Content warning: rape.
A friend of mine (hi Emma!) is trying a new thing where she tries not to judge something before she’s seen it herself. It’s very admirable in our age of retweeting without reading and knee-jerk reactions and branding people and the content they create as either problematic or pure and I’m trying to reserve judgement too. But blimey, my heart sank like Boba Fett falling into the Sarlacc Pit when Disney announced last night that Game of Thrones’ David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are to take the helm of another new Star Wars trilogy.
I think we all know that Game of Thrones is a misogynistic show. We’ve all seen the exposition dumps that take place in brothels where the naked women and velvet curtains act as equally exotic and silent set dressing (everyone jokingly calling it “sexposition” doesn’t make it any less sexist). We remember the justification of a consensual sex scene between Jaime and Cersei in the books transforming into rape on screen. And we remember the sight of Ros’ corpse riddled with arrows, posed like a Renaissance painting, silk dress pulled high to reveal her legs and tight to reveal her breasts. Two arrows are imbedded in her body near her crotch and another sticks out of her chest. That last image continues to disturb me more than anything else in the show; its eroticisation of violence against women is so visceral and so unashamed. We’d seen countless displays of Joffrey’s unrelenting brutality already and yet this was deemed necessary.
The last straw for me, and I believe for many others, was Ramsay’s rape of Sansa in Season 5. The story is not a total departure from the books but in A Dance with Dragons Sansa’s poor friend Jeyne Poole is Ramsay’s victim. Sansa and Jeyne’s storylines were amalgamated in order to give Sansa a larger role in the season. I can’t talk about the scene specifically as I’ve never seen it. My Twitter timeline was filled with horror, outrage and resignation after the episode first aired and I chose to step away, as did the feminist pop and geek culture website The Mary Sue who explain their decision to stop writing about the show here. Rape isn’t a shortcut to make a character more complex, whether that’s survivor or perpetrator. It’s not necessary, it’s not entertainment, and it’s not comparable to the other violent acts portrayed in the show. Being thrown out of windows, beheaded or incinerated by dragon fire are not fears that most people carry. All women live with the fear of rape and to dismiss the show as pure fantasy is reductive and displays a lack of understanding of the reality we live in, as well as the number of scenes of violence against women we’ve sat through before. Enough.
But I’m not here to lecture. I came crawling back to Game of Thrones at the beginning of Season 6 with a slight feeling of shame after Sansa was reunited with Jon at Winterfell, giving me what I’d been waiting for since I read the books back in 2011. I can’t help but be a sucker for characters actually being happy for a change and the last two seasons of the show have admittedly been far less explicitly misogynistic. But Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne, Sansa holding Winterfell in Jon’s absence and Daenerys barbecuing people doesn’t negate the bullshit I’ve rolled my eyes over at best and felt truly sickened by at worst.
It’s not just that 96% of the directors and writers of Star Wars universe films have been white men (see this excellent breakdown by Maureen Ryan) and that the franchise is looking more and more like a playground for these successful white male fanboys with Rian Johnson also being handed a trilogy of his own. It’s that part of this new era of Star Wars storytelling with its female leads (albeit entirely white British and brunette) is now being handed to creators who have repeatedly chosen to write scenes of misogynistic violence. And I haven’t even mentioned the slavery fan fiction TV show Confederate which Benioff and Weiss are currently working on and Daenerys’ role as a “white saviour”. It’s not that I think Disney want a Star Wars: After Dark trilogy in which the blood will flow and the breasts will bounce HBO style. It’s that I don’t want these men anywhere near this story that I love. I’ll try not to judge before I’ve seen it myself but god almighty, can Disney hire Ava DuVernay or Taika Waititi already?