Cathy Yan Fought To Keep Birds Of Prey’s Most Upsetting Scene

Cathy Yan Fought To Keep Birds Of Prey’s Most Upsetting Scene
Ewan McGregor as Black Mask. (Image: Warner Bros.)

No, not the one with the egg sandwich. Though that was tragic. No egg sandwich should ever have to go through that.

Talking to the Hollywood Reporter, Cathy Yan gave a wide-ranging interview on Birds of Prey and what’s come after, reflecting on the process making the film and how she’s feeling about it after release. In it, she refers to the film’s arguably most upsetting scene and explains how she had to fight to keep it in the film, and why she thought it was worth it.

The scene in question is the one in which Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) cruelly humiliates Erika, a woman in the club played by Bojana Novakovic. It’s a nasty, violent scene, one that is bound to cause discomfort for a lot of audience members. According to Yan, the scene was necessary character work.

“I’ll be honest: we had to fight to keep that scene because it was uncomfortable,” she said. “It was risky, and we had to fight to keep it at all. There are cuts of the movie without it. I’m really glad that we kept it because I think it’s important. I think that a lot of people have been very impacted by that scene. I think it’s a huge turning point for Roman; it’s a huge turning point for Canary, and the way that we shot it was hopefully not about the sexual violence upon the woman. It was more about Roman, what he’s capable of and Canary seeing him for who he really is for the first time. Now, she can fully cut herself off from him, and I thought it was a really important scene. So, we fought for it.”

It’s an interesting thought about a scene that I’ve seen equal parts discomfort and praise. It’s hard to depict any sort of sexual assault on film in a way that feels empathetic toward the victim without also feeling exploitative. It’s the type of subject matter most superhero movies wouldn’t even touch for fear of getting it wrong. I think Yan’s rationale is strong here, though whether that scene lands as intended is going to depend as much on your audience perspective as anything else. I deeply admire Birds of Prey and Cathy Yan in particular for pushing for a type of film that the superhero genre is never allowed to get.

Birds of Prey is available digitally right now.