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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Hunting Ground

The Hunting Ground provides the perfect opportunity to talk about what makes a good documentary, and what is often mistaken for a good documentary, especially by the well-meaning. It is not the subject matter, but the end product. I remember this when 40 Feet From Stardom beat Act of Killing at the Oscars a few years ago. Some said how could a movie about backup singers beat such an important document of genocide? Well, maybe because voters thought it was a better movie.

The Hunting Ground is a very worthy subject, and provides a great service. Kirby Dick, who made The Invisible War (which was nominated for an Oscar), which was about sexual assault and its cover-up in the military, has made basically the same movie but about sexual assault and its cover-up on college campuses (even earlier he made Twist of Faith, about sexual assaults by priests). The film interviews dozens of women who have been raped on college campuses, only to be thwarted in getting any help by college administrators, who want to keep their crime figures low. The film will make you boiling mad, but as a work or art it's just a lot of people talking into a camera. In fact, I wouldn't consider it art, but a public service.

The film has some startling statistics. Sixteen percent of women will be raped in college (this is not the film to see if you are sending a daughter off to school). Eight percent of men commit 90 percent of the assaults, and of those perpetrators, the average number of assaults is six. So it's a problem of repeat offenders, maybe because it's so easy to get away with. Few men are expelled, and women are encouraged not to go the police, and anyway, the police don't do much, either.

This is explained in sensible but maddening terms: any college administrator who decides to treat rape seriously and file reports for every case will make that school seem like the "rape" school, even though many fine colleges and universities, like Harvard, North Carolina, Berkeley, and USC, have problems. College presidents, whose main job is raising money, don't want to deal with angry donors, and student athletes who are accused are defended by the rabid hysteria of fans. This is best shown in the case of Jaimes Winston, the Florida State Heisman Trophy winner, who was accused of rape by a girl but the police, knowing he was a big star, sat on it for a year and the D.A. ultimately decided not to prosecute. The university dropped the investigation because Winston refused to talk to them.

All of this told in heart-wrenching agony by several courageous woman who came forth to try to rip the issue out of the shadows. Two students from UNC, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, formed a committee of activists to do something about it, and petitioned the Department of Education to investigate. They are now investigating 100 schools.

What The Hunting Ground does best is put forth the notion that we look at rape all wrong. So many people automatically think it's a false charge, or that the women somehow deserved it, or were drunk, or were flirting, or are sluts. But the simple truth is that rape is caused by the attacker, and until this kind of caveman attitude is dealt with, the problem will stay. We see footage of frat boys surrounding a sorority chanting, "No means yes! Yes means anal!" What kind of mentality calls for that? A mob mentality, to be sure, but do these boys have no sense of decency?

What the film doesn't do is interview anyone who is currently working at a college to defend themselves. If Dick tried to interview anyone, he doesn't say. Only one perpetrator, now sorry for what he did after six years of jail, is interviewed, and the prosecutor who dropped the Winston case agrees to an interview, where he says there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute. We also see ESPN morons Skip Bayless and Steven A. Smith automatically back Winston, without knowing any of the facts, simply because he is a great quarterback and a nice young man. I wish Dick would have tracked them down, shown them the young lady's interview, and then got their reactions.

The film may be best known for containing the Lady Gaga song, "Til It Happens to You," which she sang to great acclaim at the Oscars, surrounded by victims of sexual assault. Again, the cause is worthwhile, the movie is so-so.

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