Molly Ringwald starred in John Hughes’ seminal coming-of-age film The Breakfast Club 33 years ago. Ringwald starred in three of Hughes’ Brat Pack films during that era, including Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. The actress reflected on Hughes as a director and those films in an essay for The New Yorker, examining them through the lens of the #MeToo movement.
Ringwald’s reflection was prompted by years ago watching The Breakfast Club with her then-pre-teen daughter and being haunted by a scene between her character and Judd Nelson’s. The scene implies that his character, Bender, sneaks a peek at her character, Claire’s, underwear and inappropriately touches her. Although the moment went unnoticed by her daughter, Ringwald saw it differently.
“I revisited [the scene] this past fall, as a number of women came forward with allegations of sexual assault against producer Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement gained momentum,” she explained.
Years later, she raises additional concerns about the character Bender’s overall behavior, stating that it was highly inappropriate.
“Additionally, as I can see now, Bender harasses Claire sexually throughout the film. When he is not sexualizing her, he vents his rage on her with vicious contempt, mocking her as ‘Queenie.’ “‘She stated. “He never apologizes for anything, but he eventually gets the girl,” she continued.
She continued by admitting that teen films prior to Hughes’s arrival were frequently quite risque.
“The actors cast in teen roles were frequently much older than their characters – they had to be, given how frequently the films were exploitative,” she explained.
Hughes’ films, on the other hand, appeared to offer something unique. “John’s films convey the rage and fear of isolation that adolescents feel, and seeing that others share those feelings is a balm for the trauma that teenagers endure,” she reflected.
Despite Hughes’ advancements in adolescent representation, she implies that he may have missed the mark when it came to portrayals of women and consent. Ringwald used a scene from Sixteen Candles as a point of reference, in which the geeky character (played by fellow Brat Packer Anthony Michael Hall) photographs an inebriated girl without her knowledge, implying that he scored.
“It’s difficult for me to fathom how John could write with such sensitivity and also have such a glaring blind spot,” Ringwald said of the scene and others from Hughes’ films.
She admitted that her criticism is entirely retrospective and sees the films’ future as a teaching opportunity, given how frequently they are taught in schools. Ringwald hopes they will continue to be taught, but that in the aftermath of #MeToo, the conversation will shift to highlighting instances of inappropriate behavior, as she has done in the essay.
“It is up to future generations to figure out how to continue and personalize those conversations — to keep talking in schools, activism, and art — and to trust that we care,” she concluded.