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‘Hannibal’ Showrunner: Rape on TV is ‘So Overexploited, It Becomes Callous’

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Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller has long had a ban on telling rape stories on his hit NBC show.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Fuller explained his reluctance to depict rape on Hannibal (despite it being one of the darker, more violent shows on television) and criticized other showrunners for relying on the “easy” storyline.

“It’s one of the things on the show that we really wanted to avoid,” Fuller told EW of rape scenes. “They’re ubiquitous on television, and there’s an entire series [NBC’s Law and Order: SVU] that’s about rape.”

Fuller said that he struggled with depicting rape on his critically-acclaimed show’s upcoming third season, because a rape storyline is essential to one of his character’s history.

“It became a tricky matter of deemphasizing women being targeted, and making more pronounced the crimes against the victim’s family as a whole,” Fuller said of how the show managed to pull it off. “We didn’t wanna glorify it—well, not “glorify,” because I don’t think any of the crime procedural shows are actually “glorifying” rape. But it is certainly explored so frequently that it rarely feels genuine.”

Despite having to use a rape storyline on his own show, Fuller said other shows on television exploit the “low-hanging fruit” so much that it’s become “callous.”

“‘A character gets raped’ is a very easy story to pitch for a drama. And it comes with a stable of tropes that are infrequently elevated dramatically, or emotionally. I find that it’s not necessarily thought through in the more common crime procedurals. You’re reduced to using shorthand, and I don’t think there can be a shorthand for that violation. It’s an incredibly personal and intimate betrayal of something that should be so positive and healthy. And it’s frequently so thinly explored because you don’t have the real estate in 42 minutes to dig deep into what it is to be a victim of rape. It appears over and over again in crime procedurals without upping the ante and without exploring everything that happens. All of the structural elements of how we tell stories on crime procedurals narrow the bandwidth for the efficacy of exploring what it is to go through that experience.

Fuller also defended Game of Thrones for its depiction of rape. A rape scene in one recent episode was enough to make Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) quit the show for good.

“I thought it was handled tastefully, all things considered,” Fuller told EW. “You could have done that scene on broadcast. With Thrones, you’re telling a story based on a time where those sort of violations were common. And women did not have the stance in that world to effectively resist.”

“I see why they’ve made the choices they have in the stores they’ve told, so I can’t criticize them for using that tool,” Fuller explained.

Check out the rest of Fuller’s interview with EW here. Hannibal‘s third season begins Thursday, June 4.


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