War Zone (1998) Poster


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Brilliant and frightening!
overloved2 September 2004
Maggie Hadleigh-West's film is an honest look at street harassment. People who criticize her confrontational manner are making excuses for the behavior of adults who should know better.

Being attracted to someone does not give you the right to approach, speak to or regard them in a manner that they find offensive. A woman walking down the street in a mini skirt and bra top is going to garner a lot of attention, but that is not the point of this film.

In the film, Maggie is not dressed provocatively by American cultural standards. She's wearing shorts and a tank top. And yet she is harassed in the same manner than I am when I'm wearing a coat and hat in the middle of February. It's not about the clothes. It's about the overwhelming and disheartening lack of respect for women in this society.

One of the things Maggie does best is drive home the chilling connection between business men who "compliment" a woman's body while they're out to lunch, the criminals in trench coats who flash their naked private parts at young girls and the rapist who forces his way into a woman's house and forces himself on her in her own home.

"War Zone" is a fantastic film, and I suggest watching it with friends. The ending, especially, can be upsetting.
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An important film about the escalation of sexism
pcg9r21 January 2003
Too many educational programs about sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual violence focus solely and intensely on the perceptions and experiences of the targets of these individual and institutional forms of discrimination. In doing so they fail to address or spotlight the actual roots of sexism: male privilege and men's abuse of the resulting power they are afforded-abuse intended to maintain their privilege, power, and control over women. The lack of a critical examination of the motivations, actions, and intentions of male predators leads in many cases to a societal problemization of women: `She shouldn't have worn that short skirt'; `Why did she go to his apartment'; `She shouldn't have gotten drunk'; and the ultimate denial of male responsibility, `She brought it on herself!' War Zone, a film by Maggie Hadleigh-West, literally turns this approach to understanding sexism, harassment, and violence on its head. The filmmaker shines the spotlight, and her video camera, on men whose actions and attitudes perpetuate a social context in which women are at best objectified and at worst abused, raped, or killed by men, often with little or no consequence.

The context for War Zone is powerful in its simplicity. Hadleigh-West, equipped with a video camera, walks through four major cities (New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans) to record the day-to-day abuse-sexualized comments, objectifying stares, uninvited physical contact, and other forms of harassment and sexism-women experience that rob them of the basic right to walk safely and comfortably in their own neighborhoods (or anywhere else). She challenges the continued institutional denial of sexism and its implications by documenting what may be its most pervasive and effective element-that even in the most public spaces, women must operate and function in a war zone.

But instead of interviewing street harassment scholars or centering her own reactions to and perspectives on her abuse, Hadleigh-West turns the camera, and the heat of the spotlight, on her abusers. The film documents her confrontations with those abusers, but focuses tightly on their reactions to the turning of the tables. Every time she experiences harassment (which runs the gamut from objectifying stares to being followed) she directly turns the camera on the perpetrator. As a result, her abusers as well as (or including) male War Zone viewers, are forced to think and reflect more critically about the ways men maintain dominance and control. More specifically, the film illustrates how men continuously cycle sexism through what many men have traditionally argued to be harmless or natural interactions.

Among all of the films related to sexism, harassment, and violence I have reviewed, War Zone, in both its form and content, stands out as the most unique, powerful, and important contribution to anti-sexist education. It elicits emotional responses from both women and men precisely because it is real, unstaged, honest and raw. It disallows the overwhelming comfort of denial by men. Meanwhile, the film demands a new urgency to establish space and validation for women to confront sexism in its most pervasive individual form, putting the onus of responsibility for change on those who benefit from its institutional form.

This film can provide an especially powerful educational experience for high school and college students, but is appropriate for anybody in their teenage years or older. Every American Studies, Women's Studies, Cultural Studies, Sociology, and Psychology program should have a copy of War Zone in its library. It will also be an invaluable resource for activists or trainers who conduct workshops on sexual harassment, sexism, sexual violence, street harassment, masculinity, male identity, male privilege, and related topics.
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Required viewing for pubescent males
John Seal27 April 2002
This film should be shown to any boy on the cusp of manhood. The point of the film isn't to denigrate men, it's to remind them of the imbalance of the power relationship between the sexes. While I agree that Hadleigh-West occasionally seems overly sensitive, I think the film serves as a reminder that the line between flirtation and harassment is an invisible one, and the line is going to move considerably from person to person. The film was most effective when it confronted men who seemed willing to think or debate reasonably about their actions, but entertainment value is provided by some out and out male chauvinist pigs and Bible thumpers. There's even a nice old Jewish grandpa who gets the funniest moment in the film. My only major complaint is that sometimes the filmmaker settles on subjects who are clearly mentally handicapped, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or both. Powerful, unsettling, and thought provoking filmmaking.
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Self-indulgent posturing over shadows a legitimate message.
Trajanc31 October 2003
This film starts off with an interesting idea, challenging men on the streets who harass women, but it soon devolves into a series of Jerry Springer-like confrontations. Not much is analysed or discovered about anyone's behaviour. The film maker does get some shots in at the men she challenges but like another reviewer noted, many of them seem mentally handicapped or drug or alcohol addicted. That's not an excuse for their behaviour but putting them on the other side of a dialogue is not likely to produce anything really worth while.

This film is really a sort of power trip that may be long over due but in it's execution it is potentially embarassing to watch for both sexes. Not really a documentary and not a study, War Zone is at best a guilty pleasure. It produces the same sort of result that an Israeli might get from walking up to a Palestinian and shouting at him, and vice versa.
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Wonderful message, Terrible film
sign4deaf29 August 2001
I just finished watching the gritty documentary "War Zone" and feel strongly compelled to write my views. While I applaud the film's goal of educating men to the problem of a woman's perception in society, I feel that the message was drowned out in the aggressiveness and confrontational style of its filmmaker.

I wholeheartedly agree that the objectification of women is a problem in society and has/can lead to a wealth of terrible situations. However, I do not agree that the answer to this problem is the practice of stripping away the right to privacy of men AND woman in an attempt to "outshout the crowd."

Ms. Hadleigh-West certainly made a lot of noise with her denigrating, insulting style of filming, but did she do her important cause any good? For communication to be effective, the message must be delivered in such a way as to influence the recipient toward the speaker's intended viewpoint. The only thing accomplished by this film was to offend by labeling all men as "potential rapists" and damage the cause of women's rights by reinforcing the stereotype of feminists as offensive, confrontational bitches.

To put her views in perspective: In the past 15 years, my parked car has been hit in a parking lot on 2 occasions, both times by a female driver. Am I now justified in proclaiming that all women should have their driving privileges revoked? This supposition is as ludicrous as this film's slanderous premise.

Her tortured use of an actual 911 call by a rape victim only served to hype her own sense of indignation at the expense of the woman whose life was so brutally violated by the act. While she champions her claim of personal rights and privacy, she continually stripped those rights from all others involved in this film. She repeatedly thrust her camera into the faces of men, insults and degrades them, and then feels vindicated when her harassment provokes ill-tempered reactions. She actually seemed surprised that a man on the sidewalk became angry when she said she imagined he was "unemployable", "had deeply rooted problems", and asked if he were a sex offender.

Her constant attacks and blind labels of all men only prove lie to her stated purpose to educate and assist. Ms. Hadleigh-West has simply used a true societal problem to shout from the rooftops, "Look at me, I'm a woman."
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a disturbing documentary: I felt like Maggie was my 'voice'
kwugboots14 July 2009
As someone who has always been encouraged to just ignore sexual harassment I found watching this documentary empowering, it made me very happy to see a woman taking the power back and turning the objectification and invasion of space onto the men who cat-called her. I liked the anger and incredulence/bewilderment of the girl Natasha towards guys who street harass, the interview with Natasha & her mother was my favorite part of this film. I also liked the irony and obvious inappropriateness of stranger guys cat-calling a lesbian girl.

Did I feel sorry for the men Maggie interviewed? If those men were embarrassed through her camera & questions, they were only embarrassed because of their own behaviour. If they were embarrassed that they were on film then that's their problem, they were behaving that way in public. I felt a bit sorry for them but I think they got what they deserved; they got a taste of having their space invaded by a stranger on the street; and they wouldn't have been embarrassed by her filming their public behaviour if they knew they had done nothing wrong.

The question that is most important for men in this documentary is, "would you want strangers to behave like that towards your sister or your mother?" Most guys don't sexually harass, but enough do so that almost every women is the victim of sexual harassment on the street - usually starting from when they are quite young (10-14 years old). I had a friend who (like that 14yo girl who was interviewed) was stalked by a man on the street when she was about 12, she escaped but it really terrified her. It must be particularly hard for women/girls who are very attractive, they must get constant sexual harassment on the street. Street harassment that I have experienced has made me have my guard up all the time now when I walk past men. I am less trusting. I've prepared myself to be someone who does NOT look around if anyone calls out to me (because I don't want to be embarrassed, I don't want them to 'make me look'). Maybe I am extra-sensitive to street harassment compared to most women, but so what.

Being sexually harassed by men on the street makes me feel embarrassed, insecure, disrespected & like the men view me the same way they view women in strip clubs (but I don't get paid to be eye candy). It's been odd for me to be told on my way to school or university by complete stranger men that I'm valuable because I look good. I've always felt safer at University or school because there I was valued for the work I did & who I was (not for my body).
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Not Quite Fully Baked
dragunr25 March 2004
This film brings up important issues but fails to make any interesting observations or connections. For example, there is the teenage girl who is leered at by some adults while walking in the street. It's disturbing, no doubt, but there is little commentary or significance attached to this in the film. Pedophilia, objectification of women? They're shown here, but without insight. There is also a shot of a man with his penis out at one point in the film, but it seems more for shock value than anything else. The 911 rape call is disturbing and scary, but, again, no connections are made to the objectification of women and rape.

The bulk of the film is confrontations of people who leer at or otherwise harass the filmmaker. In these episodes she asks them why they do this. Much of the time the subjects walk away or insult her, which certainly makes for nice documentary footage but does not help to illuminate the subject.

The filmmaker has good intentions and it probably will provoke some thought among its viewers, but as a film and societal study it does not delve deep enough into the issues of the objectification of women and violence against women.
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Highly repetitive
lasherxl24 August 2001
While the premise of the film sounded unique and intriguing after watching the first 5 minutes of the film I could have stopped there and gone on with my life. She does get some interesting comments and reactions from her subjects, but not really enough to add to the validity of the film.

I also felt she went a bit overboard with many things. If a guy said a filthy comment, grabbed her, or made some disgusting gesture to her, I would say go for it, bring him down, he's a pig. What bothered me though is she would walk around in revealing clothes and be surprised when guys would look at her and give them hell about it.

I think somehow she forgot that being attracted to other people is a part of human sexuality and a big part of who we all are. Guys will look at beautiful women, especially when they dress provocatively, just like women will look at men when they are wearing a tight tank or no shirt at all.

Some women may hate me for this, but I hope not. I have much respect for women. I was raised by one. I also come from a Spanish family and we are very matriarchal. My grandmother was the center of my family for years, but I don't really feel this did anything to help women's rights and from what the filmmaker even said herself, some women were offended by her project.
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An excellent example of a manipulatve pursuit of a self-serving agenda.
Plato-5-26 September 2001
I viewed a showing of this film and was disgusted in the manner that this so-called documentary blatantly pursued a self serving agenda of vilifying simple flirtation. Ms. Hadleigh-West seems to feel that it is perfectly proper to prance around enticingly attired, and then aggressively harass any and all individuals who attempt a simple flirtation

Granted that insulting remarks or physical harassment is indeed worthy justification for her counter harassment. However, Ms Hadleigh-West lumps simple eye flirtation and "body-scanning" in with the bad stuff and considers them harassment....puhleez!

I wonder what this pseudo "documentary" film maker thinks of the natural forms of flirtation performed in all cultures of the real world. I think she should consider getting a real job. I rate this a minus 10.
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The director has turned the 'harassment' back on the men - fantastic documentary!
dazzling3712 May 2007
I loved this documentary! I've always been taught to just 'ignore' men when they whistle or say something about me when I'm on the streets - my friends all do the same. It does make me angry though, that men can check me out and comment and talk to me, and I'm just supposed to avoid eye contact and pretend nothing's happened when something has happened and it does affect me.

That's why I love this documentary, finally instead of just ignoring this issue - some women has turned the 'harassment' of men back onto them, by 'harassing' them about their harassment - by filming their actions with a video camera and then confronting them about it, on video.

I also loved the way the director pointed out how invasive and inappropriate it was for a complete stranger to make a comment to another complete stranger like that. Women don't do anything like that to men, but many men seemed to think that it was totally okay to talk to a complete stranger like that. For many people, sexual harassment on the street/in public seems like a small thing, something that 'just happens' and you ignore - so I was glad that someone considered it offensive enough to make a documentary about it! The director's links between the concepts of stranger danger, rape, and being talked to (in a sexual way) by a stranger on the street was fantastic.
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I wanted to like it more than I did.
Claudia-29 October 1999
The film maker confronts men on the street about their harassment of women.

The footage is necessarily raw; it takes a lot of concentration on the audio. For the effort necessary, I wanted a bigger payoff. The film certainly has its provocative and revealing moments, but overall it didn't convey much to me that was new and interesting. Her threshold for when she would confront men was low enough that I found some exchanges unnecessary and therefore annoying.
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