The Last Tango in Paris contains one of the most infamous and controversial rape scenes in movie history. However, in a recently surfaced video, the movie’s director has admitted that Maria Schneider, who was 19 years old when she appeared in the film, never gave her consent to it.
The scene sees Marlon Brando (then 48) forcing the teenage actor onto her front, pulling down her trousers, and sexually assaulting her with a stick of butter; her performance received critical acclaim at the time, but it has now been confirmed that her fear was very real – the assault was not pretend.
“The sequence of the butter is an idea that I had with Marlon in the morning before shooting," Bernardo Bertolucci explains in the video, which was filmed at an event held at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris in 2013.
He added: “I’d been, in a way, horrible to Maria, because I didn’t tell her what was going on.”
Bertolucci, now 76, attempted to defend the act of non-consensual sexual violence by insisting that it was part of his ‘artistic vision’: “I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress.”
He continued: “I wanted her to react humiliated. I think she hated me and also Marlon because we didn't tell her.”
Despite this, neither Brando nor Bertolucci apologised to Schneider – and the director continues to defend his behaviour even now.
“To obtain something I think you have to be completely free," he said. “I didn't want Maria to act her humiliation her rage, I wanted her to Maria to feel...the rage and humiliation. Then she hated me for all of her life.”
Schneider sadly passed away in 2011, at the age of 58, but she had spoken out about Bertulocci and Brando’s actions before.
Just a few years before her death, in 2007, she penned an essay for the Daily Mail in which she explained how violated the experience had made her feel.
“I felt humiliated, and, to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci,” she said, before adding: “Marlon said to me, ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but, during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears.”
Schneider added that she wished she’d called her agent or a lawyer about the scene, adding that she was thankful that there was “just one take”.
After filming The Last Tango in Paris, Schneider went on to have a successful movie career in France – but she never shot another nude scene, and admitted that she struggled with drug addiction, depression, and self-esteem issues following the attention that the movie brought her.
“I was so young and relatively inexperienced and I didn’t understand all of the film’s sexual content,” she said. “To be suddenly famous all over the world was frightening… [and it] made me go mad. I got into drugs – pot, and the cocaine, LSD, and heroin. It was like an escape from reality.”
Despite telling her story many years ago, the majority of Schneider’s claims were largely ignored until Bertolucci confirmed the sexual assault.
Several Hollywood stars have since taken to Twitter to react to Bartolucci’s confession, with Beauty and the Beast’s Chris Evans tweeting: “Wow. I will never look at this film, Bertolucci or Brando the same way again. This is beyond disgusting. I feel rage.”
Meanwhile Pitch Perfect’s Anna Kendrick responded to Evans, writing: “Ms Schneider stated this several years ago. I used to get eye-rolls when I brought it up to people (aka dudes).”
Responding to Kendrick’s tweet, Evans said that he had “no idea” that Schneider had spoken out about the assault before, adding that Brando and Bartolucci should “be in jail”.
Kendrick replied that she wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t heard about it, as “it wasn't treated like a big story then (shocker).”
She added: “Glad at least it will be taken seriously now.”
It is, worryingly, just one such incident amongst countless others; the movie industry has a vast unacknowledged history of normalised abuse – and this continues even now.
Earlier this year, former child star Corey Feldman described his ordeal at the hands of a Hollywood paedophile ring – and alleged that his The Lost Boys co-star, Corey Haim, was raped when he was 11-years-old.
“He had more direct abuse than I did,” he said. “With me, there was some molestation and it did come from several hands, so to speak, but with Corey, his was direct rape, whereas mine was not actual rape. And his also occurred when he was 11.”
Meanwhile, just a few months ago, Thandie Newton told W Magazine about an unidentified director’s abusive behaviour during a casting audition early on in her career.
“[He] had a camera shooting up my skirt,” she said, “and asked me to touch my tits and think about the guy making love to me in the scene. I thought, ‘OK, this is a little weird,’ but there was a female casting director in the room and I’d done weird stuff before so I did it.”
Newton went on to explain that, years later at a film festival, a producer drunkenly told her, “‘Oh, Thandie, I’ve seen you recently!’ And he lurched away looking really shocked that he’d said that.”
When the Mission Impossible II star’s husband asked the man for clarification he explained that “the director was showing that audition tape to his friends after poker games at his house. And they would all get off on it,” Newton said.
Newton’s story underlines an important point; even now, in 2016, there are many people out there who choose to explain sexual crimes away as ‘banter’ or ‘just another part of the job’.
Now, with so many men and women coming forward to speak out against sexual assault in Hollywood and the professional sports arena, it is time for those who are enabling these abusers by normalising their behaviour to confront the problem that they have created.
For confidential and free support about rape or sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 800.656.HOPE. You can also IM anonymously at online.rainn.org.