J.J. Abrams is defending his new HBO series Westworld from a deluge of criticism focused on its treatment of women, including that the rape and sexual violence-driven sci-fi Western “dehumanizes” them.
“I would say the criticism is accurate, but you can’t tell a story about oppression without depicting the oppressed,” Abrams, one of the show’s executive producers, told the Press Association in a brief interview.
“If it was a movie I would say: ‘Damn it, they’re 100% right.’ It’s a series and it goes somewhere for a reason,” the Star Wars director added of his new series’ critics. “No one was going into this thinking, ‘Let’s do a show that somehow dehumanizes women.’ This is a show, I would argue, very much about the opposite.”
For months leading up to its highly-anticipated premiere, the Anthony Hopkins-starring sci-fi series — based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film about a futuristic theme park — has been repeatedly called out for its depiction of sexual violence.
After its screening during the Television Critics Association in July, the Hollywood Reporter described the first scene in Westworld as following a female robot (Evan Rachel Wood) being dragged off to be raped off-screen by the vile antagonist Man in Black (Ed Harris).
Following the two-episode screening at the TCA, HBO programming president and executive producer Casey Bloys defended the controversial project.
“The point in Westworld is they’re robots,” Bloys reportedly told the press. “How 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.”
Bloys added that there is validity to the criticism of Westworld’s heavy indulgence of scenes with sexual assaults against female characters.
“But to your larger point: Is it something we think about? Yeah, I think the criticism is valid,” he said. “I think it’s something that people take into account. It’s not something we’re wanting to highlight or trying to highlight, but I think the criticism is point taken on it.”
Series star Thandie Newton also defended the show from accusations that it is too sexually violent, arguing that “it will create moments for conversation which are so valuable for people.”
“I didn’t have any reservations because I knew how it was going to be depicted,” the actress told the Press Association. “I knew how it was going to be central to the narrative – I mean central. It was not going to be wallpaper, let’s put it that way.”
Westworld stars Sir Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden and Thandie Newton. The series premieres October 2 on HBO.
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