With the benefit of hindsight, actress Molly Ringwald finds herself startled now by the sexism, racism and homophobia in the series of John Hughes coming-of-age movies she starred in more than 30 years ago.
She praises the late director and writer for crafting stories featuring a female lead (Ringwald) in 1984′s “Sixteen Candles,” 1985′s “The Breakfast Club” and 1986′s “Pretty in Pink (1986),” and for his keen understanding of teenage angst.
But the films were blazingly white, had no characters from the LGBTQ community and featured a “grotesque stereotype” of an Asian exchange student, she notes in an article she penned for The New Yorker published online Friday.
“The words ‘fag” and ‘faggot’ are tossed around with abandon,” and the depiction of women in Hughes’ films and other movies in the 1980s were demeaning, Ringwald says.
She watched “The Breakfast Club” earlier this year with her 10-year-old daughter and was haunted by the sexism of some of the scenes. It shouldn’t have shocked her, she writes.
“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,” she adds.
Ringwald complains about her character’s relationship with bad boy John Bender, played by Judd Nelson in “The Breakfast Club.” He sexually harasses her, taunts her — and ends up being her boyfriend by the end of the film.
In “Sixteen Candles,” a very drunk high school classmate (played by Haviland Morris) is traded by her boyfriend to another guy in exchange for a pair of underwear from another girl. The implication is that the unconscious girl will be the new guy’s sex partner for the night.
Depictions of teens were worse in teen horror flicks, where pretty, sexually active teens were most likely to be killed, notes Ringwald. Popular teen comedies then, such as “Animal House,” were “written by men for boys; the few women in them were either nymphomaniacs or battleaxes,” she adds.
As for Hughes, Ringwald puzzles how he could “write with so much sensitivity, and also have such a glaring blind spot.”
But Ringwald has met fans of the films over the years, including minorities and members of the LGBTQ community, who saw themselves in the struggles Hughes’ characters faced. “These kids were also finding themselves and being ‘other’” even though it was in a “very traditional, white, heteronormative environment,” one of the fans explained to Ringwald.
“Whether that’s enough to make up for the impropriety of the films is hard to say,” Ringwald concludes.
She described in another New Yorker article last year the sexual harassment she experienced working in Hollywood. “I could go on about other instances ... but I fear it would get very repetitive. Then again, that’s part of the point .... Stories like these have never been taken seriously.”