In an extremely personal essay for The New Yorker, actress Molly Ringwald wrote about revisiting her teen classic The Breakfast Club with her daughter, and about how we reexamine stories in the post #MeToo era.
The Breakfast Club contains many sexual references, including a scene where it is applied that John (Judd Nelson) inappropriately touches Claire (Ringwald) under a table. This time, Ringwald watched the scene with her young daughter, and it stayed with her.
I kept thinking about that scene. I thought about it again this past fall, after a number of women came forward with sexual-assault accusations against the producer Harvey Weinstein, and the #MeToo movement gathered steam. 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.
Ringwald came forward in October, shortly after the Weinstein allegations, and spoke about her experience with sexual misconduct in Hollywood as a teen star. Since that and the resultant reexamination of Hollywood’s gender dynamics and power structures, many have taken a second look at pop culture’s advocacy of toxic masculinity, such as with romantic comedies where a man pursues a woman until she relents.
In her essay, Ringwald describes being wary of how this newly-awakened worldview will affect her reading of the 1985 film.
“I worried that [my daughter] would find aspects of it troubling, but I hadn’t anticipated that it would ultimately be most troubling to me,” she wrote. In this viewing, Ringwald found John Bender to be a repeat harasser who never apologizes for how he treats Claire before they end up together at the end. She found a similarly troubling scene in Sixteen Candles and learned that actress Haviland Morris is equally unsure of her role, decades after playing the drunk girl Caroline who was ostensibly raped.
Ringwald’s essay is mostly effusive toward writer-director John Hughes, with whom she describes having a “symbiotic” relationship. She finds some fairly graphic and sexual writings in his past as a National Lampoon writer before he got into movies, including a satire called “Sexual Harassment and How to Do It!” (which the co-author denies having written).
The tricky conclusion Ringwald comes to – that we’re all coming to – is that art is multifaceted. You can swear off The Breakfast Club forever or you can rewatch it, as Ringwald did, with a wiser and more critical eye. You can shift the conversation around beloved works of art and how they treat women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community, and change will come from having those difficult conversations.
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