The star of 1984’s Sixteen Candles knows exactly how problematic some scenes from the beloved teen comedy are.
In a new interview with NPR, Riverdale star Molly Ringwald reflected back on her time starring in many of John Hughes’ high school-set films, including Sixteen Candles, which features a scene in which popular romantic lead Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) jokes he could “violate” his passed-out girlfriend Caroline (Haviland Morris). Of this particular moment (which feels particularly cringe-worthy in a #MeToo era, but really, should have always set off alarm bells) Ringwald told NPR:
“[Times] were different and what was acceptable then is definitely not acceptable now and nor should it have been then, but that’s sort of the way that it was,” the former Secret Life of the American Teenager star explained. “I feel very differently about the movies now and it’s a difficult position for me to be in because there’s a lot that I like about them. And of course I don’t want to appear ungrateful to John Hughes, but I do oppose a lot of what is in those movies.”
This isn’t the first time that Ringwald has spoken out about some problematic elements within her former work. In an essay for The New Yorker, Ringwald dissected Hughes’ 1985 movie The Breakfast Club, which includes a scene in which Judd Nelson’s Bender looks up Ringwald’s character Clare’s skirt and seemingly touches her inappropriately.
“I kept thinking about that scene. 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 wrote in The New Yorker. “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.”
She adds that Bender, who ultimately gets the girl in the end, was also generally gross.
“I can see now, Bender sexually harasses Claire throughout the film. When he’s not sexualizing her, he takes out his rage on her with vicious contempt, calling her ‘pathetic,’ mocking her… It’s rejection that inspires his vitriol.”
While an adult Ringwald can see the harassment clearly, her fellow women co-stars also objected to what they saw as a sexist scene during the filming of The Breakfast Club. According to a 2015 article in Vanity Fair, Ringwald, co-star Ally Sheed, and producer Michelle Manning all banded together to scrub a gratuitous topless scene featuring a female teacher from The Breakfast Club.
Still, despite the problematic elements of The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, Ringwald sees the good that Hughes did for the teen movie landscape.
“I believe that there is still a lot of good in the films and there’s a lot that I’m proud of,” she told NPR in her recent interview. “And I feel like in a lot of ways they’ve touched teenagers and sparked a conversation that is important. And having a teenage daughter myself, I know that it’s not always easy to get teenagers to talk. But these films sort of break through that. You know? There’s something that really touches teenagers, especially The Breakfast Club I feel like sort of gives them permission to talk about their feelings — says that teenagers’ feelings really matter.”
It might be why, despite the issues present, fans of all ages still gravitate towards these movies. In Netflix’s teen rom-com To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, protagonist Lara Jean (Lana Condor), who is Asian-American, is obsessed with Sixteen Candles — even though, as her love interest Peter (Noah Centineo) points out, Asian character Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe) is, well, pretty problematic.
Hopefully, criticism of all these problematic moments will make future films inspired by Hughes’ work borrow only the best parts from them — and leave the casual sexism, racism, and problematic bits in the ’80s.
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