by Laura Grossberndt
November 25, 2019
The HBO television show Game of Thrones enjoyed much critical and popular acclaim during its eight-season run. It was heralded as “the world’s most popular show,” and its series finale drew 19.3 million viewers. However, this massive success was built, in part, upon the exhibition of its actors’ naked bodies in graphic, sexually charged situations—all for viewers’ entertainment. A recent interview with British actress and former Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke reveals her pain of being exposed for the camera. Her account should serve as a chilling reminder that the entertainment we choose to consume has consequences.
Clarke recalls being 23 years old and fresh out of acting school when she was offered the part of Daenerys Targaryen. She was eager to have a job on a film set, but when she received the script and learned that her character would be naked and brutally raped on-screen, Clarke was shocked and apprehensive.
I have no idea what I’m doing; I have no idea what any of this is…. I’ve been on a film set twice before then, and now I’m on a film set, completely naked, with all of these people—and I don’t know what I’m meant to do, and I don’t know what’s expected of me, and I don’t know what you want, and I don’t know what I want. Regardless of whether there’d be nudity or not, I would have spent that first season thinking, I’m not worthy of requiring anything; I’m not worthy of needing anything at all.
Clarke says she drank vodka and cried in a bathroom while trying to cope with filming the rape scene. Since that time, she has been repeatedly pressured to do nude scenes. Producers would try to coerce her, saying things like, “You don’t wanna disappoint your Game of Thrones fans.”
Most poignant about Clarke’s account of her early days on the set of Game of Thrones is her feeling of helplessness. Many women whose bodies have been exploited via the commercial sex trade and the porn industry have felt similarly powerless. That is because selling the human body is not female empowerment, but human abasement.
Movies and television shows such as Game of Thrones enjoy a patina of respectability due to their complex plots, extensive viewership, and numerous awards—making them more palatable to a wide audience than a pornographic film would be. However, by treating human sexuality as a commodity, Game of Thrones and its ilk are just another incarnation of the commercial sex trade.
In October of this year, I attended a D.C. Council hearing on the proposed decriminalization of the buying and selling of sex in the nation’s capital. Many of the witnesses opposing decriminalization were survivors of the commercial sex trade. Several of these survivors explained how it is common to turn to drugs and/or alcohol to deal with the anxiety, stress, and shame felt as a result of their bodies being bought and sold for others’ sexual pleasure.
Other witnesses, who were still presently engaged in prostitution, were in favor of decriminalizing the commercial sex trade. Tragically, they believed their economic wellbeing depended on selling themselves. They did not realize that their willingness to be sold (due to their desperate financial situation) makes them no less victims of sexual exploitation than those forced into the commercial sex trade by a trafficker. Choosing to be exploited, out of fear of retribution or financial ruin, is not much of a choice at all.
While the circumstances surrounding Clarke’s performance—e.g., her acting school training, the show’s critical acclaim and distribution on a major cable network—may have lent her some dignity not afforded to women who are trafficked, the trauma that drove her to tears and drinking is strikingly similar to the experiences of the sexually exploited. Feigning graphic sexual acts on a film set is not very different than any other type of commercial sex trade in that it demeans human beings and degrades human sexuality.
Consuming sexually violent and explicit media not only damages our mental, physical, and spiritual health, it negatively impacts those around us by creating a demand for this type of entertainment, motivating the entertainment industry to create sexually graphic content in order to meet the demand and increase profits. The industry will, in turn, pressure actors (particularly women) to degrade themselves in front of the camera. Christians and anyone who advocates for women’s dignity should oppose media that exploits human beings in such an offensive and toxic manner.