Thanks to a clutch of films made in the ‘80s and still loved today, writer and director John Hughes is credited with reinventing – or maybe just inventing – the high school movie. Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles brought authentic teenage angst to the big screen, and made a household name out of Molly Ringwald, who starred in all three films in her late teens. Now, as the ongoing dialogue around #MeToo and the Time’s Up campaign prompts a reappraisal of films from decades past, Ringwald has published a must-read essay in The New Yorker, explaining why she now sees The Breakfast Club as particularly ‘troubling.’
In the piece, titled ‘What About The Breakfast Club,’ Ringwald, now 50, explains how she recently decided to re-watch the 1985 film with her young daughter. Afterwards, considering the film and her experiences within the context of #MeToo and the widespread sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, she kept coming back to one scene in particular.
‘At one point in the film, the bad-day character, John Bender, ducks under the table where my character, Claire, is sitting, to hide from a teacher,’ she writes. ‘While there, he takes the opportunity to peek under Claire’s skirt and, though the audience doesn’t see, it is implied that he touches her inappropriately.’ Though the shot of Claire’s underwear was filmed by an adult stand-in, the actress explains that it made her and her mother uncomfortable at the time of filming, with the latter petitioning the director to cut it from the film.
‘If attitudes toward female subjugation are system, and I believe that they are, it stands to reason that the art we consume and sanction plays some part in reinforcing those same attitudes,’ she continues, before unpicking some of the film’s more problematic plot points. ‘What’s more, as I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film. When he’s not sexualising her, he takes out his rage on her with vicious contempt, calling her “pathetic,” mocking her as “Queenie.” It’s rejection that inspires his vitriol […] He never apologises for any of it, but, nevertheless, he gets the girl in the end.’
‘Back then, I was only vaguely aware of how inappropriate much of John’s writing was, given my limited experience and what was considered normal at the time,’ Ringwald writes, explaining that despite this, she would still lobby the director to re-write or cut scenes which she felt perpetuated misogyny, including one planned episode in The Breakfast Club where a female teacher swam naked in the school’s pool while her male colleague watched her.
Ringwald’s purpose isn’t to dismantle Hughes’ canon entirely – in fact, she recognises that not only is there ‘still so much [she] loves’ in her first, career-making films, but that they’ve also helped many youngsters through ‘the anger and fear of isolation that adolescents feel,’ providing ‘a balm for the trauma that teenagers experience.’ Holding this in consideration, she still feels that to ‘embrac[e] them entirely feels hypocritical,’ and while she hopes that the films will ‘endure,’ she believes it’s important that ‘the conversations about them will change,’ concluding: ‘Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art – change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.’
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