HBO’s ‘Westworld’ creators are more thoughtful in how they use sexual violence

At HBO's TCA presentation over the weekend, new programming chief Casey Bloys was ill-prepared to answer serious questions about their shows' use of sexual violence against women. Thankfully the creators of Westworld have given it a lot of thought.

HBO announced Westworld, the new take on Michael Crichton's science fiction western-thriller, will premiere Sunday, October 2 at 9pm. But the creative team, unfortunately, had to follow Bloys' bumbling attempt at answering questions about the trend of sexual violence against women on the cable network.

While reporters touched on Game of Thrones and The Night Of, they also brought up Westworld which led Bloys to say, “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.”

Except, it kind of isn't and thankfully Westworld's showrunner Lisa Joy gets that.

The opening scene in Westworld reportedly features a female robot (a.k.a. actual actor Evan Rachel Wood) being dragged off-screen to be sexually assaulted. “It was definitely something that was heavily discussed and considered as we worked on those scenes,” Joy said at the panel. She continued:

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.”

One of Westworld's actors, Thandie Newton, is a survivor of sexual abuse and speaks out about her experience because she wants to prevent it from happening to others. So it's for that reason, and for all the other survivors of sexual assault I know, that I'm thankful to hear Joy and the Westworld team are treating sexual violence with the weight it deserves. They also seem to be very aware that even in a fictional sense, it's not something to be taken lightly.

“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,” she also said. “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 also mentioned that unlike the '70s film, their story about “robots” is more science fact than fiction considering the advances in technology. “They're the product of our inputs, the product of how we designed them – good and bad,” she said. “They're a reflection of us.”