Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground is a powerful testimonial illustrating the illusion of university integrity. Much of the film grips, commands, and compels us to think about the one aspect that almost every parent worries about when sending their kid to college—their safety. The movie sheds light on the fantasy of university security by methodically revealing how school officials regularly mishandle on-campus sexual assault cases.
There are several statements from victims of college sexual assault in The Hunting Ground, but for a large portion of the film, the documentary focuses on former University of North Carolina students Annie Clark and Andrea Pino: both victims of rape.
Together the two of them lead a cross-country crusade to help other women file Title IX lawsuits in order to battle the underwhelming response by universities toward sexual assault. Title IX legislation is usually used for cases involving gender sports inequality, but applies to all forms of discrimination based on sex.
The documentary is great in combining well-edited testimony with statistics to guide the audience to the appropriate stages of shock and disgust. By the time viewers learn that 45 percent of colleges reported zero cases of rape last year, they are not only shocked, but thanks to a plethora of preceding evidence, the audience doesn’t think to question the stat’s authenticity.
And credit to the graphics team for creating visuals that kept the numbers from feeling tiresome for most of the film. The personal retellings of rape incidents from a diverse number of women also helped the message stick.
But while these storytelling methods worked for 90 percent of the film, the same argumentative devices lose much of their gravitas by the movie’s end. Repetitiveness and statistical overload desensitize the audience from the shock value of the numbers and the first-person narratives.
Moreover, the doc leaves out testimony from suspected perpetrators.
It’s not that the universities don’t deserve as much if not more scrutiny for how sexual assault is prosecuted, but campus officials are nothing more than enablers to the actual source of the crime.
More than likely this movie will bring about amendments to how universities proceed on reports of sexual assault, but this only provides consequential and judicial change, not effective social change. The documentary needed to shame men, and make them feel disgusted by common rationales, like saying a victim was “asking for it” by wearing a short skirt or revealing blouse.
This doesn’t mean showing the face of every suspected rape perpetrator, but just one or two to explain, or more than likely drown in their own reasoning. In this way, the filmmakers would come closer to ridding not just universities, but also society of the ridiculous, overstated “cry wolf” rape myth, and possibly instilling a greater responsibility in men to physically respect women.
Kirby tries to send a male-targeted message by showing men who were also victims of on-campus rape/sexual assault. But the men don’t differentiate themselves from the females, and since there are so few male victims in the film, these cases come across more as exceptions than common occurrences worth paying attention to.
The film does many things to move the audience, to have them question the status quo, and motivate viewers to take action—elements that come together to create a nice persuasive film. Unfortunately, The Hunting Ground misses the mark on providing social commentary that hurts more than just university officials and cuts deeper than the surface emotional chords of everyday men and women.
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