‘Outlander’ in the #MeToo Movement: How Will the Show Handle Rape Scenes?
[This article contains major spoilers from the fourth book in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon and potential future themes in the Starz TV series.]
Outlander has yet to shy away from depicting sexual assault on television. The fantasy drama series has portrayed its fair share of difficult scenes during its first three seasons and doesn’t plan on removing a pivotal rape scene in its upcoming fourth season.
In Diana Gabaldon’s novel, Drums of Autumn, on which the next season of Outlander is based, a major character is raped and the assault severely changes the trajectory of said character’s life.
[Warning: Spoilers ahead!]
In Drums, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) are adjusting to life in colonial America after surviving a shipwreck. Later in the novel, their adult daughter, Brianna Randall (Sophie Skelton)—whom Jamie has not yet met, as she was born in 20th century Boston—time travels through the stones to reunite with her parents.
The journey is dangerous enough and then Bree runs across Stephen Bonnet (Downton Abbey‘s Ed Speleers), who sexually assaults her. To intensify an already horrendous incident, Bree becomes pregnant and the baby might be Bonnet’s.
[Side note: Brianna is romantically involved with Roger Wakefield MacKenzie back in the 20th century.]
Outlander has featured rape in past seasons and not for gratuitous, headline-making reasons. The executive producers have stayed true to the books’ original plotlines and character developments, and they pride themselves on the the historical accuracy of series—abuse included.
Most notably, Jamie was raped by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) in Season 1 and the series followed up in detail with how psychologically, physically, and emotionally-traumatizing the assault was for the “hero” character.
But now, Outlander faces another hurdle: How does it depict assault in the midst of the #MeToo movement? Executive producer/showrunner Ronald D. Moore spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about how he plans on grappling with the difficult and disturbing subject matter.
“We have a history of it with the show itself [so the question becomes] how much of this material is in the show, when do we do it, when do we decide not to do it and why are we making that choice. You have to approach it on a case-by-case basis and this is obviously a big story point so it wasn’t really an option not to do it. It’s more a question of how you’re going to do it and what it meant to that story in how you presented it,” he said.
Executive producer Maril Davis added, “Every scene moving forward, we’re trying to do something where you understand why the character is struggling so much but not doing it in a gratuitous way… We’re sensitive to what’s going on in this time right now, but we’re also filming something that’s a historical piece.”
And historical context is vital. The audience is watching the series from the 21st century point of view, in which it’s difficult to comprehend the disparity in gender, class, and law. “When a modern audience views Outlander through a modern lens, then yes, you can have problems with it. But if you actually place yourself in the period—and we’re not saying that rape was OK in that period either—but how the characters view it is how we’re showing it. We’re not showing it how we view it and that makes a difference,” said executive producer Matt B. Roberts.
In other words, Brianna’s sexual assault scene will be included in Season 4, but the producers and writers are approaching it in a more sensitive way.
Outlander, Season 4, Fall 2018, Starz