When you”ve got the bar between you and the customers, the shit they feel they can say! And then, when you step out behind the bar, there”s silence and muttering into their navels. I feel like the sexy clothes put a bar between you. It”s like putting an alcohol drenched piece of wood between you and the person, and it”s inviting them to be able to think and say the things that they hate about themselves.
Both Newton and Evan Rachel Wood have been very open about discussing the themes of Westworld and I hope that continues.