HBO’s ‘Westworld’ Controversy at TCA

TCA attendees were treated to a significant Westworld controversy after viewing two episodes

HBO held a large Westworld press screening at the Television Critics Association (TCA) on Saturday. There, TCA attendees were able to view the first two episodes of the twice-delayed futuristic Western series, based on the 1973 film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton. The inception of the series has not been an easy one, but early looks have been dazzling. According to multiple news outlets, the presentation did not go without a Westworld controversy of its own.

As originally reported in The Hollywood Reporter, the series’ opening scene features Evan Rachel Wood’s android character dragged to be raped off-screen by the villainous Man in Black (Ed Harris). The scene perhaps provided the rallying cry that pressers needed to pounce on the project. After many delays and a heavy budget, it already feels like the press is pre-disposed to react negatively to the project. After 2014’s huge Game of Thrones rape storyline, this isn’t the kind of Westworld controversy HBO needed.

Set in a world where human appetite is satiated through an advanced virtual reality populated by androids, Westworld stars Anthony Hopkins, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, Wood, Harris, among others. It’s the presumed heir-apparent to the Game of Thrones crown as that Emmy-winning series declared its end with Season 8 at TCA. HBO has publicly struggled to build the Next Big Thing after Boardwalk Empire ended and Vinyl crashed. It’s very fair to note that similar concerns over HBO’s future slate happened post Sex and the City and The Sopranos.

But the rape controversy hits particularly hard after the series already obtained a reputation for its vivid orgies and strong sexual content. The Hollywood Reporter mentioned HBO’s new programming chief was rattled by the reaction Saturday morning.

Sexual violence is an issue we take seriously; it’s extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying. And in its portrayal, we endeavored for it to not be about the fetishization of those acts. It’s about exploring the crime…” Lisa Joy, Westworld showrunner

Showrunner Lisa Joy indicated the series tries to illustrate the full human struggle – including sexual violence – against the android and virtual setting.

“It was definitely something that was heavily discussed and considered as we worked on those scenes,” showrunner Lisa Joy said. “Westworld is an examination of human nature. The best parts of human nature — paternal love, romantic love, finding oneself — but also the basis for parts of human nature —violence and sexual violence. Violence and sexual violence have been a fact of human history since the beginning. There’s something about us — thankfully not the majority of us — but there are people who have engaged in violence and who are victims of violence.”

“When we were tackling a project about a park with premise where you can come there and do whatever desire you want with impunity and without consequence, it seemed like an issue we had to address,” she continued. “In addressing it, there’s a lot of thinking that goes into it. Sexual violence is an issue we take seriously; it’s extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying. And in its portrayal, we endeavored for it to not be about the fetishization of those acts. It’s about exploring the crime, establishing the crime and the torment of the characters within this story and exploring their stories hopefully with dignity and depth and that’s what what we endeavored to do.”

No widespread Westworld reactions out of TCA yet, although one critic appeared to respond positively to the episodes on Twitter. She later went on to share that Episode 2 starts deconstructing the “rape implication/gratuitous tit shots” of the pilot.

Westworld premieres on HBO Sunday, October 2.

Published by Clarence Moye

Clarence firmly believes there is no such thing as too much TV or film in one's life. He welcomes comments, criticisms, and condemnations on Twitter or on the web site. Just don't expect him to like you for it.

2 replies on “HBO’s ‘Westworld’ Controversy at TCA”

  1. I don’t understand people sometimes. I saw both WESTWORLD and FUTUREWORLD years ago. The point of the place is that it’s an amusement park for adults to basically do what they want. The workers at the park are robots. So if you do something to them, they’re robots. Cersei, although a very cold bitch, was not a robot. She’s a person who got raped by her brother. The showrunners not getting that was hugely weird and somewhat disturbing. This isn’t even close to the same thing. But it would explain to me why people thought that EX MACHINA was a feminist thing. It’s not. Robots aren’t people, even if they have memories.

    1. On the surface, I would agree with you. I haven’t seen anything regarding Westworld yet (new or old), but the concept of “robots at the service of all human desires” would lend itself to the ugly. Perhaps the objections/strong reactions stem from the way the acts are portrayed on screen? We won’t know until we see it. It could be totally nothing. We will see.

Comments are closed.