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Domestic Violence In Film: Is This Really What Viewers Still Want To See?

Updated on June 5, 2017
Farawaytree profile image

Michelle's experience with domestic abuse and adultery drive her to learn about human relationships and the psychology behind them.

After decades of being bombarded with movies about women who are abused, taken hostage, chased, and exploited, it really makes one wonder if this preoccupation with women being placed in peril by filmmakers will ever end.

Apparently not anytime soon.

Why are well-known actresses - including Academy award nominees - still taking these kinds of roles?

Hollywood glamorizing violence against women has been going on since the dawn of film itself. Let's take this opportunity to skip forward and explore some more modern examples of how Hollywood expresses domestic violence in films.

Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin in "Sleeping With The Enemy"
Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin in "Sleeping With The Enemy" | Source

Sleeping With The Enemy

"Sleeping With the Enemy" came out in the early 90s, starring Julia Roberts. Even though it was a slightly unrealistic and stylized film, it had some solid elements that ring true regarding domestic violence.

The female abuse victim in the movie runs off with "the good guy" in the end, which is pretty standard for Hollywood, but it was still a good message about how many women living with domestic violence do keep their abuse a secret. Often, nobody has any idea what women are dealing with in their home life because they cover it up so well.

Getting out important images and messages to girls and women is a good thing, but these glossy movies where the female star is dolled up to the nines and running around the house with a knife is just not doing anyone any good.

Many domestic violence victims keep the abuse under wraps due fear of the abuser and also the shame that they let it continue. That part of the movie was certainly truer than other areas.

In fact, many women become so adept at hiding the abuse that they may even convince themselves that everything is okay.

It's a cultivated form of denial to the point where even very close family members or friends are totally unaware of the abuse.

"The Perfect guy" is a more recent domestic violence thriller with some pretty decent actors in it.

A successful career woman, (played by Sanaa Lathan), meets a man who is gorgeous and charming in every way. But, as the film progresses, we see that this dream man turns out to be psychotic.

Another man in the film - her ex-boyfriend - has to show up and save her.

I get the feeling that the filmmakers think if they make the abuse victim in the movie successful in her career, then she's somehow empowered, and therefore a good role model to girls and women, even though she's making terrible decisions in her love life.

There are oodles of films where independent career women are singled out by abusers. Is this some kind of punishment for being single, independent and career-driven? Surely not.

The Perfect Guy
The Perfect Guy | Source

The reason why Hollywood still churns out so many movies featuring women being terrorized by men is still a mystery. Is it to bring awareness to domestic violence, or is it just for cat and mouse entertainment value?

Movies where a filmmaker actually wants to document domestic violence in a realistic and productive way are understandable.

Getting out important images and messages to girls and women is a good thing. Glossy movies where the female star is dolled up to the nines and running around a house with a knife isn't raising the kind of awareness that would be helpful.

And it's not just for girls and women either. Boys and men watch these movies too. What are these films teaching them?

Certain types of movies depicting female characters playing a sexy cat and mouse game with an abuser are counterproductive for getting the message out that real abuse is ugly and deadly

In reality, many victims of domestic abuse do not make it out alive from an abusive relationship and are lucky if they do - without the all the hair, makeup, and fancy clothes.

Academy award nominated Taraji P. Henson in "No Good Deed"
Academy award nominated Taraji P. Henson in "No Good Deed" | Source

Cruising For Bruising

One of the last movies of memory that was both engaging, disturbing, and really made you think was "The Accused," starring Jodie Foster.

In "The Accused", the lead female character faced challenges that were realistic, not contrived.

That film made an impact, and Jodi Foster was brilliant, playing the role of a woman thrown into the fight of her life - after being raped - against a society that would condemn her for wearing a short skirt in a bar.

If a viewer is going to watch a movie about abuse - which is not a fun subject, to begin with - then preferably it would be realistic and valuable, not shiny and predictable.

Jodi Foster has a history of making films that are more centered around the character, rather than glamour, so props to her as an artist.

There have been a string of more lazy Hollywood movies depicting victims of domestic violence, such as "Enough," with Jennifer Lopez, who decides to take up self-defense and have a face-off with her adulterous, violent husband. This may work out well in a scripted film, but not advisable in real life.

The reason why Hollywood still churns out so many movies featuring women being terrorized by men is still a mystery. Is it to bring awareness to domestic violence, or is it just for cat and mouse entertainment value?

In the movie, "No Good Deed," Idris Elba arrives at the house of a woman, played by Taraji P. Henson, to use her phone. He's a total stranger, but since he's so charming and handsome, she lets him. Not surprisingly, he turns out to be a psychopath and spends the rest of the film chasing Taraji P. Henson around the house.

Stranger danger? These two actors could be doing far better things with their time.

The Relationship Between Sex And Fear

While we're pondering the motivations behind movies that showcase domestic violence, we should probably discuss the mainstream hit, "50 Shades of Grey".

This film has been discussed at length for its terrible influence on young girls and women all the while raking in millions at the box office.

Many people believe that this movie condones violent behavior in relationships and even normalizes very serious forms of abuse such as stalking, threatening, use of control, and sexual violence.

Having seen the movie, I would have to say I'm not sure I would want my teenage daughter, or even son, for that matter to think this is acceptable behavior.

Mind you, consenting adults can do what they please, but when you put out material like this and millions of young people are exposed to it, who may not know any better, it does make one worry about boundaries.

There is also a concern that there are already many relationships where there is extreme possessiveness, sexual control, or physical abuse happening and this type of behavior seen on film just makes it harder to know the difference between sexual experimentation and just plain exploitation.

...consenting adults can do what they please, but when you put out material like this and millions of young people are exposed to it, who may not know any better, it does make one worry about boundaries.

"50 Shades of Grey"
"50 Shades of Grey" | Source

Before "50 Shades of Grey" there was "Fear," in the late 90s. This was a movie about a young innocent girl, played by Reese Witherspoon, who gets swept off her feet by a good looking, anti-social, psychopath. The film was quite frightening simply by showcasing how easily the young girl in the movie was kept under the control of her possessive lover.

In the end, the violent boyfriend, played by Mark Wahlberg, ends up killing several people close to Reese Witherspoon's character and terrorizing her and her whole family.

There were elements of this film that were quite similar to "50 Shades of Grey" in that the girl in the film was pure and innocent, exploited sexually, and eventually pulled away from all of her friends and family the more control her violent boyfriend exerted over her.

This was a popular film in its time, and both actors gained increased fame for their roles, with Mark Wahlberg winning the MTV award for the best villain that year. It was one of his most memorable roles yet this genre of film (sometimes called an "intimacy thriller") continues to thrive in this day and age, even with so much domestic violence awareness out there.

Mark Wahlberg in "Fear"
Mark Wahlberg in "Fear" | Source

One of the posters for the film, "Fear" advertises, "Together forever. Or else." That pretty much says it all. The "intimacy thriller" genre definitely dominated the 90s, but it seems to be making a comeback now.

Perhaps filmmakers are just running out of ideas or else they are simply deciding to capitalize on what worked in the past. What worked in the past was a highly dramatic, sexually charged, violent thriller about violence towards women, and it is still being perpetuated today.

If I want to see a great movie about an amazing, independent woman getting beat up, then I would rather watch, "Girlfight," or "Million Dollar Baby". Those two movies are some great examples of more realistic women, who are strong, driven, but also vulnerable human beings. Although I'm not sure why most of the "tough" women characters in films have to only be either boxers or athletes.

Either way, the violence we view in films and on TV is substantial, and the violence against women in films still drags on. I do believe that in today's technological culture of everywhere screens, media does play a role in how we view ourselves and the world around us. It's time for some fresh ideas, Hollywood.

Michelle Rodriguez in "Girlfight"
Michelle Rodriguez in "Girlfight" | Source

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    • Farawaytree profile image
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      Michelle Zunter 8 weeks ago from California

      Yes, I definitely think there are opportunities that aren't taken advantage of in Hollywood in lieu of making money on a tired, recycled plot that involves glamorizing violence against women. You raise an excellent point and thank you so much for reading!!

    • Raul Sierra profile image

      Raul Sierra Jr 8 weeks ago from El Paso, Texas

      I agree that these movies glamorized this abuse, and you make a good point about the capitalization of these ideas. I wonder though, shouldn't Film also be used as a tool to introduce the conversation. To maybe get people talking about a subject that too often is marginalized by the very people that need to understand its ramifications. Do you think we are missing an opportunity to educate a large population of our youth that spen a lot of time in theaters?

    • Farawaytree profile image
      Author

      Michelle Zunter 21 months ago from California

      Yes, very true. Thank you very much for reading :)

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 21 months ago from Australia

      Maybe the timing of your article is something to be singing about. There is currently a major push in addresses violence against women globally. It is a mammoth problem which has run across human history but seems to be growing and not waning. Hopefully these films are highlighting the problem and not serving as voyeurism.

      There is a group on FB - Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (https://www.facebook.com/GDIGM?ref=ts&fref=ts) which is working on changing roles for women in film so this typical stereotyping does not continue.

      Film of course has a major influence on all who watch and perhaps it's time to see how unacceptable it is to see it as entertainment. Violence against Women (and men for that matter) needs to be seen in the documentary category. Perhaps the best way to curb showing violence, fear and sex as entertainment - is to stop watching it.

    • Heromi Keishing profile image

      worrin keishing 21 months ago from delhi

      love is blind yea...

    • Farawaytree profile image
      Author

      Michelle Zunter 21 months ago from California

      Yes, just churning out the same plot in a variety of different ways. Thanks a lot for your comment.

    • lisavanvorst profile image

      Lisa VanVorst 21 months ago from New Jersey

      I do not like these movies, mainly because not all ending turn out well in real life. I think today's movies do not compare with the content and originality of say movies that came out 20 years ago. I also believe that Hollywood and motion picture companies are running out of ideas on films. That is why there are so many re-makes of old films or so many films that never end like the Mission Impossible serious and such. I also do not go to the movies anymore, basically because for two people to go you just spend close to $50. I wait till these movies come out on demand and pay the $5.99 rental fee instead. The most recent film I rented was "The Boy Next Door" with Jennifer Lopez. A soon to be divorced housewife who messes around with a man in his twenties. Of course he turns out to be obsessed with her and much like most of these films, she does regret her actions. Like I said before Hollywood just running out of ideas.

    • Farawaytree profile image
      Author

      Michelle Zunter 21 months ago from California

      Love is blind, right?

    • Heromi Keishing profile image

      worrin keishing 21 months ago from delhi

      women should ignore that kinda guy before they went too deep.. their ways let them end on that kinda guys in my opinion

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