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On Bernardo Bertolucci, Maria Schneider, and Reacting Too Late

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On Bernardo Bertolucci, Maria Schneider, and Reacting Too Late Photo

by Kelsey Duchesne | 12/05/2016

In a 2013 interview on the Dutch TV show College Tour, Last Tango In Paris director Bernardo Bertolucci admitted that the film’s rape scene was premeditated by himself and the male lead, a then 48-year-old Marlon Brando. The actress in the scene, 19-year-old Maria Schneider, did not know that she would be pinned down on the floor by Brando, who smeared butter on the vagina as lubricant. Bertolucci went on to say he never had a good relationship with Schneider following the film because she was “hating him” for the scene. In 2007, she gave an interview with The Daily Mail, “...I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.” Schneider died in 2011 at the age of 58, following a life of addiction and mental health issues, and The Daily Mail interview never picked up major steam.

Maria Schneider in Last Tango in Paris, United Artists

Bernardo’s interview resurfaced yesterday, and has received the proper outrage the Daily Mail’s piece deserved almost a decade ago. Actors have chimed in, including Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, and Evan Rachel Wood, expressing their horror and rage. Kendrick claimed that she had known about this for years, yet every time she spoke about it she received eyerolls from people “aka dudes.” Acclaimed director Ava DuVernay tweeted “Inexcusable. As a director, I can barely fathom this. As a woman, I am horrified, disgusted and enraged by it.” These are all fair and appropriate reactions to a young woman being attacked on screen, and an older, male director calling it art. And while “better late than never” sure beats the alternative, is reacting when it’s too late always how it’s going to be?

As Melissa Silverstein summed up in the title of her Guardian piece, Hollywood’s rape culture is a reflection of our culture. We are a culture that is shocked and disgusted by Bertolucci’s confession, yet we awarded Roman Polanski an Oscar in 2002 for The Pianist after he had served jail time for the rape of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer. Polanski has continued to work, and is currently directing his 16th movie since his release from prison.

Despite Woody Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow penning an open letter to the New York Times about her father sexually abusing her, Allen not only continues to work, but casts A-list actors, all whom either refuse to answer questions about Allen’s alleged abuse or make excuses for him. In May, High Society actress Kristen Stewart told Variety Magazine that she decided to work with Allen despite allegations, because she doesn’t know Dylan Farrow personally.  “I was like, ‘What do you think? We don’t know any of these people involved. I can personalize situations, which would be very wrong.’ At the end of the day, Jesse [Eisenberg] and I talked about this,” she said. “ If we were persecuted for the amount of shit that’s been said about us that’s not true, our lives would be over. The experience of making the movie was so outside of that, it was fruitful for the two of us to go on with it.”

With Oscar nominations looming, we find ourselves in the midst of dated sexual assault allegations against actor Casey Affleck, who has been rumored to be an Oscar shoo-in for his lead role in Manchester By The Sea, produced by close friend Matt Damon. Despite being accused of sexual assault by 2 female colleagues in 2010 (while many of us are hearing about this for the first time), Affleck has not been questioned about this as he completes press for his new film. Allie Jones notes in The Cut that at most press events Affleck has been sandwiched by both Damon and his famous older brother, all smiling and keeping topics light. Amanda White, a producer, and Magdalena Gorka, a cinematographer, both worked with Affleck on the film I’m Still Here__, and sued him for $2 million and $2.25 million, respectively (although Affleck claimed he would counter-sue, both cases were mediated and settled for undisclosed amounts.) Gorka has called her experience on the film “the most traumatizing of her career.” Publicly, Affleck still denies and downplays White and Gorka’s allegations. His chances for winning the most prestigious and respected award in film is better than ever.

We choose to ignore when the victim comes forward. We choose to ignore even when the convicted serves jail time. Sexual violence is recognized when it’s convenient, or, in this case, 3 years after the perpetrator fully admits his wrongdoings (but doesn’t regret it.) We are living in a  continued, perpetuated cycle of rape culture, reacting too late and too little. Schneider died before we were her allies, and that's on us. 

If we want to break the cycle, we need to start acting in real time, even when it's hard, or inconvenient, or we love the perpetrators work. Actors need to turn down roles, interviewers need to ask the tough questions, news cycles need to keep pushing. Everyone needs to continue reacting. We can’t continue to ignore just because a movie has Oscar buzz, or a director has status. It’s time to speak up.

by Kelsey Duchesne

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