Hollywood’s Secret Rape Culture

Several years ago, Kate Beckinsale was conned into signing a movie contract that required nudity—something she didn’t want to do. With her acting career in jeopardy, she found herself browbeaten by the director. “I was really disturbed and I was sobbing and begging,” she said. At long last, she gave in to intimidation and performed the nude scene, which made her feel “violated and horrible.” Afterwards, she secretly urinated in the director’s thermos in revenge.

In the realm of television, actress Ruta Gedmintas faced her first sex scene for the HBO show The Tudors. “I was absolutely terrified and had no idea what was going on,” she later said. “I cried afterwards because I was thinking, ‘This isn't acting, what am I doing? My mum's going to see this.’”

Would you believe me if I told you that stories like these are numerous? Sadly, it’s true. The amount of pressure and intimidation Hollywood places on actors—especially women—to undress for the camera is commonplace. It’s well known in the entertainment industry that if you want to make it as an actor, you won’t be taken seriously if you have qualms about taking your clothes off.

What finally opened my eyes to this culture of sexual abuse was Wayne A. Wilson’s book Worldly Amusements. In one chapter, he gives seven examples from media interviews of female actors who express reservations about getting naked, or at least make some reference to the pressure placed upon women to undress for the camera.

Wilson himself became aware of the issue after watching a movie in which the director had his own daughter perform sex acts on screen. The fact that a director would sacrifice his child’s dignity for the sake of a movie changed Wilson’s perspective. He now implements what he calls the “law of love” in his movie watching habits: he refuses to support films that sexually objectify or degrade actors. He now asks himself, “Would I approve if my sister [or wife or daughter] were asked to behave or expose herself in any way that undermined her purity?” (p. 112).

That is a question we would do well to ask ourselves. It’s a question that comes to the mind of Melissa Ortega, an acquaintance of mine with ties to the entertainment industry. She recently shared her experiences in a Facebook discussion:

I know how many of the women in these scenes (and probably men too, you just don’t hear from them) have talked about throwing up in the bathroom between scenes, crying, stressing out constantly, etc. So basically, I’m paying for that person to do that for me?  . . . . There are perhaps no handcuffs involved with these performers, but social constraints/expectations/demands/culture can be equally, if not more, powerful. And that’s the problem. I’ve lived in Hollywood. I’ve worked with prostitutes one on one. The line between the two worlds is thin. I know no other culture more willing to use people and throw them away.

The movers and shakers in Hollywood have acquired what seems to be an almost limitless amount of power to enforce the sexualization of actors. To cite another example: director Neil Marshall once commented on how he was pressured by an HBO executive to put more sex and nudity in an episode of Game of Thrones:

It was pretty surreal. I’d not done anything like that in my films before. But the weirdest part was when you have one of the exec producers leaning over your shoulder, going, “You can go full frontal, you know. This is television, you can do whatever you want! And do it! I urge you to do it.” So I was like, “Okay, well, if you—you’re the boss.”

A little later, he added:

This particular exec took me to one side and said, “Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side—I represent the perv side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene. So you go ahead and do it.”

Notice the implicit acknowledgement that the nudity had nothing to do with art—that it was designed solely for the satisfaction of a perverted audience base. The producer pushed his weight around, and the director (and everyone else) acquiesced. All of this to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

What gives entertainment executives the authority to force others into such compromising situations? What gives a producer the power to manipulate a director into catering to perverse fantasies? What gives a director the right to deceive an actress into agreeing to do more than she meant to? If your computer screen was a mirror, you would be looking at the answer.

You see, when average folks like you and me support films and TV shows like these, we are perpetuating the sexualized culture we say we deplore. My guess is that, because it’s often hard to see how “A” eventually leads to “X,” we think little of doing “A,” even if we abhor “X.” We may complain about the objectification of women (and men) in our culture. We may complain about how movies are ruined by sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. But if we then turn around and financially support that culture, something is askew.

As I’ve pointed out before, it doesn’t matter if you avert your eyes during sex scenes. At the end of the day, Hollywood counts financial profits and television ratings. Both prudes and perverts give equal support for a film when they buy a ticket, purchase a movie, or watch streamed content. The truth is, if people stopped supporting the abuse of actors, the industry would change. But producers follow money and ratings, and there’s profit to be made through the objectification of entertainers.

Tinseltown is harming the consciences of actors, wreaking emotional and spiritual havoc on them, all so we can enjoy a couple hours of amusement. Hollywood has created its own (incredibly profitable) version of sex slavery, degrading actors as human beings.

And we’re funding the process—with our wallets and remote controls.

Update: since its original publication, this blog post has received some minor edits in order to eliminate some needlessly controversial verbiage and to enhance its rhetorical efficacy.

photo credit: Ryan Coleman via photopin cc