Sex Sells, But Does It Have To Be So Violent?

Now in a break from dresses and decorations, it’s time to tackle something deeper, with the help of newly-wed Brooke Williams. 

Fans of ‘Game of Thrones’ are taking to social media in outrage over a rape scene in the episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”. Some viewers think the show has gone too far and unnecessarily made Sansa just another female victim. Brooke Williams explores the use of sexual assault in narrative features.


SansaGameThrones.jpg – Sansa on her wedding night is raped by her sadistic husband Ramsay Bolton. Copyright of HBO

Sex Sells

And we know it. You can make a good film with a great storyline and talented cast, but if you add an element of sex in there, it can only help. It’s been proven many times. How many people actually remember what And God Created Woman was all about? Yet, most cinema lovers can quite easily recall Brigitte Bardot opening the first few seconds of the film sunbathing naked ….in 1956!

What about sexual assault? Does that sell too? It appears to me that more writers are adding an aggressive sex scene into their film just to make it more controversial and therefore interesting. As filmmakers, do we really need to use so much violence against women to get audiences hooked in our characters?

In a conscious move to make on screen entertainment grittier and more real, screenwriters are more frequently falling back on adding a rape scene into a narrative as an effect, instead of a major plot focus. The scenes also regularly show every painstaking second of that poor victim’s agony.

Last night, I surfed through Netflix with my husband for some randomly selected entertainment. We started with an independent film The Afflicted and then finally got round to watching the first episode of The Bates Motel. By the end of the evening, I had witnessed three brutal and graphic rape scenes in our living room. Then the backlash of Game of Thrones started permeating online and I felt comforted that other viewers were echoing my sentiments, that sex scenes are becoming too violent on screen.


BatesMotel1.jpg – Norma Bates is sexually assaulted by former motel owner Keith Summers. Copyright of Bates Motel

After a moment of judging everyone else, I had to stop and look at myself. After all, I am a film producer who is shooting a thriller with a leaked sex tape and a woman claiming she was raped? The word “hypocrite” sprang to mind.

A New Approach

Triventure Films is producing Captured; a story about a C-list celebrity Mimi Wyatt, who gets kidnapped. When she’s released, she goes to the authorities claiming she’s been sexually assaulted, but when the police question the man she accuses, they question whether she’s after justice or a front-page story. Mimi shot to fame in a leaked sex tape with a famous sports star, and her track record ultimately is used against her.

When I read the script, it shocked me. It shocked me because of my initial reaction to it. We almost feel like high-fiving the perpetrator for getting away with the assault and judging this young girl, because she has had sex before. How could I feel something so archaic? My mother is known as ‘THE’ right-wing feminist and I had fallen into the trap of judging a girl because of her track record. It is completely and utterly unjustifiable. Yet it intrigued me, because if we are honest with ourselves, a woman’s past is a factor in how her case is perceived and why I feel this story should be told? It will evoke a reaction, because we should be socially more open-minded, but I don’t feel we are enough, as still today far too many women fail to come forward about their attack.

So how do I as a filmmaker portray a story which has such provocative sexual themes but without being too gratuitous and unnecessary?

Captured is shooting in New York this autumn and is due to be released in the spring of 2016. I feel the imagination is far more powerful than being shown everything. We never see her attack; we have to take her word for it, as is the case for most real victims. There will only be a few little extracts from her sex tape, nothing explicit; only enough to show it was a private home video. Also the kidnapper never hits her. He controls his hostage through intimidation and mind games. Rape victims aren’t always beaten, usually the stigma and the fear keep them silent. The subject matter is so sensitive that adding violent scenes are distracting and unnecessary and would only be in there to shock a virtually “unshockable” audience.

A Filmmaker’s Responsibility

Filmmakers have more power to send a message than campaigners and life-long activists. The art of entertainment is a powerful tool to tell stories, which provokes debate and engages conversation. That’s what the wedding night scene in Game of Thrones has done.

The fact people are speaking up about the show, only proves we are not desensitized to violence on screen. It has got people talking about female victimization and allowed organizations, which help victims of rape, get publicity. All of this can’t be a bad thing. But we can learn about audience preferences. Filmmakers should never be restrained from showing what is essential to get their message across, but we must remain aware of what is truly necessary. Always remember how smart the audience is and how they will know if unnecessary violent has been shoehorned in.

Closing Thoughts

If you are making a film, which includes scenes of a sexual violent nature, what we can learn from Game of Thrones is to make it count. The subject matter of Captured is a big risk and is provocative. My justification is if it gets people discussing the film, it can only move the debate further about how we tackle the problem.

Brooke Williams


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