HBO programming president Casey Bloys and Westworld executive producer Lisa Joy fielded multiple questions about the portrayal of rape and sexual assault on the network’s programs during the Television Critics Association press tour on Saturday, after critics screened the first two episodes of the upcoming Anthony Hopkins-starring sci-fi series.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the first scene in Westworld — a sci-fi series about a futuristic, android-filled theme park in humans can indulge their every desire, based on the book and movie by Michael Crichton — features a scene in which a female robot (played by Evan Rachel Wood) is dragged off to be raped (off-screen) by the villainous Man in Black (Ed Harris).
Bloys — whose visit to the TCA Saturday was his first since taking over from previous HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo earlier this year — reportedly struggled to answer critics’ questions about his network’s depiction of sexual violence against women, including on shows like Game of Thrones and new series The Night Of.
“The point in Westworld is they’re robots,” Bloys said during HBO’s panel, according to THR. “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.”
“But to your larger point: Is it something we think about? Yeah, I think the criticism is valid,” he added. “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.”
The highly-anticipated HBO series — which also stars Thandie Newton, James Marsden and Jeffrey Wright — first drew attention in September of last year, when the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union warned actors about a particularly sexually explicit casting call for the series. Extras on the show were advised that they may be required to perform “genital-to-genital touching” and participate in “graphic sexual situations.”
Last month, during an episode of Game of Thrones, HBO aired the first full trailer for Westworld that included a brief shot of a massive orgy scene, though the scene was subsequently scrubbed from the trailer’s online release.
Along with Bloys, Westworld showrunner and executive producer Lisa Joy defended the series over its graphic portrayal of rape and sexual assault, saying the show represents an “examination of human nature.”
“The best parts of human nature — paternal love, romantic love, finding oneself — but also the basis for parts of human nature —violence and sexual violence,” Joy said, according to THR. “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.”
Joy added that the scenes featuring rape and sexual violence were not intended to be a “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 what we endeavored to do,” Joy said.
Westworld premieres October 2 on HBO. Watch the trailer above.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum