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Put Off By the Rape and Violence In 'Westworld'? Evan Rachel Wood Says We'll Get 'Context' For That

By Vivian Kane | TV | October 3, 2016 |

By Vivian Kane | TV | October 3, 2016 |

The pilot of HBO’s Westworld was based, in large part, around rape and murder. In an era of peak TV where audiences’ weariness in the face of violence against women is finally starting to be held— specifically centered around this network, no less— no one would blame you if were majorly turned off from the show by the extreme, persistent violence against women. The violence is against one woman, in particular— Evan Rachel Wood’s Dolores— but with some exceptions, women in this world are mainly there to be fucked, romanticized, and/or murdered. Repeatedly.

But Wood, a voice for progressive, strong women’s representation since 2003’s Thirteen, is asking us to reserve our judgement on the show’s abuse of its women until we have the context she swears is coming.

It’s absolutely very rough. I don’t like gratuitous violence against women at all, but I would wait for the context in which it’s being used. As the show progresses, the way it’s being used is very much a commentary and a look at our humanity and why we find these things entertaining and why this is an epidemic, and flipping it on its head. The roles for the women on this show are going to be very revolutionary. It’s very gender-neutral. I would ask, as somebody who is an advocate against any kind of abuse or violence and is outspoken about it, to give it a chance and wait to see where it’s going. I think it will surprise people.

The portrayal of characters in situations like these is complicated, because the way they’re perceived is entirely on the individual audience member. Throughout the last few seasons of Game of Thrones, I was constantly frustrated by fellow viewers who refused to see the treatment of that show’s female characters through any sort of larger lens. While many of the show’s fans saw its use of rape as a crutch for lazy writing (because there are a TON of other ways to show a villain is bad, I swear, just try one), the other half of the audience cried HISTORICAL AND SITUATIONAL REALISM, despite the fact that this world doesn’t take place in our history, and the situations are whatever the writers decide they are.

So I totally accept that my lack of a problem with Westworld’s treatment of its female characters is just that— mine. Of course, Dolores is a trope of female victimhood. Of COURSE she is.

But through this episode, it’s not that I have to admit that the way Dolores was used and abused didn’t bother me, because I viewed it through what I think is the intended context— that that treatment isn’t the product of the show, but the choice of the characters. Westworld is based in exposing the id of humanity, so sure, without any consequences, a lot of humans do want to tear women down, in any and all ways possible.

But I do have to recognize that my failure to recognize this part of a larger trend of abusing female characters was, in fact, my choice. Just as so many Game of Thrones viewers chose not to recognize the larger context those characters. Sure, you have the world’s permission to view television through your own constructed lack of context. But you do not have permission to tell women they are wrong in then viewing the same show through the context of their own real-world view.

Additionally, as a quick aside, in this same interview, the showrunning Nolans make note of the eternal girl-next-door appeal of her character, saying “We were fascinated by the idea that if you make a good game space, a good and durable environment like this, it would last for generations. People would come back and bring their kids to meet Dolores, the same way they met her when they were a kid.” I am now CONVINCED Ed Harris’ Gunslinger has been visiting Westworld since he was a child and I am SO DOWN to see what develops with his character.

Back to the original point of how this and too many other shows see their female characters as the fastest, easiest, laziest track to villainous character development: How do you see Dolores? Is she a lazy means to a male character’s and showrunner’s end? Or are you in for the long haul of context to come?

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