Final thoughts on the Stargate Universe Controversy

My last two posts about the issue were raging without explaining what was going on. Also there have been some new developments since I posted.

It all started when this casting call was leaked for a character who’ll be appearing on episode 16 [Sabotage] :

[ELEANOR PERRY] (35-40) and quite attractive. A brilliant scientist who happens to be a quadriplegic. Affected since childhood, her disability has rendered her body physically useless. However, after being brought on board the Destiny as the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation, she is given temporary powers that enable her to walk again and to finally experience intimacy.sptv050769..Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE PHYSICALLY THIN. (THINK CALISTA FLOCKHART).

Everything about that description is offensive. Then it was learned that Parry would swap bodies (via SciFi technology that Stargate use) with a main character Camille, who is gay and according the the script slides that were leaked would have sex with another main character…

After enough people complained the producers decided to apologize… though I don’t feel that they did good job of it. Brad Wright and Robert Cooper (the creators/producers of Stargate Universe) posted the following on the Gateworld forums:

Recently, a casting breakdown was released to agents for a upcoming character in our television show, Stargate Universe. The character, Doctor Eleanor Perry, is a brilliant scientist at the top of her field, who also happens to be a quadriplegic. As part of a science fiction conceit that is core to our series, Perry’s consciousness is temporarily exchanged with one our series main characters, Camile Wray, who is a lesbian. In the course of the story, Perry has the experience of being able bodied for the first time since she was a child. At the same time, Wray, temporarily encumbered by Perry’s physical disability, experiences the unconditional love of her life partner. The language of the breakdown was insensitive and inaccurate, and we sincerely apologize to those who may have been offended. The audition pages that have been under scrutiny were from an early draft and released out of context. It is our desire and intention to portray both characters with dignity and respect, while remaining mindful of the ethical issues we’re raising.

Thing of it is they posted to the Gateworld forums – a fan site for Stargate, where just about everyone loves them and pretty much lets them get away with everything. Plus it’s posted deep within the forum in the thread where people were talking about the episode. NOT a top level post, NOT on the main page of the site. Granted Gateworld made their own news article that reprinted the post but still it wasn’t something that most of the people who were offended would see unless it was reposted by other people.

Then Joe Mallozzi another producer who has his own blog made a post about the situation – I’m not going to like to it directly because I don’t want there to be a back link here but search for his name and you’ll get his blog and the relevant post is his August 15, 2009 entry.

In addition to the producers responding Sarah Warn of After Ellen was contacted by a spokesperson of the show who explained more about what happened in the episode. In this post (which I linked to in a previous post) “Stargate Universe” responds to controversy over lesbian body swapping episode Sarah discusses what she was told and goes on to explain why there are still problems with the episode even AFTER the apology. We also learn in that post that the body swapping happens more than once and more than one person has sex while in another persons body – does anyone not realize that this is rape?

I also strongly suggest reading this post by Feministe: Disabled Character: Able-Bodied (Emaciated) Actresses Only, Please which explains why the original casting call was so offensive to the disabled community.

Some might conclude that because of what was said by the producers the episode in question won’t be as bad as we feared. Others might say that we should have waited to see what the actual episode contained before we complained. Some believe that the writers “know what they are doing” and will treat the issues of rape seriously and responsibly…

The thing is I no longer trust the writers of Stargate to treat ANYTHING seriously and responsibly, especially rape. There’s been other episodes that contained elements of rape – which were either laughed off or ignored.

The most recent example of this is the Stargate Atlantis episode “Irresistible” (Season 3) there is a character who was drugging people so that they would like him. Eventually he drugs nearly all of the main characters and gets them to like him as well. The episode was played as comedy but several parts of dialogue strongly suggest that he had raped several people… it’s also possible that he raped two of the main female characters while they were under the influence of the drug (there was certainly enough time). When people complained the producers pretty much laughed it off saying the story “wasn’t about rape” and acted as though nothing was wrong with it.

Getting to the body swapping part of the controversy I don’t trust them to fully understand what it means to be using someone else’s body to do anything, especially having sex. In another Stargate Atlantis episode “Duet” in season 2, Rodney ends up with the consciousness of another character (Cadman) in his head thanks to an accident with another science fiction technology. During the course of the episode Cadman takes over Rodney’s body multiple times making him do things he’d never do. Up to and including stripping him naked and making him sleep nude. It may not seem like much but we’re talking about someone taking control of another person’s body and doing whatever they want to the body. It’s another violation and while it didn’t include rape having Cadman strip him naked came close to being sexual assault depending on how much she actually touched him. To make things worse the show played it all for laughs by having people laugh at Rodney or mocking him for being upset that Cadman was using his body.

Those two episode are just a small sample of why I don’t trust the writers to get it right. I don’t think they really understand the issues they are writing about. I don’t think they fully comprehend what it is that they are saying and doing. What kinds of stories they are presenting or the kind of characters they are creating. Even if I did trust them I don’t want to watch a show that seems to be about people using other people’s bodies to have sex. It’s rape and I don’t believe that rape should be used as entertainment UNLESS it’s a show/movie that deals responsibly with rape and the aftermath. And I don’t think Stargate Universe is going to be that show.

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