A few days ago, news broke that a particularly controversial rape scene in the movie Last Tango in Paris was actually shot without the consent or prior knowledge of the actress, Marie Schneider. That an acclaimed director like Bernardo Bertolucci and renowned actor Marlon Brando wilfully deceived an actress into being a part of a scene where Brando’s character rapes Schneider’s with a stick of butter as lubricant without her consent sent shockwaves throughout the world. It was made worse by the fact that Schneider had herself spoken about this several times and much of her later life was marked by drug addiction and depression, until her death in 2011.
And while much continues to be said about this (from outrage to denial), it is to be noted that Schneider’s is not a standalone account. Writer Nikita Deshpande Tweeted out an excerpt from the book “Rekha”, the biography of the famous Hindi cinema actress, that points towards on-screen sexual assault in India.
— Nikita Deshpande (@deepblueruin) December 7, 2016
The similarity of what happened is chilling. Rekha, too, was never informed of the decision to act in a physically intimate scene, despite the fact that she was an integral part of it. This, coupled with the fact that “unit members were hooting and cheering” troubled Rekha’s conscience for a long time, as per the book. This is another example of the glaring rape culture in India, which leads to the survivor of violence to feel guilty, rather than the perpetrator.
Moreover, it’s horrifying that the actresses’ consent to do these scenes wasn’t even asked for. It was just assumed that they would. Because it’s art. It’s also telling that both Rekha and Marie Schneider were far younger than the men they were acting with. Schneider was 19, and Rekha wasn’t even 15, a minor, and it is abundantly clear that they were taken advantage of. It may have been ‘make-believe’ but that doesn’t make the violation any less real.
And this is a persistent problem in a lot of pop culture from songs like “Fevicol” to “Blurred Lines”, to movies which somehow promote this idea of ‘No means yes’, that stalking is totally romantic, and that it’s okay to not tell an actress about a rape scene because “it’s just a movie”.
Consent is important and the respect for that consent is equally important. Our art and our cinema cannot be exempt from this.