“Til it happens to you, you won’t know, it won’t be real / No it won’t be real, won’t know how I feel,” croons the impassioned voice of Lady Gaga, expressing the emotional turmoil of being raped at 19 years old in the documentary The Hunting Ground.
While some may never know how it feels to be a victim of sexual assault, the controversial documentary The Hunting Ground has granted a voice to victims silenced by their college institutions and helped catapult the issue of on-campus rape into the spotlight.
In this jarring exposé, rape survivors from across the country tell audiences of their harrowing experiences with sexual assault, their university’s attempt to undermine and suppress their claims and these survivors’ fight for justice. The Hunting Ground has received praise from The New York Times for this “work of cine-activism.” However, the film has also faced opposition, with accusations that the film presents a misleading picture.
USC happens to have a few cameos in this illustrious documentary. In a couple of scenes, the Row serves as the backdrop to the portion of the film that addresses the problems with sexual assaults at greek fraternities. The film also features a few of USC fraternity houses, on-street interviews with girls going out on the Row and some quick snippets from actual frat parties. Additionally, some of the rape survivors speaking out about their wrenching experiences are currently USC students.
However, on Feb. 2, the USC School of Cinematic Arts hosted a screening of the documentary followed by a Q&A with producer Amy Ziering through their Outside the Box [Office] program. Outside the Box [Office] is an ongoing film festival, showcasing upcoming international, documentary and independent films, that is free of charge and open to the public. The Hunting Ground is just one of many screenings the group is hosting this year that deal with contemporary issues.
With a less than flattering depiction of the institution, this screening provides a refreshing dose of transparency with issues of sexual assault on campus. Despite all the reasons the University had to oppose the screening of The Hunting Ground, including USC’s own Title IX investigation, university officials were actually supportive in making this event happen.
“USC as an institution has never threatened any kind of censorship or backlash against content,” said Alessandro Ago, SCA’s director of programming and special projects and head of Outside the Box [Office]. “I screen films that might elicit a bit of controversy. The beauty of screening these works in an academic context is that we’re in a forum that students should feel open to engage in controversial topics.”
The screening of this particular documentary will bring the nation’s and the University’s issues with on-campus rape to the forefront. Eli Meyer, a senior majoring in cinematic arts and instrumental in planning this event, hopes to make the screening of The Hunting Ground an annual event and maybe even try to integrate it into greek life at USC. Meyer realizes the potential in the film raising awareness and inciting more discourse on campus of this hypersensitive topic.
“USC, being one of the most desired and well-known American universities, has a very unique ability to create change and influence the entire nation,” Meyer said. “I hope that this screening will prompt the student body to really start to understand how big of a problem sexual assault on campus is and use their knowledge to spread the word as far and wide as possible.”
At the end of the film, the lyrics of Lady Gaga’s emotional rendition of “Til It Happens To You” speaks volumes about the importance of addressing sexual assaults on campus. “Tell me how the hell could you talk, how could you talk? / Cause until you walk where I walk, this is no joke,” sings Lady Gaga. The Hunting Ground has created a stage for numerous silenced sexual assault victims to come forward and do just that.