Molly Ringwald rose to prominence as John Hughes’ muse in the hit films “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” and “The Breakfast Club,” but her most beloved movies are troubling her in hindsight. In a new essay for The New Yorker, Ringwald salutes and critiques her collaborations with Hughes, finding certain scenes in the director’s films to be misogynistic and homophobic. The actress makes it clear she loves Hughes and is proud of their work together, but that doesn’t mean their films should not be analyzed under a contemporary context.
While Ringwald was showing her daughter “The Breakfast Club” for the first time, the moment in which Judd Nelson’s Bender peeks up her character’s skirt stood out and made Ringwald uncomfortable. The actress writes that she “kept thinking about the scene” long after the viewing ended, and it wasn’t the first time she was forced to come to terms about its meaning.
“I thought about it again this past fall, after a number of women came forward with sexual-assault accusations against the producer Harvey Weinstein, and the #MeToo movement gathered steam,” Ringwald 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.”
“What’s more, as I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film,” she continues. “When he’s not sexualizing her, he takes out his rage on her with vicious contempt, calling her ‘pathetic,’ mocking her as ‘Queenie.’ It’s rejection that inspires his vitriol…He never apologizes for any of it, but, nevertheless, he gets the girl in the end.”
Ringwald writes that she also finds it problematic nowadays that “the words ‘fag’ and ‘faggot’ are tossed around with abandon” in the film. She references other controversies in Hughes’ filmography as well, such as the “grotesque stereotype” of the character Long Duk Dong in “Sixteen Candles.” Ringwald also discloses that she spoke with Hughes about removing overtly sexist scenes in the shooting script of “The Breakfast Club.”
“There was a scene in which an attractive female gym teacher swam naked in the school’s swimming pool as Mr. Vernon, the teacher who is in charge of the students’ detention, spied on her,” Ringwald writes. “The scene wasn’t in the first draft I read, and I lobbied John to cut it. He did, and although I’m sure the actress who had been cast in the part still blames me for foiling her break, I think the film is better for it.”
Despite not being comfortable with everything Hughes wrote into his movies, it’s not lost on Ringwald what a positive impact he made on cinema. The actresss notes that no one in Hollywood was writing about high school life from a female point of view prior to Hughes’ screenplays.
“That two of Hughes’s films had female protagonists in the lead roles and examined these young women’s feelings about the fairly ordinary things that were happening to them, while also managing to have instant cred that translated into success at the box office, was an anomaly that has never really been replicated,” Ringwald says.
Ringwald concludes her essay by saying that she hopes Hughes’ films will endure and that “it’s up to the following generations to figure out” how to analyze them. You can read Ringwald’s essay in full over on The New Yorker website.