Early in Maleficent, the titular fairy (Angelina Jolie) is lulled into a sense of security by her childhood friend, Stefan (Sharlto Copley), and given a date-rape drug. The dying king had just announced that the man who brought him Maleficent’s head would succeed him, and Stefan was abusing his relationship with Maleficent to gain this stature. Unable to kill her, Stefan instead carves off her wings, and leverages that trophy into the same reward.
This has been called a rape scene, and the people who’ve identified it as a rape scene are in turn being called out for “trivializing rape.” Those making this second claim are stupid, but they are numerous and demand response.
One — yes, this was a rape scene. Of course it was a rape scene. It was obviously a rape scene, how could you possibly not understand it was a rape scene. Two — saying this idea “trivializes” rape reveals a deep lack of understanding about what rape is as well as an almost psychotic sense of importance on the literal act of coitus.
“He initially came to kill her, but at least he didn’t fuck her,” this section of the audience seems to believe. “I mean, he severed and removed half of her body, crippling her for life, but at least — at least, thank God! — he didn’t fuck her. Then it would have been really dastardly.”
Rape is not about sex, it is about power and control. Once Stefan had Maleficent dead to rights, whether or not he killed her, whether or not he raped her, whether or not he dressed her up like Alice in Wonderland and they had a magnificent tea party to which none of the other fairies were invited, it doesn’t matter. He had taken control of her body, and he took advantage of it.
That act of taking control, much more than any butt stuff that might follow, is rape. That lack of control is where the trauma comes from. That’s where a real-life rapist gets his kicks. That’s where he got his kicks on the playground in his younger form. That’s the instinct really good horror movies play on — because that’s what we’re really afraid of, is being out of control.
It’s important to understand this because the instinct to deny it is part of our culture’s relentless pattern of actually trivializing real-world rape. The old “what was she wearing” or “did she lead him on” are common questions that represent our desperate need to minimize and not think about assaults. We live in a society in which the term “legitimate rape” is a thing.
The drive to minimize what happened to Maleficent is cut from the same cloth. If someone in real life is raped, we make excuses to justify and rationalize it. In this fictional case one layer removed, that excuse is “he didn’t actually rape her.” The denial and refusal to acknowledge Maleficent’s pain is the same denial that we use to refuse to acknowledge a real-life victim’s pain.
And it’s just as unacceptable.