It is clear that documentary filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are out to get under your skin, get you riled up, fired up and called to action. They seem to know and understand the importance of Howard Beale’s famous proclamation in the movie Network that “All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad!” That was the tone of their 2013 documentary The Invisible War, an angry look inside the United States military’s mishandling of sexual assault allegations made by several female cadets. The Hunting Ground moves over the same ground only this time turning an accusatory eye on another insular and self-protected institution, America’s universities.
We’re told straight out that over 100,000 young female college students will be raped on a college campus somewhere in America over the next school term. In conducting interviews with several girls who were sexually assaulted (some in the first weeks of school) the movie takes the point of view of the victims who all seemed to assume that something would be done, but whose complaints were either met with foot-dragging or dropped all together. The campus administrators, we’re told, didn’t want to deal with these cases because they didn’t want to tarnish the school’s reputation, nor did they want to sour funds that were to be made from possible donations.
These cases are infuriating as we follow the stories of how the act was committed – usually at a party – how the girls were instructed by the administration to simply “let it go” and then forced to march back onto campus where they inevitably came in contact with the men who assaulted them. When one girl was raped, the administrator’s only response was to use a metaphor to compare the crime to a football game and then ask what would have done differently in the game?” If this doesn’t make your blood boil, you should check to make sure you still have some.
The women are angry, outraged, hurt and betrayed by a system that turned a blind eye to their suffering, an insular system determined to protect its own interests. And just to curb any doubts about the validity of these charges, the movie is peppered with statistics and sources to let us know that they are the real deal. The stats let us know that more than three-quarters of all campuses had no expulsions due to sexual assault but more than 100 were expelled due to charges of cheating.
Director Kirby Dick takes the same approach to this information as he did with The Invisible War. He doesn’t simply want to rile you up, but he wants to give you a reason to be riled up. He wants to lay the information at your feet like a defense attorney so that you make your own case. You hear the testimony, you see the facts, you understand the immoral behavior of the campus administration and you understand how epidemic the problem really is. But the movie doesn’t leave us with just an angry and intolerable issue, we’re also introduced to Annie Clark and Andrea Pino, who young and energetic women who turned their howl of pain into a call to action. They began to gather information, stories, and survivors and encouraged young women across the country to speak out and to make their voices heard. That’s the great thing about this documentary, unlike a news broadcast we aren’t just given a lot of angering stats, but we see what is being done, the steps that are being taken and the results that are making the problem known across the country.
What makes the movie so powerful is that Dick doesn’t just stop with one or two victims or just a text crawl of facts. He gets inside the problem, digs underneath all of the issues that curtailed investigations, allow victims to reveal their stories for the first time. He spends a great amount of time on the Jameis Winston story, wherein he was accused of assaulting two young girls and Florida State’s frustrating lack of action because he was a star football player. In this case, as in so many others, the girls become to perpetrators of their own sexual assaults. They are questioned and silenced by people who want to cover up these incidents in order to save face, in order to protect the brand, in order to protect a star player, in order to not have to deal with an issue that is difficult to deal with. The Hunting Ground has a more hopeful ending then The Invisible War, but you come away angry about the situation and hopeful that something is being done.