Lucy Mangan

“The silence that protects people who do terrible things is breaking down” Lucy Mangan on the hope in the abuse headlines

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Lucy Mangan
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The news actually broke in 2007. In an interview then, actress Maria Schneider revealed that she only learned about the details of the most infamous scene in that infamous film, Last Tango In Paris in which her character is anally raped by the character played by the then 48-year-old Marlon Brando (she was 19 at the time), just before they shot it. She said that during the scene, “even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped.”

Her revelation didn’t cause much of a stir at the time. But now video footage of a 2013 interview with the director, Bernardo Bertolucci, has emerged in which he confirms that he and Brando came up with the idea to use butter as a lubricant that morning and told Schneider nothing about it because Bertolucci “wanted her reaction as a girl not an actress”. Yes, all for art, I’m sure. Nothing at all to do with two older, feted men spotting an opportunity to exploit their authority and get their rocks off under a veneer of artistic integrity at all.

The condemnation has, this time, been public and vociferous, with male and female actors among those condemning what took place.

There are two ways to respond to this. The first is to shake one’s head in despair at how a victim’s claim of assault will seemingly still only be taken seriously if the perpetrator or orchestrator confirms it. And to wonder how, out in the real world, we are ever to jump over this high bar set.

But the second is a bit more optimistic. This one focuses on the response as a sign of changing times rather than changing sources. Nearly a decade on from Schneider’s interview, we can perhaps see – in a way that is admittedly hard to discern day-to- day – that progress in highlighting abuse is being made, especially in more recent years.

The Cosby case is perhaps the most obvious marker. Rumours, stories and legal claims about the sitcom actor Bill Cosby had been swirling and squashed for years. But the number of women going public about their experiences with him have both met with and caused a change in their reception. Cosby is due to stand trial for sexual assault next year.

Thandie Newton has spoken out about her abusive experiences as a young actor in Hollywood. Rose McGowan went public about her own rape by “a studio head” in response to the #WhyWomenDon’tReport campaign. Actor Evan Rachel Wood recently posted an open letter on Twitter advising that she had been raped twice, by a partner and a bar owner. “I don’t believe we live in a time where people can stay silent any longer,” she wrote.

And she’s right. The silence that surrounds and protects people who do terrible things is breaking down. Amid the horror of the stories, currently dominating the news, of the British footballers abused as children by their coaches, for example – a series of testimonies that I would actually not have thought possible – I think you can find real hope that the old order is changing. That some perpetrators of abuse are finally experiencing the exposure and condemnation they deserve. Sometimes it helps to look beyond the daily headlines. To place them within wider history in order to prove to ourselves that things can and do get better and that even fights that seem unwinnable while you’re in the middle of them are worth fighting. So let’s fight on.