Dehumanizing Actors for Our Entertainment

It’s been called “the most infamous sex scene ever.” The film in which it is found was banned in several countries. The scene is said to have “scandalised [sic] the…movie-goers who actually got to see it.” But no one was as scandalized as Maria Schneider, the young actress who starred in the scene (and the movie). For decency’s sake I won’t give any specifics, but I will quote from an interview with Schneider (linked to above) so we can better understand the trauma she went through. (Note: the article contains a risqué picture.)

“That scene wasn’t in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon [Brando] who came up with the idea,” she says.

“They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry.

“I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that.

“Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.

“I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by [Director] Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologise [sic]. Thankfully, there was just one take.”

Specific scenarios like this—filming impromptu sex scenes—are slowly on the way out. But that’s a small comfort to many modern-day thespians. The prevalence of nudity and sex scenes in mainstream film and television scripts places a huge amount of pressure on actors. As I’ve detailed before, this pressure often leads people to violate their consciences in order to get ahead in the entertainment industry.

Do these experiences match those of porn actors? As part of my answer, let me quote from the book The Hardcore Truth: An Ex-Porn Producer Reveals 10 Myths About Pornography. The book is in the format of an interview, in which Matt Fradd asks Donny Pauling about his experience producing porn for nine years.

Donny: People ask me now, “Are you attracted to porn?” and I say, “What’s attractive about a girl curled up in a corner in a ball, sucking her thumb in a fetal position because her mind is so blown by what she just went through?”

Matt: This is the stuff you would see while on set?

Donny: Absolutely, you see things like this. You see girls break down crying. I would have a camera focused on a girl, and there would be tears coming out of her eyes.

Matt: What would happen in that situation? I suppose you would have to re-apply the makeup?

Donny: Yeah, we would just have to stop for a while and let her collect herself. And it depended on my attitude that day. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for this. “Come on, knock this off. We have work to do here.” People believe the myth that [porn is] glamorous and it’s just not. You don’t hear about all the things that happen in the lives of these girls and how they break down—and even the guys in the business. They hide it a little bit better, but it’s definitely not a glamorous thing.
So we see that actors who sexually act out for the camera—whether it’s in the world of porn or the world of mainstream cinema—can experience similar feelings of humiliation, shock, and grief. Phrases like “I felt a little raped” and “[girls] curled up in a corner in a ball” are damning descriptions. They reveal an intense form of psychological and sexual abuse, as well as a calloused disinterest on the part of filmmakers.

Let’s try an experiment. Below, I’m going to quote from several industry insiders about their experiences. See if you can guess which examples are related to pornography and which are related to major motion pictures.

1.     “I want to be known for my acting, not for my breasts.”

2.     “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. . . . I know no other culture more willing to use people and throw them away.”

3.     The industry has a way of making you bitter – it teaches you not to trust people and it ages you.”

4.     One article states that, for most actors in this business, filming sex scenes is “a necessary evil.”

5.     “If I never had to do it again that would be the best thing. You’re worried about what the other person is feeling, you’re worried about what the crew are thinking, whether they’re really uncomfortable, whether you’re uncomfortable. You’re just thinking, ‘God let this be over.’ [These scenes are] generally just mortifying or humiliating.”

6.     “It’s very traumatic, it really is. It never gets easier.”

7.     “I was absolutely terrified and had no idea what was going on. I cried afterwards because I was thinking, ‘This isn’t acting, what am I doing?’”

8.     “You can’t really get over the embarrassment. I know [some] people…do things like drinking shots before filming, but I handle them by not really watching them afterwards.”

What is your guess? Which examples are from the world of porn and which are from film/television? Here’s the breakdown:

The last five come from an article I’ve linked to previously*:

  • The “necessary evil” quote (Number 4) is a general statement of the writer
  • Number 5 is from mainstream actress Claire Foy
  • Number 6 is from mainstream actress Natalie Dormer
  • Number 7 is from mainstream actress Ruta Gedmintas
  • Number 8 is from mainstream actress Cléménce Poesy

Of the above eight examples, only one of them is about the porn industry; all the rest deal with mainstream entertainment.

Now, some could argue that not every actor expresses shock or shame when faced with a sex scene. For what it’s worth, they’re right. Scarlett Johansson, for example, is quoted as saying, “Shooting those sorts of scenes always ends up being more funny than anything else.” But we need to be careful here. If you want to employ the excuse that “not everyone feels this way,” let me ask you two questions.

First, what exactly is your point? If you’re trying to prove me wrong, you’re arguing against something I’ve not even said. It’s never been my intention to pretend that these experiences are universal—only that they are prevalent. Movie patrons need to know what kinds of behind-the-scenes actions their money is supporting.

Second, when you argue that “not everyone feels this way,” what does that say about you? Do you mean that treating actors like pieces of meat isn’t a real problem unless it’s done 100% of the time? That dehumanizing actors is acceptable in Hollywood so long as it’s practiced in moderation? That actors should just accept sexual objectification as a normal hardship of stardom? I don’t see how such a stance can be anything but a form of moral negligence. It’s irresponsible—at best.

God created humans in His own image. Objectifying and dehumanizing them is bad enough, but doing so for our entertainment is sick and sinful. It shows a disregard for the second greatest commandment of all time: to love our neighbor as ourselves. Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are called to a higher standard. For the glory of God and the good of humankind, let us show greater, Christ-like love to those whose consciences are being sacrificed on the altar of our amusement.

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* (Because this article has what some would consider indecent visual content, I’m not providing a hyperlink to it.)