The Hunting Ground was playing in the campus area of Arizona State University, my alma mater. I made a point to sneak out of work early and catch the 415 showing because I knew it wouldn't stay around for long. There were three of us in the theatre. The only other woman laughed nervously from time to time. I don't remember making a sound. But I do remember how I looked at the campus differently than I ever had while walking to my car.
My husband nearly had to drag me to Cinderella, the Kenneth Branaugh live action version of the beloved fairy tale. The only thing I really knew about it was the controversy regarding the waist size of Lily James, the British actress who plays Cinderella, in the most spectacular dress I have ever seen on the screen. It had something to do with if it was digitally enhanced or was Lily's waist really that small and I am quite pleased with myself that I don't know more about it than that.
You might say that rape on college campuses is the subject of the documentary, The Hunting Ground, but it is more about how far major institutions will go to protect their reputation, image and financial position. And who they are willing to sacrifice in order to do so, such as rape victims. And who they are clearly not willing to sacrifice, such as athletes and national fraternity alumni relationships.
The film opens with several bright, successful, high achieving young women staring at their laptops, almost afraid to look and see if they had been accepted to their dream colleges. The excitement recorded on family smart phones when the good news came in was contagious.
Fast forward to two of these young women holed up in a messy, cluttered apartment day and night, once again staring at their laptops, only this time researching ways to qualify for federal assistance with campus rape cases, their own and many others, because their schools offered them none.
Hearing from the parents of these young women, who had sent their daughters to these highly revered institutions, and the combination of grief, anger and disbelief at the way they had been treated, was simply heartbreaking.
As we stepped up to the refreshment counter at our local multi-plex a few days later, there was a brave mom with five little girls, ranging in age from two to five. Each child was dressed in a princess costume, complete with long skirt and sparkling trim. The youngest, mostly being shunned by the older four and five year olds, was content to look down at her dress, run her hands up and down the skirt, and twirl around, every bit a real princess at that moment. The girls were animated, very excited and we knew that this showing of Cinderella might be a noisy one. But by the time we got into the theatre, the mom had them all seated at the very top row of the theatre and once the show began, they were perfectly well behaved, transfixed by the magical story of young Cinderella.
The male in this story was a handsome prince on a beautiful horse who fell in love at first sight with the common girl who said that courage and kindness was what mattered to her. He looked high and low until he found her after she ran away from the ball and made her his queen. And they lived happily ever after.
The brave mom shuttled them out of the theatre when the movie ended, passing by another young mom waiting for the next show, holding the hand of a little girl also dressed up in her princess costume with a garland of flowers around her tiny blonde head.
It hit me like a ton of bricks that the young women whose stories were documented in The Hunting Ground once were these little girls, just as I was. Our moms made those dresses for us, took us to Disney movies and told us those fairy tales before bedtime. And they supported us and loved us and encouraged us to do well in school and sent us off to college, proud and hopeful. The tears they shed when we left the nest were nothing compared to the tears that followed for so many young women whose college experience turned to life changing tragedy.
And it's not just college sexual assault. It's sexual assault in the home, in the military and on city streets.
If you want to know why it is so hard to "tell", why the aftermath of sexual assault can be just as bad, if not worse, than the act itself, then see The Hunting Ground. And if you want to measure the tragedy, see Cinderella, too.
As for me, I am asking myself why I made such an effort to make sure I didn't miss The Hunting Ground and why I had to be convinced to see Cinderella. All I know is that I am glad I got to see it with those five little princesses because it was such a poignant reminder of who I used to be, who I have become, and who I still want to be.