CW’s teen historical drama, Reign, is no stranger to sex scenes and violence. However, debate has arisen in response to last night’s episode which featured a graphic rape scene. One of the main characters, Mary, is held hostage when her French castle is besieged by Protestant rebels. Mary and her husband Francis (heir to the French throne) are blamed for the death of one of the rebel’s sons, and, subsequently, in a violent act of retribution, Mary is pinned to the floor and raped. In visible pain, her nightgown hitched up, Mary is shown struggling as the rebel rapes her.
What’s exciting about this dramatic television debacle is that prime-time TV is finally addressing real-life issues that teenagers face. Sex, violence, and rape and becoming less taboo, and so victims of assault can feel that their story is being told and explored. Hopefully too, when sexual assault is portrayed and discussed openly in pop culture and if it is handled appropriately, the shame is lifted from the victim, and instead the perpetrators are faced with a mirror—thus encouraging cultural growth. Cos’ lets face it, it’s almost 2015 and still statistics say that one in four women are subject to sexual assault and 44% of rapes happen to people under the age of 18. As Jezebel says, “Leaving rape out of fiction entirely would ignore the experiences of a very large portion of the population.”
What’s unfortunate and indeed questionable, however, is the alleged motivation behind the inclusion of this rape scene. Reign showrunner Laurie McCarthy told Entertainment Weekly that rather than to further Mary’s development or make her more relatable to teen girls who are also survivors of sexual violence—which we would argue should always be the motivation behind the inclusion of such sensitive and topical content, especially in television for teen audiences—she wrote the rape scene to punish Mary’s husband Francis for past transgressions, i.e. McCarthy was not motivated by an ethical and/or cultural responsibility.
Here is some of the interview:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea for Mary’s rape originate?
LAURIE MCCARTHY: It really started from the end of last season when we made the choice to have Francis kill his father. Even though it was a righteous action, I always felt like it would be something that just had to haunt him, and we obviously played that in many different iterations. But it really felt like it should be something that should haunt his rule as well. It seemed like something that he couldn’t tell Mary, that he wouldn’t tell Mary, and then we looked at, “What if the wrong person found out and he became a compromised king and it made him make choices that he wouldn’t otherwise have made?” And then since we’re playing the civil unrest in the nation, which is historically accurate, we thought, “What could be one of the worst things that could happen that would really affect the person he loves the most?” And that’s Mary. So we looked at it originally through the prism of Francis, and then we looked at it through the prism of Mary, and I couldn’t imagine any other character—other than Catherine—who could experience something like this and that we would be able to then take on a journey of healing, somebody who could truly rise above this but who also would be in the worst possible situation to have something like this happen to her as a queen, as a woman, as a new wife.
EW: Surely, some people will say, “Why couldn’t they have found another way to make Mary have this turning point in her life?” What do you say to them about why you chose to do it this way?
LM: There are always other stories to tell and always other ways to go and we chose to tell this story. That’s the truth of it, and I’m sure we’ll tell those other ways moving forward. I think oftentimes what people actually mean when they say that is, “Could you have done it to another character and someone other than the lead of your show?” My response to that is, “Why is it okay for some other female character?” The waters get very muddy for me there. I think that the underlying question there is: Does something like this ruin a person? And I find that question really galling because I feel like, why should it ruin a person? It should ruin the person who did it. It should not ruin the character to whom it was done, and I’m very much looking forward to a story of seeing Mary find her strength again and find her sense of security and also her ability to love and experience intimacy again.
Image sourced from insidetv.ew.com