It’s been three hours since I read the distressing news about how the actress in the Marlon Brando starrer Last Tango in Paris was made to shoot a controversial rape scene without her consent. Although the news is not entirely new, but is making headlines again after the director’s interview about the scene resurfaced online.
The actress, Maria Schneider went on to become a ‘sex symbol’, but what happened to her during the shooting of the supposedly iconic film is unforgivable.
The director, Bernardo Bertolucci, hatched, what could only be called a conspiracy with the actor Marlon Brando, to shoot an anal rape scene which was not in the original script, without informing the actress. She was told about it just before they were going to shoot the scene. What Brando’s character does is brutal and shocking – he penetrates a stick of butter in the rear of the young girl.
Bertolucci had admitted the truth about the scene in a 2013 interview.
“I think she hated me and also Marlon because we didn’t tell her. I wanted her to react humiliated. To obtain something I think you have to be completely free. I didn’t want Maria to act her humiliation, her rage; I wanted her to feel the rage and humiliation. Then she hated me for all of her life.”
He had achieved what he wanted to, not only did Schneider feel real humiliation but the horrific lack of respect the director displayed in treating her, left a lasting impact on her life.
Schneider had opened up about the scene years before Bertolucci admitted it and disclosed how she felt a little raped by the director-actor duo.
“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 Bertolucci,” Schneider said in a 2007 interview.
She said she should have called her agent or protested what was happening, but she was only 19 and didn’t know any better.
Bertolucci faced criminal proceedings for his movie but never went to jail. What is even more infuriating is that he doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong in what he did. And Brando is not any less guilty for what had happened.
It’s not the first time that we have been exposed to a story where those in the entertainment industry have taken things too far in the name of ‘artistic’ liberty. Or in this case, two influential old men, exercising power over another artist. Honestly it seems more like twisted sexual power-play and not ‘art’.
What Bertoulucci did was what critics called him out for – exploitation. A young girl was exploited and manipulated into doing something she was not prepared for. The fact that she had agreed to do explicit naked scenes does not give the director the right to get her to do anything. It’s the same as men forcing women to perform sexual acts they do not want to.
Let us consider a situation: Alexa is a 19-year-old girl, who has agreed to have sex with her 44-year-old boyfriend Peter. After they have sex, Peter wants her to perform fellatio and she refuses. But he says it’s no big deal, grabs her head and forces her to indulge in the act. She is in tears as she does it and feels humiliated. Was what happened okay? Was her consent not important?
Sure, Schneider was not really raped, but how hard would have been to just ask for her consent? Why was she reduced to a sexual object that did not even have a say in whether she wanted to shoot a scene or not. Two middle-aged influential men decided to practically rape a woman, because they knew they would get away with it. They would call it art, or method acting or god knows what. Schneider was a victim of Hollywood masochism that perhaps runs deeper than what meets the eye. She was not part of some artistic experiment that the director would like us all to believe.
There is a fine line between art and abuse and I think the makers of the movie crossed it.
As I write this, I am still distressed about what she was made to undergo. I am yet to see Last Tango in Paris, although I clearly remember seeing it being recommended on so many movie lists that I have read.
For some reason, I wasn’t very interested in seeing a visibly aged man romancing a much younger woman. Not like I am against such relationships, as long as they are consensual. But I don’t know why, for some reason I always kept away from watching it, keeping it for a next time. But now, I don’t think I can ever bring myself to see the movie.
I will leave you with some tweets by actors on the matter: