From the makers of The Invisible War (2012) comes a startling exposé of rape crimes on U.S. college campuses, their institutional cover-ups and the devastating toll they take on students and their families. Weaving together verité footage and first-person testimonies, the film follows the lives of several undergraduate assault survivors as they attempt to pursue - despite incredible push back, harassment, and traumatic aftermath - both their education and justice.
One of the year's most gripping documentaries by one of film's greatest muckrakers
Kirby Dick's latest documentary, The Hunting Ground, is destined to be one of the most important documentaries of the year; I'd be seriously surprised if a Best Documentary Feature nomination at next year's Oscar wasn't all but confirmed at this point. Continuing off of Dick's last film, The Invisible War, which looked intimately at the military's long list of sexual assault cases, The Hunting Ground turns the camera just a little bit to in the other direction to focus on the rape epidemic on America's college campuses.
Before I could even set foot on campus last year, at my private liberal arts school, for my first year of college, I was required to take an online course in sexual conduct and sexual violence. The entire course took roughly an hour and a half (and, no, you couldn't skip through the videos and, yes, you were pervasively quizzed), and even to this day, it's rare I walk around campus for a full day and don't hear something about a campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence or how my college boasts a zero tolerance policy. I have no doubt it still occurs, but as far as I've seen from my school, I think we've got it handled a lot better than many other schools (also because we're not so concerned about our athletics empire, being a school with a Division III football team).
Dick explores how many top tier schools, such as Harvard Law School, Yale, University of North Carolina, Duke, and others have had well over one-hundred cases of sexual assault reported in the span of a decade, but how just about less than two percent (sometimes none) get any form of punishment, be it suspension or expulsion. We learn from clinical psychologists, attorneys, and other professionals that colleges, in order to protect their brand because they are, indeed, selling a product, have made it gravely difficult for sexual assault victims to make their case heard. Colleges also discourage victims from going to law enforcement with their cases, for that increases the chances of the public learning about the assault, which can't be risked in order for the school to protect their brand.
Between a rock and a hard place, with nobody taking them seriously and school administrators asking them morally bankrupt questions like, "how many times did you say 'no?'," "how much did you have to drink?," and even one administrator equating rape to a football game, asking the victim "what would you have done differently?," Andrea Pino and Annie Clark, two rape victims from University of North Carolina, decided to fire back and seek justice. They wound up filing a Title IX complaint against their school, working around the clock by reading court cases, examining past Title IX lawsuits, accusing them of perpetuating an unsafe environment by letting the rapists walk free without any kind of punishment whatsoever. Pino and Clark even wound up taking their movement across the United States, forming an online support group for victims, unifying those who had not only been exploited but unsupported by schools that were allowing this to happen.
One of The Hunting Ground's biggest accomplishments as a film is the fact that it works to expose the great lie and deception of college fraternities. Fraternities, for decades, have been nothing other than a haven for raping, hazing, drugging, and horrible mistreatment of women. Consider Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), one of America's largest domestic fraternities, which is known as "Sexual Assault Expected" by numerous people on university campuses; also consider the fact that this is the same fraternity that, during welcome week, displayed lovely banners on their front lawns thanking parents for dropping off their daughters and informing them that they would teach them things that high school couldn't. These places have been cult-like hellholes for many years and Dick and Ziering don't sugarcoat the vile and disgusting behavior that runs rampant at these places.
The Hunting Ground doesn't stop there either; it works to be an all-encompassing documentary by including male victims of sexual assault, as well as showing how athletes that commit sexual assault are the ones that most frequently come out unscathed. We are acquainted with Erica Kinsman, who you may remember as the Tallahassee college student that came forth saying that Florida State Seminoles star freshman Quarterback Jameis Winston had raped her at a party. Despite going to the administration shortly after it happened, Kinsman found her case lying dormant for far too long, until it finally appeared in the headlines right as Jameis Winston was questionably going to go the NFL and almost a lock to win the Heisman Trophy as a freshman, making it appear that she simply wanted to smear his name. We see the exhaustive process of Winston and the Florida State administration denying comment and failing to come thru during hearings, resulting in a dizzying legal battle that eventually amounted to, you guessed it, nothing.
This is another seriously commendable documentary by Kirby Dick, who's camera always seems to go where few or no cameras are at the present time. He's one of documentary's greatest muckrakers now, making documentaries on the epidemic of sexual assault in places where it's far too easy to cover it up, in addition to other problematic industries like the film ratings board and the Catholic Church. The Hunting Ground is a terrific documentary because, not only does it shed light on this important issue, but it explores the hypocrisy in which colleges handle the issue, drowning out negativity by asserting that schools take this matter "very seriously," in addition to exploring the problem from a variety of different angles. Where it could cop out and focus solely on emotions and emotional manipulation, it forces you to learn, confront, and at the end of it all, make an attempt to act.
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