- Politics and Social Issues»
- Social Issues
The Culture of Domestic Violence in Film
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.
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.
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.
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.
Movies where a filmmaker actually wants to document domestic violence in a realistic and productive way is 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.
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?
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 "entertainment" value?
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.
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.
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.