You’d think someone whose livelihood is rooted in scripted TV drama would be a little more thoughtful with her choice of words on a panel stage. But no, HBO co-drama chief Francesca Orsi likened Big Little Lies Season 2 costing the network a fortune to being “raped.” Orsi later said she was “embarrassed” by her comment, as she should be, but it’s another reminder that words have real meaning — and it’s time for people to stop throwing them around like they don’t.
The original comment came about when Orsi was part of a panel discussion at the INTV conference this week in Jerusalem, and it wasn’t the only time Orsi raised eyebrows in the conversation. Deadline reported that Orsi was addressing the issue of the network being unprepared financially for a second season of Big Little Lies, since the show was initially intended to be a limited series. With huge stars like Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern returning (as well as new big name cast members like queen Meryl Streep), HBO will likely have to pay significantly higher salaries — without traditional deals set up from the beginning.
Orsi also spoke out against rival Amazon during the panel.
She suggested that the streaming platform didn’t treat its series and casts with the same level of respect as HBO does, and singled out the Australian drama Picnic at Hanging Rock specifically, saying Amazon didn’t pay for its cast to attend the show’s U.S. premiere.
She also talked at length with HBO programming chief Casey Bloys, co-drama chief David Levine, and moderator Marc Korman about the ballooning expenses of a show like Game of Thrones and the high financial bar TV is setting going forward.
While Orsi later walked back on her use of the word “raped,” she didn’t technically apologize.
For us, making light of a word with the emotional weight of rape for dramatic or comedic effect deserves deeper reflection than just admitting embarrassment and implying that it was the way the comments made the show sound that was in bad taste.
Of course, Orsi’s statement was hardly an isolated incident. “Rape” has been used casually, usually in the form of a poorly conceived joke, by a few public figures in recent months and many, many times before that. There was Jason Momoa explaining at San Diego Comic-Con that he loved working in fantasy and sci-fi because it gave him a chance to do things like “rip someone’s tongue out of their throat and get away with it and rape beautiful women.” The Kentucky State Police department made headlines a few months later when it tweeted a prison rape “joke” during the Super Bowl. Both later apologized.
These kinds of incidents need to stop happening, and when they do, they need to be called out. Even if Orsi meant no harm, depicting rape as anything other than the traumatic, life-altering crime that it is is an affront to survivors and yet another way everyday rape culture gets reinforced.