The actress rewatched the film with her daughter, as she describes in a new essay for The New Yorker, who she initially feared would “find aspects of it troubling.” She writes, “I hadn’t anticipated that it would ultimately be most troubling to me.”
Ringwald starred in The Breakfast Club, a film written and directed by John Hughes that boosted her career. Then 16, the rising star portrayed Claire, one of five high school kids from different social circles who bond over one weekend’s detention. Looking back on it after so many women have come forward with claims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, Ringwald, now 50, states, “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.”
With The Breakfast Club specifically, she points to a scene where Judd Nelson’s character, John Bender, ducks under Claire’s desk, peeks under her skirt, and “it’s implied that he touches her inappropriately.”
An adult double of Ringwald was used for that scene, “but even having another person pretend to be me was embarrassing to me and upsetting to my mother,” the actress recalls. Though her mom objected to the moment, the scene remained. “What’s more, as I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film,” she continues to reflect. “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.”
Ringwald, who now appears on The CW’s Riverdale, picked out additional moments from various other Hughes films — including the scene in Sixteen Candles “when the dreamboat, Jake, essentially trades his drunk girlfriend, Caroline, to the Geek, to satisfy the latter’s sexual urges, in return for Samantha’s underwear.”
“How are we meant to feel about art that we both love and oppose?” she asks. “What if we are in the unusual position of having helped create it? Erasing history is a dangerous road when it comes to art—change is essential, but so, too, is remembering the past, in all of its transgression and barbarism, so that we may properly gauge how far we have come, and also how far we still need to go.”
Read the full essay in The New Yorker.