The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game
Rape stands now revealed as an instrument of war, terrorism and torture, what Eldridge Cleaver called “an insurrectionary act.” But that is mostly elsewhere, outside the homeland scope of The Hunting Ground and “boys will be boys.”
Writer-director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering have joined talents in the past, germanely on The Invisible War, Emmy-winning Oscar-nominated exposé of rape within our military forces. This latest joint effort was so acclaimed at Sundance that release is to be a month earlier than announced. It, too, is investigative although so one-sided -- which is not to be confused with mistaken -- that it fits into the modern mold of advocacy journalism.
What is advocated involves a complete turnaround in the policies of institutions of higher education -- name whichever you want, it is likely mentioned among culprits -- and a concurrent sea change in social attitudes and gender mores.
Sexual violation has unevenly been treated, understandably often exploitatively, in a handful of screen narratives -- Sergeant Rutledge, Deliverance, Death Wish, Lipstick, Sudden Impact, Bad Lieutenant, Kids, Sleepers, The Rules of Attraction, Descent, The Brave One, Fat Girl, Big Driver -- and not in documentaries. HG offers such an abundance of appalling testimony that it runs the danger of benumbing the viewer and blunting its purpose.
Only towards the end does it begin to broach some major contributors to the problem, untouchable sacred cows entrenched in the juvenile national male psyche -- Greek-letter fraternities and their autonomous houses; alcohol, with or without drugs surreptitiously stirred in; and the megazillion-dollar industry of college sports, “amateur” minor leagues for entitled one-and-done athlete–students prepping for the more lucrative professional spectacles.
At universities from the most holy of the Ivies to joke football factories, from state institutions to private, big or tiny, secular and church, coed and one-sex only, white and black, for-profit or theoretically not, the cover-up of “the shocking epidemic” is asserted again and again. One in five female students will be sexually assaulted -- some few male victims also testify -- though, as in society as a whole, out of shame, fear, intimidation, trauma, loyalty or hopelessness, a majority of “survivors” does not even report the crime. In fairness, it is (briefly) brought out that, while attacks are carried out more by dates, friends or acquaintances than by strangers, the perpetrators usually repeat their actions but comprise a small percentage of the respectful male student population.
Annie E. Clark and Andrea Pino did not know one another until coming together after they had both been raped on the same state university main campus but refused redress at administration hearings. Such shushing up or else denying or ignoring allegations emerges as standard procedure, affirmed by victims and concerned faculty at several score schools, a retired university policeman, authors, experts and a psychiatrist. Institutional silence avoids sullying reputations and applicant and staff drawing power, and does not endanger alumni donations and government largesse to obscenely overpriced untaxed educational enterprises.
The emotional effects linger, often deepening, after the actual physical act. Their claims brushed aside, Pino and Clark filed new complaints, this time based on Title IX (i.e., funding, the pocketbook bottom line) of the 1972 Education Amendments. Through today’s youth conscience of social media, their efforts became known and responded to. Leaving school to organize and relocate in Oregon for a period, the two founded End Rape on Campus, building up a network of contacts, encouraging previously silent victims to see that their ordeals were not isolated and to come forward, and organizing demonstrations that have reverberated beyond the governments of schools to the Congress of the nation.
Hunting Ground captures a movement whose time may have come, long overdue after that recently depicted in She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. There is cause for optimism, though a cautious one. Close on two centuries ago, rebel French feminist Aurore Dupin wrote as George Sand that, “while man frees himself from constraining civil and religious bonds, he is only too glad to have woman hold tightly to the Christian principle of suffering and keeping her silence.” Days ago, Patricia Arquette accepted her Oscar with, “we have fought for everybody else’s rights. It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
(Released by Radius and rated "PG-13" for disturbing thematic material involving sexual assault, and for language.)