HBO’s ‘Westworld’: Do You Need Rape to Examine Humanity (With Robots)?

TCA: The producers of HBO's much-anticipated drama addressed concerns about its use of sexual violence on screen.
Evan Rachel Wood in "Westworld."
Evan Rachel Wood in "Westworld"
John P. Johnson/HBO

Robots aren’t just useful helpers in the world of the future — they’re useful story devices to discuss what it means to be human. Take the upcoming HBO robot drama “Westworld,” which takes its premise from the 1973 Michael Crichton film but deliberately flips the approach. While the movie brought us into the world of a futuristic amusement park populated with artificial humans from the point of view of the park’s guests, showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy decided to tell the story, initially at least, from the point of view of the “hosts,” including Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) and Teddy (James Marsden).

READ MORE: What HBO Show Could Inherit ‘Game of Thrones’ Emmys Crown in 2017?

The aim is to explore “human nature from within and also from without,” as Nolan said during today’s panel at the Television Critics Association press tour. And as part of that examination, “Westworld” does include some violence, including violence of a sexual nature.

Earlier in the day, HBO programming president Casey Bloys was asked repeatedly about the sexual violence of “Westworld” (as well as miniseries “The Night Of”), and didn’t do a satisfying job of answering the question, missing the distinction critics were raising between violence and sexual violence (the latter of which is pretty much always targeted at women).

“The point in ‘Westworld’ is they’re robots, and how we treat robots. And is that reflective of, you know, how you treat a robot with humanlike qualities,” he said. “Is that reflective of how you would treat a human? So it’s a little bit different than ‘Game of Thrones,’ where it is human-on-human violence.”

During the “Westworld” panel, however, Joy was much better prepared to address the issue, saying that invoking rape within the show was necessary, due to the show’s interest in the nature of humanity.

“It’s about the best parts of human nature, but also the basest parts of human nature and that includes violence and sexual violence,” she said. “[Rape] has been a part of our nature since the beginning.”

As she explained, when your show is about an amusement park where you can explore any desire, “it felt like something we had to address.” That said, she did say that the entire team took the issue very seriously, and was very careful to avoid “the fetishization of those acts.”

“It’s about exploring the crime,” she added.

Joy and Nolan saw the inclusion of sexual violence as essential to the subject matter, albeit in a responsible way. Whether audiences agree will be determined when the show premieres on October 2. But raising the issue — asking the questions — proves that the conversation around the topic has changed.

Check out more photos from “Westworld” below.

Jeffrey Wright in "Westworld."
Jeffrey Wright in “Westworld.”John P. Johnson/HBO
Ed Harris in "Westworld."
Ed Harris in “Westworld.”John P. Johnson/HBO
James Marsden in "Westworld."
James Marsden in “Westworld.”John P. Johnson/HBO
Thandie Newton in "Westworld."
Thandie Newton in “Westworld.”John P. Johnson/HBO
Anthony Hopkins in "Westworld."
Anthony Hopkins in “Westworld.”John P. Johnson/HBO

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