NBC’s “Hannibal” often makes perverse art out of mutilated bodies, stretching the limits of what can be shown on television. But “Hannibal” showrunner Bryan Fuller has, until now, barred the depiction of one kind of violence — rape — the overuse of which he decried in a recent interview.
“They’re ubiquitous on television,” Fuller said of sexual-assault storylines, “and there’s an entire series [NBC’s Law & Order: SVU] that’s about rape.”
Fuller then sounded off on the “callousness” of rape on most crime procedurals (emphasis added):
“There are frequent examples of exploiting rape as low-hanging fruit to have a canvas of upset for the audience. The reason the rape well is so frequently used is because it’s a horrible thing that is real and that it happens. But because it’s so overexploited, it becomes callous. That’s something I can’t derive entertainment from as an audience member — and I’m the first person in the audience for ‘Hannibal.’ My role, as a showrunner, is to want to watch the show we’re creating. And if something feels exploitative or unnecessary, I’ll try to avoid it.”
‘A character gets raped’ is a very easy story to pitch for a drama. And it comes with a stable of tropes that are infrequently elevated dramatically, or emotionally. I find that it’s not necessarily thought through in the more common crime procedurals. You’re reduced to using shorthand, and I don’t think there can be a shorthand for that violation — it’s an incredibly personal and intimate betrayal of something that should be so positive and healthy. And it’s frequently so thinly explored because you don’t have the real estate in 42 minutes to dig deep into what it is to be a victim of rape. It appears over and over again in crime procedurals without upping the ante and without exploring everything that happens. All of the structural elements of how we tell stories on crime procedurals narrow the bandwidth for the efficacy of exploring what it is to go through that experience.”
Fuller clarified that he wasn’t, on the other hand, one of the viewers upset by the most recent high-profile rape on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” “I thought it was handled tastefully, all things considered,” he reflected. “You could have done that scene on broadcast. With ‘Thrones,’ you’re telling a story based on a time where those sort of violations were common. And women did not have the stance in that world to effectively resist. And with Sansa Stark, and that particular attack, we know Ramsay Bolton as someone who is a horrible violator of all things human — what he did to Theon Greyjoy is part and parcel of his cruelty. So it felt organic to the world — not only what happened to Sansa, but [the attempted rape of] Gilly. It feels like we’re in the Wild Wild West, and that’s part of how they’re choosing to explore the story. I see why they’ve made the choices they have in the stories they’ve told, so I can’t criticize them for using that tool.”
“In the case of Sansa Stark,” he continued, “it feels like they are building toward something for this woman to overcome, and some horrible lessons that she has to learn about the patriarchy that surrounds her—such as Littlefinger knowing what could happen to her and knowing it might force her into taking more drastic vengeance [against the Boltons] that could benefit him.”
The third season of “Hannibal,” which begins Thursday, June 4, will have to involve sexual violations, however, in accordance with the source material. Fuller affirmed that his show will continue its dedication to the sexual non-exploitation of women’s bodies. “In crafting the story arc of the Red Dragon, it became a challenge on how to keep true to the novel but deemphasize the exploitive qualities of women being raped. That was one of the big challenges in terms of how do we keep our promise [to not tell rape stories] to our audience — which is largely female — and also service the novel [which inolves necrophilia]. It became a tricky matter of deemphasizing women being targeted, and making more pronounced the crimes against the victim’s family as a whole.”