|A scene from Kirby Dick's The Hunting Ground.|
“Despite significant progress over the last few years, too many woman and men on and off college campuses are still victims of sexual abuse.”The persuasive power of advocacy journalism and documentaries is undeniable, but they have their detractors in large part because they offer viewers only one perspective or one that is not even-handed. Think of the conversation around An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim’s 2006 Oscar-winning film about Al Gore's efforts to explain global warning. Yet Guggenheim’s recent foray, He Named Me Malala, is an inspiring portrait of the Pakistani teenager and 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai, which I expect has few detractors, at least in the West. Or consider the highly popular Making of a Murderer, the Netflix series that revisits and forcibly challenges a decade-old murder conviction. This documentary series, reminiscent of Errol Morris’ 1988 pioneering The Thin Blue Line has elicited viewers’ visceral outrage about the original conviction. Although the filmmakers have been generally praised for their muckraking efforts, a few critics, notably Kathryn Schulz writing in The New Yorker, persuasively provides a counter argument.
– Vice President Joe Biden at the 2015 Academy Awards
A similar controversy has been stirred by the incendiary The Hunting Ground about the prevalence of sexual assault on American campuses and the apparent indifference of university administrators in addressing the complaints of the victims. Writer-director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, who previously collaborated on the documentaries Outrage, about homophobia among American political elites, and The Invisible War, about sexual assault and its cover up in the military, do provide a disturbing picture of a serious problem. If seen in isolation from the critical responses to the film, most viewers likely will be enraged by what has been occurring on American campuses as portrayed in The Hunting Ground.