In Light Of The #MeToo Movement, Molly Ringwald Is Reexamining Her Most Iconic Movies

"How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose?"

Reconciling your love for a piece of art with its problematic aspects isn't easy — especially if that art helped launched your career. In a new essay for the New Yorker, actress Molly Ringwald confronts the many issues in John Hughes' beloved 1980s teen movies, in light of #MeToo and similar movements against sexual assault and harassment.

"It's hard for me to understand how John was able to write with so much sensitivity, and also have such a glaring blind spot," she wonders about the late writer-director, with whom she worked on Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.

"If attitudes toward female subjugation are systemic, 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," writes Ringwald, who recently penned an essay about her own experience with sexual harassment in Hollywood. She adds of Hughes' movies, "There is still so much that I love in them, but lately I have felt the need to examine the role that these movies have played in our cultural life: where they came from, and what they might mean now."

She mentions watching The Breakfast Club with her 10-year-old daughter, and the discomfort she felt about the character John Bender's harassment of her character Claire, including a scene in which he peeks under her skirt while hiding beneath a table, while it is "implied that he touches her inappropriately." 

Another scene which Ringwald says "took even longer for me to fully comprehend" occurs in Sixteen Candles, when the character Jake trades his drunk girlfriend Caroline to the Geek, "to satisfy the latter's sexual urges." Ringwald spoke with the actress who played Caroline, Haviland Morris, who shared her belief that "Caroline bears some responsibility for what happens, because of how drunk she gets at the party." This victim-blaming mentality is unfortunately all too common in discussions of sexual assault.

At the same time, Ringwald understands the important role Hughes' films played in many teenagers' lives, as well as in film history. "No one in Hollywood was writing about the minutiae of high school, and certainly not from a female point of view," she shares. "That two of Hughes's films had female protagonists in the lead roles and examined these young women's feelings about the fairly ordinary things that were happening to them, while also managing to have instant cred that translated into success at the box office, was an anomaly that has never really been replicated."

Ringwald also points out that, despite the films' "racist, misogynistic, and, at times, homophobic" content, their messages have touched people of all experiences, even the targets of such insensitive language. Ringwald recalls a conversation with Emil Wilbekin, a gay, Black man who, despite the films' lack of diversity, took away "that there were other people like me who were struggling with their identities, feeling out of place in the social constructs of high school, and dealing with the challenges of family ideals and pressures."

"John's movies convey the anger and fear of isolation that adolescents feel, and seeing that others might feel the same way is a balm for the trauma that teen-agers experience," Ringwald writes. "Whether that's enough to make up for the impropriety of the films is hard to say—even criticizing them makes me feel like I'm divesting a generation of some of its fondest memories, or being ungrateful since they helped to establish my career. And yet embracing them entirely feels hypocritical. And yet, and yet. . . . "

The actress's essay shines a light on the complicated feelings many of us have about our favorite movies and television shows — whether they are a product of a less progressive era or the work of a problematic public figure. For Ringwald to share her thoughts as someone who participated in these movies' creation sets an important example for all of us.

"How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose? What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it?" she writes. "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."

(H/T: Huffington Post)

Cover image: lev radin / Shutterstock.com

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.