Movie Review - The Hunting Ground

This documentary by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering could be a companion piece to The Invisible War (2012), which is the Oscar-nominated film that Ziering and Dick directed prior to this one.

The Invisible War was about the lack of accountability with regard to sexual assaults in the United States military. This film is about the lack of accountability with regard to sexual assaults on the campuses of U.S. universities. In both pieces, the lack of accountability comes down to institutional failure where authorities don't protect victims but instead protect the institution by in instances covering up the crimes.

When it comes to sexual assaults, or, in actuality rape, sometimes proving the crime can be difficult, especially if the victim waits too long to report it. However, what this movie shows, which is so insidious, is that even when victims report the crime right away, still institutions don't do what they're supposed to do to investigate properly or treat the victims as they should and a lot of the examples here are within the past decade or so.

One of the key cases is the one involving Erica Kinsman, a student at Florida State University, or FSU. Kinsman describes how in December 2012 she was raped. She reported it immediately. She had a rape kit performed. She was even able later to identify her rapist. His name is allegedly Jameis Winston.

However, when the Tallahassee Police Department learned who the rapist was, the police refused to do anything to help Kinsman in terms of arresting and prosecuting him. The reason why is because Winston is a very popular and very successful, football player.

As Bob DeMars' The Business of Amateurs, an undistributed film, also details, football is too big a business and too much of a money-maker for colleges and universities. If a top player is accused of a crime like this, the school will do all that it can to protect its bottom-line and not the victims. It's analogous to what's depicted in Happy Valley, the documentary from last year about the sexual assault cases at Penn State, involving Jerry Sandusky.

The film isn't saying that Winston is guilty. Some will undoubtedly assume that, which may or may not be fair, but what certainly isn't fair is how this film lays out that the authorities, those at the school and at the police department, don't even do their jobs, or they skirt their responsibilities.

The filmmakers simply and plainly lay out the facts. In addition to interviewing the victims and allowing them to tell their stories, the directors also allow the facts to devastate as well. What's also devastating is the case it makes against college fraternities. If the issue was set back by the scandal involving Rolling Stone magazine, the fraternity sequence in this movie sets it back on track.

Ziering and Dick end this film in the same way almost as The Invisible War. It ends with efforts and activists trying to change the situation and better things, even going through political channels. The endings are similar, but here the filmmakers have a bit more of a hopeful outlook. They're a bit more optimistic.

They open both films with a group of women excited and happy about entering the institution in question, the military or the collegiate system. The overall sentiment at the conclusion of The Invisible War is one that doesn't necessarily condemn the military but it's one that almost advises women not to join. The overall sentiment at the conclusion here is one that a change is going to come.

Diane Warren and Lady Gaga wrote a song called "Til It Happens to You," which Lady Gaga performs, specifically for this film. That song was just nominated for a Grammy in the comparable category to the category at the Oscars for Best Original Song. This film made the Documentary Shortlist for the 88th Academy Awards, so my hope is that this song gets nominated for the Oscar. It's a perfect expression of empathy and compassion, and it was the perfect note to end this film.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material involving sexual assault, and for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 43 mins.


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