Actress Jodie Foster Made Amazing Points About Rape Scenes

If there’s one thing we know about actress and director Jodie Foster, it’s that she doesn’t shy away from taking on controversial projects (Exhibit A: The Accused; Exhibit B: The Silence of the Lambs), and at the Variety and Kering’s Women in Motion event on Thursday, Foster proved she isn’t one to shy away from discussing controversial issues, either. In a speech, Foster discussed male writers’ problematic treatment of rape in Hollywood films — namely how rape is so frequently and casually used as the only meaningful back-story for female characters.

“One of my biggest pet peeves as an actor was always that whenever a writer, a male writer, was searching for motivation for a woman, they would just always go to rape,” Foster said. “It was like, I wonder why she’s a box of tears? Oh, she was raped. I wonder why she’s having trouble with her boss? Well, it’s because she was raped.”

Foster called the prevalent use of rape as a mere plot device for female characters “ridiculous,” and proceeded to speculate as to why so many male writers go this route: “It was always rape because for some reason men saw that as — they did — they saw that as this incredibly dramatic thing. ‘Well that’s easy! I can just pluck that one out of the sky and apply it to her.’”

Further, Foster also attributed widespread use of this trope by male writers to their inability to connect with female characters. “They were unable to put themselves in her shoes and her body and say, ‘She was competitive with her mother’… They were unable to make that transition,” Foster said. Of course, this excellent point by Foster circles back to Hollywood’s big diversity problem, with not enough female writers and women in crucial roles in the film industry.

The issue also exists because male leads by and large remain the norm, according to a 2015 study by the University of California, Los Angeles, and so writers have arguably become accustomed to developing complex plots for male characters with less opportunities to work with female characters. Currently, in American films, male characters are featured twice as often as females, and women hold lead roles in just 25.6 percent of films.

In her speech, Foster nailed how the normalization of the “rape” trope by male writers for female characters indicates the need for, well, I don’t know, more female writers having a say in Hollywood, but the controversial trope is problematic for a number of other reasons, as well.

Casual, frequent portrayal of rape arguably lessens its severity in the eyes of impressionable audiences by practically normalizing it. When Game of Thrones took heat for excessive use of the trope last year, George R.R. Martin, author of the series that the HBO hit is based on, pointed out that rape wasn’t being glorified, and, speaking realistically, rape was a highly unfortunate consequence of war and patriarchal settings like Westeros.

Yet a key reason rape was criticized in Game of Thrones as oppose to, say, Outlander, where a male character was sexually assaulted, is that in Outlander, viewers get to see how traumatic Jamie’s experience was and understand rape isn’t just some casual trope for audiences to consume and then forget about. This isn’t the case on Game of Thrones, where Daenerys, Cersei, and Sansa all at some point have sexual assault thrown into their arcs, and then move on practically unscathed, without any insight into how their experiences affected their characters.

As Foster pointed out on Thursday, portrayal of rape as the only interesting, consequential arc for female characters ultimately undermines their complexity.