There is absolutely no denying that the documentary, The Hunting Ground (opening today), is about something important. It attempts to shed light on the horrific, yet mostly silent epidemic of rape crimes on college campuses across the United States. This is a real problem, one that is under-reported and perpetually mishandled in ongoing attempts to save each particular university some face, in the eyes of what could be massive public-relations nightmares. So not to under-cut the topic – and that I cannot stress enough – but The Hunting Ground‘s approach to presenting their argument, is about as “fair and balanced” as a Fox News report on the President. In other words, it takes nuggets of underlying truths and expands upon them to come to the most misinformed, misguided and ridiculous of conclusions.
In The Hunting Ground, filmmaker Kirby Dick profiles several college females (and one male not given much airtime) who have been victims of rape on college campuses. These individual stories are undeniably awful…and real. He takes their stories and then attempts to paint a larger picture, in a search for justice for these victims.
Let me remind you that to criticize the film’s approach is not in any way, shape or form a commentary on the victims real-world struggles, or to deny that rape crimes are being mishandled by college administrators, counselors and Presidents. But The Hunting Ground wants to spend time looking at several symptoms, not at all interested in widening the lens to consider larger cultural problems. The methods used here are the most unflattering forms of fear-mongering, where we are told about the victims, but never the assailants. Mostly, we need to know that dropping a kid off at college is like throwing a defenseless deer into the middle of the forest in the middle of open season. That rape on campus is the rule, not the exception. That a nameless, faceless perpetrator is lurking behind every tree and park bench, and that college administrators are all in league together in a conscious effort to rape and forever harm your children.
To show what is meant by my saying “misinformation,” the film does name one alleged assailant – star Florida State quarterback, Jameis Winston, who was accused of drugging and raping a girl over a year ago. We are presented with the female’s side of the story and the filmmakers already clear assumption that it was rape. It very well could have been. Also, even using the facts presented in this documentary, it might not have been. It was not “cut and dry” and to this day is not “cut and dry.” But watching this film, Jameis Winston is guilty because the victim said he is. Sorry to pick on Fox News yet again, but this approach of presenting “one-sided” information on a story is not fair to either party.
Let’s say Winston did rape her. The movie’s call-to-action at the end of it (the part where they ask you to take part in affecting change) wants to place all the blame on college Presidents. Surely there is blame to go around, but what about societal blame? That as a society we value the student athlete over the well-being of non-athletic students? I’m no conspiracy theorist, but I find it incredibly hard to believe that college Presidents are colluding together. Surely there are those that are covering things up in an effort to keep their jobs, which goes back more to the problems associated with greed, status and wealth in America. Aren’t these all topics that should at least be touched upon in the film’s argument, if not subjected to the same level of scrutiny?
And don’t get me started on the film’s take on fraternities. Again, they present nuggets of truths and present them as universally accepted facts. Take this irony from the film: They name specific national college fraternities as having inherent rape histories among their members, but then say that the colleges allow them to remain on campus because of the millions and billions of dollars that come in due to alumni donations from fraternity members. Their point is well received…however, if you connect-the-dots or follow the logic, doesn’t this statistic show that fraternity men are going on to become the wealthiest and most successful? How else are they responsible for the largest donations? So to say that they are inherently bad and that all Greek Life should be eradicated from college campuses, is like saying that all Police officers should be fired in the wake of the Ferguson shootings. A more intelligent approach to this is to say, like in Ferguson, there are obvious systemic problems, but it is not inherent that if you are a cop, you are a racist. I would only assume then, that if you are a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (one of the main fraternities named in this film) then you are not inherently a rapist. Surely some good has come out of it, and if you don’t believe me check out this list of SAE members that went on to do great things.
But just because there is good doesn’t mean that there isn’t bad, or that the good somehow excuses the bad. It’s just that when you are presenting a strong argument against something – as The Hunting Ground is doing – it is always more powerful to present the fullest representation of the facts as possible. Otherwise, it can be seen as manipulative (as this film is) and off-putting (as this film is). Go a few steps further and it borders on propaganda.
No child – male or female – should go to our highest level of acadamia and have the fear of being raped. This is a problem, and I applaud The Hunting Ground for raising awareness on this very serious issue. But I fear that if we do as the film suggests – make enough noise until several current college Presidents are thrown from their positions – that we will not have solved the problem. But the more noise, the better chance that it has of being addressed. But anyone with a brain knows that this is a more complicated issue than just getting “new blood” in office. And if The Hunting Ground had any other intention for its viewers, it was lost on me.
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, Rated PG-13
Written & Directed by Kirby Dick (The Invisible War, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Outrage)
Opens locally on Friday, April 24, 2015 (check for show times).