When creators of entertainment content buy rights to a story that was originally written by another person, it is generally understood that the new owners of the intellectual property will take some creative liberties with the work. These liberties should not, however, extend to portraying sex scenes in a way that strays from the author’s initial intentions.
Creators may have the right to do this from a legal perspective, but it is unethical to twist the tone and purpose of the original scene in such a way that it appears as sexual assault to the viewers.
For example, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” inaccurately portrays a sex scene between Jaime and Cersei Lannister. In “A Storm of Swords”, George R. R. Martin clearly indicates that Cersei — though not agreeing to Jamie’s first advances — does consent to having sex with Jaime before they actually do. By contrast, in the television show, Cersei explicitly says “no” several times and repeatedly asks Jaime to stop making advances, but he does so regardless. There is never any indication that Cersei gave consent, making it rape
— a large divergence from the nature of the scene in the original story.
This kind of departure from the books is unethical on several levels. Not only does it reflect poorly on the author, but it also serves no real purpose other than to shock the audience.
If altering the nature of a sex scene from book to screen advanced the plot more efficiently or added to characterization more effectively, it could be argued that the change was necessary in making the transition from book to television or movie, which do require completely different tactics for characterization and plot development.
But this is rarely the case, and it cannot be argued as such for the Game of Thrones scene. This is because the creators and directors behind the show have been relatively silent on the matter, and one would think that if the scene was shot in such a way with some kind of justifiable creative purpose, they would speak to that publicly. Additionally, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister) and Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) both said that there was no communication between the actors and the creators specifically indicating that they were shooting a rape scene.
It would be reasonable to conclude, then, that the only reason to leave out Cersei’s words of consent was for the shock value. It certainly shocked me, a viewer who has never read the books. I would have taken it as a rape scene if I did not look further into the episode.
Another instance of this dissonance between the original story and the on-screen portrayal was in Divergent when the main character’s biggest fears are revealed. In the book, Veronica Roth shows us that Tris is scared of intimacy; in the movie, it appears that Tris fears sexual assault, specifically at the hands of her love interest, Four. The movie version has Four aggressively shove Tris onto a bed and continue to make sexual advances despite her telling him to stop.
This time, I had read the book before seeing the movie, and was surprised and disgusted that they chose to portray the scene in such a dishonest way.
When creators are not careful or responsible in shooting sex scenes, it compromises the integrity of the original story, which is often sending a completely different message. Moreover, if any scene is altered to become one portraying sexual assault for no reason other than shock value, the creators must assume that, on some level, people want to see these scenes in a more violent light because they find it more entertaining. It glorifies a horrific experience in many people’s lives — and that is not okay.
Creators need to take these ethical implications into consideration when turning a novel into a movie, because glorifying sexual assault is counterproductive to the ultimate mission of raising awareness about the problem and trying to make sexual assault significantly less prevalent.
It’s a mission that those involved in entertainment media play an integral role in. We must ask them to embrace this role with pride instead of throwing it away in favor of cheaply earned audience reactions.