Nearly a decade ago, Maria Schneider revealed the unsettling details surrounding an infamous rape scene in the 1972 drama “Last Tango in Paris,” in which Marlon Brando’s character uses butter as a lubricant before forcing himself on her.
But over the weekend, a clip of director Bernardo Bertolucci talking about the scene resurfaced, setting off wide media attention and sparking outrage in Hollywood.
In the clip from a 2013 press tour, Bertolucci describes how he and Brando had come up with the idea to use the butter in the scripted rape scene, but did not tell Schneider “what was going on, because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress. I wanted her to react humiliated.”
Similar remarks had been previously reported, but didn’t generate this level of outcry until now. Last week, Spanish nonprofit El Mundo de Alycia published the interview clip with Bertolucci, adding Spanish subtitles and posting the video on its website in recognition of International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25. (A fuller version was uploaded to YouTube in 2013).
Schneider, who died in 2011 after a long battle with cancer, told the Daily Mail in 2007 that the scene “wasn’t in the original script”; Brando had come up with the idea and she was only told right before they had to film that part. “I was so angry,” she said.
“Marlon said to me: ‘Maria, don’t worry, it’s just a movie,’ but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn’t real, I was crying real tears,” she said. “I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn’t console me or apologize. Thankfully, there was just one take.”
She added: “I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can’t force someone to do something that isn’t in the script, but at the time, I didn’t know that.”
Bertolucci responded to the renewed controversy on Monday, saying in a statement in Italian that it was based on “a ridiculous misunderstanding,” Variety reported.
“I specified, but perhaps I was not clear, that I decided with Marlon Brando not to inform Maria that we would have used butter,” Bertolucci said of the 2013 clip. “We wanted her spontaneous reaction to that improper use [of the butter]. That is where the misunderstanding lies.”
He said Schneider knew about “the violence” in the script, and that “the only novelty was the idea of the butter.”
After El Mundo de Alycia posted the clip on YouTube, Spanish-language outlets picked up the story. English-language sites soon followed suit, starting with Elle’s “Bertolucci Admits He Conspired to Shoot a Non-Consensual Rape Scene in ‘Last Tango in Paris.'” The renewed attention drew outrage on social media from Hollywood actors and directors.
“Inexcusable. As a director, I can barely fathom this,” tweeted Ava DuVernay. “As a woman, I am horrified, disgusted and enraged by it.”
“Wow. I will never look at this film, Bertolucci or Brando the same way again,” Chris Evans tweeted. “This is beyond disgusting. I feel rage.”
Anna Kendrick responded to Evans’s shock by pointing out that Schneider talked about this years ago. “I used to get eye-rolls when I brought it up to people (aka dudes),” she tweeted, adding she’s not surprised that the actress’s comments weren’t widely known.
Bertolucci says that Schneider hated him for years, especially given how “the sequence of the butter” — the most well-known scene in the critically acclaimed movie — came to be:
It was in the script that he had to rape her in a way. And we were having with Marlon breakfast on the floor of the flat where we were shooting. And there was a baguette and there was butter, and we looked at each other and without saying anything, we knew what we wanted. But, I’ve been, in a way, horrible to Maria because I didn’t tell her what was going on, because I wanted her reaction as a girl, not as an actress. I wanted her to react humiliated, if it goes on, she shouts, “No, no!” And I think that she hated me, and also Marlon, because we didn’t tell her, and there was that detail of the butter used as a lubricant, and I still feel very guilty for that.
El Mundo de Alycia said in a statement accompanying the video that Bertolucci’s comments “had practically no repercussions” on social media or elsewhere despite being publicly available for years. The organization’s statement continues, asking “how is it possible a case as serious as this” hasn’t been broadcast widely, impacted public opinion and been roundly denounced.
From gender pay disparities to cases involving sexual harassment and assault, the treatment of women in Hollywood — either on set or by famous men — has received increased attention in recent years, and led to tangible repercussions. The most widely known case involves Bill Cosby, who faces felony charges for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. Cosby adamantly denies the allegations from the woman and dozens of other accusers.
While allegations of sexual assault weren’t a secret, it wasn’t until 2014 that the news cycle became dominated by them, and more women came forward publicly. It all began after video of comedian Hannibal Buress telling a joke about Cosby being accused of rape went viral.
The joke itself underscores how such stories, despite being in the public domain, get so little attention. After describing Cosby’s “Teflon” image, Buress says that he’s “done this bit on stage and people think I’m making it up… When you leave here, google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ That s—has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.'”
Cosby, who had been on the verge of a career comeback, has since receded from the limelight, his public image forever altered, and is currently awaiting trial.
In its day, “Last Tango in Paris” was controversial for its graphic depiction of sex, and was rated X in the United States. But critics and Hollywood at-large praised the movie, depicting it as an erotic drama and giving it considerable buzz. Brando and Bertolucci were nominated for Oscars. Schneider was snubbed.
Brando has also said he had a particularly humiliating time filming the movie, albeit for totally different reasons. In his 1994 autobiography, Brando wrote it was particularly cold during the filming of a full-frontal nude scene, and his “body went into full retreat,” referring to the size of his penis.
“I was humiliated, but not ready to surrender yet,” he wrote. After an hour, the crew gave up and the scene was cut. Brando described it as “one of the more embarrassing experiences of my professional career.”
The director also wanted Brando and Schneider to actually have sex, the actor wrote; both have said they simulated the scenes.
Decades later, Schneider wasn’t quiet about her treatment during the film’s production. She publicly said she felt used by the director, telling Premiere magazine in 2000, “You have to understand what kind of world Bertolucci is in. He was in love with Marlon. The part I play was written for a boy! That’s why the butter, the sodomization, the gag…”
The actress also said she had a friendship with Brando, and that their interaction was the best part of making the movie.
Schneider said she struggled with the unexpected fame and intense public interest in her after the movie, using drugs as an escape and attempting suicide.
In her Daily Mail interview, she said Bertolucci was “very manipulative, both of Marlon and myself, and would do certain things to get a reaction from me. Some mornings on set he would be very nice and say hello and on other days, he wouldn’t say anything at all.”
“I was too young to know better,” she added. “Marlon later said that he felt manipulated, and he was Marlon Brando, so you can imagine how I felt.”
This post has been updated.