The controversy around Last Tango in Paris is shocking, but all too familiar
This week information about the abuse suffered by Maria Schneider during the filming of Last Tango In Paris has reemerged.
In a 2013 interview, director Bernardo Bertolucci discussed conspiring with Marlon Brando to not inform the then 19 year old Schneider that Brando was going to smear her with a stick of butter, which, in the film, would function as a makeshift sexual lubricant. Some of the more recently published articles have been written with the suggestion that Brando went on to have penetrative sex with Schneider, which is not the case, and is likely to do with the long-standing rumour that the sex in the film was not simulated.
Regardless, Brando and Bertolucci’s behaviour is a clear example of the way men in powerful positions abuse women in vulnerable ones. Similarly to the controversy surrounding Nate Parker this year, the renewed response to this information highlights exactly how much the conversation around sexuality and consent has moved forwards. Whereas once upon a time, Bertolucci might have been able to pass off the incident as a controversial, but bold, artistic choice, we now see it for what it is: two men, who were aged 48 and 36 at the time, violating and demeaning a teenager.
Like the woman who accused Parker of rape (who has not been named), Schneider’s life was marred with difficulties. Parker’s accuser took her own life in 2012 and Schneider fell into drug addiction and attempted suicide before dying from cancer at age 58 in 2011. Though whether or not there is a direct correlation these women’s abuse and their struggles later in life is open to interpretation, their tragic lives contrast massively with Brando and Bertolucci’s who have never really having had to atone for their actions.
Brando died in 2004 and is remembered as a legend who transformed cinema, his behaviour during Last Tango is barely a footnote in a long, storied career. Bertolucci might have a difficult couple of weeks trying to explain himself to the press, but eventually the uproar will die down and his life will return to normal, his legacy having already been secured by his impressive body of work and the critical acclaim that has accompanied it.
Though Parker’s case is complicated by issues surrounding his race, campus rape-culture and the fact that his career is now most likely over, the Last Tango controversy is part of a wearying history of men in privileged positions abusing the power they have over women, and getting away with it.