Bryan Fuller, the developer, writer, and executive producer of NBC’s Hannibal, spoke with Entertainment Weekly about why his show steers clear of sexual violence. For a series that deals in cannibalism and depicts murder as a fine art, Hannibal has noticeably avoided rape as a plot point. Fuller says this is because rape has become “ubiquitous on television”:
It’s one of the things on the show that we really wanted to avoid. They’re ubiquitous on television, and there’s an entire series [NBC’s Law & Order: SVU] that’s about rape. It was challenging approaching the Red Dragon story because the crimes that Francis Dolarhyde commits [in the novel] include the horrible raping of corpses, and near-corpses. In crafting the story arc of the Red Dragon, it became a challenge on how to keep true to the novel but deemphasize the exploitative qualities of woman being raped. That was one of the big challenges in terms of how do we keep our promise [to not tell rape stories] to our audience—which is largely female—and also service the novel. It became a tricky matter of deemphasizing women being targeted, and making more pronounced the crimes against the victim’s family as a whole. We didn’t wanna glorify it—well, not “glorify,” because I don’t think any of the crime procedural shows are actually “glorifying” rape. But it is certainly explored so frequently that it rarely feels genuine…And I’m saying this as somebody who can derive immense entertainment from cannibalism – there’s an irony to cannibalism that I find horrific and amusing. I can totally get behind cannibalism and have fun with it. But rape? Not so much.
When asked what he thought about Game of Thrones’ most recent controversial rape scene, which formed a schism between fans, Fuller explained why the world created by HBO’s epic fantasy is different from that of Hannibal, and has different rules and aesthetics:
I thought it was handled tastefully, all things considered. You could have done that scene on broadcast. With Thrones, you’re telling a story based on a time where those sort of violations were common. And women did not have the stance in that world to effectively resist. And with Sansa Stark, and that particular attack, we know Ramsay Bolton as someone who is a horrible violator of all things human—what he did to Theon Greyjoy is part and parcel of his cruelty. So it felt organic to the world—not only what happened to Sansa, but [the attempted rape of] Gilly. It feels like we’re in the Wild Wild West, and that’s part of how they’re choosing to explore the story. I see why they’ve made the choices they have in the stories they’ve told, so I can’t criticize them for using that tool.
Hannibal season three, which will introduce the terrifying Red Dragon character from Thomas Harris’s books, premieres Thursday, June 4.