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'Boxing Helena' Degrades Us All

September 20, 1993|BONNIE MORAN | Moran, a paralegal, is chair of the Media Task Force for the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women. and

Sexism in film is often insidious. "Boxing Helena," however, turns up the volume on sexism in movies so high that even film critics who generally concentrate on a movie's dramatic prowess without delving into its sociological impact, have questioned the filmmakers' social conscience.

In his review of "Boxing Helena" ("Bizarre Morbidity Without a Sense of Style," Calendar, Sept. 3), Kevin Thomas writes " . . . the film becomes merely a simple, blunt expression of extreme fear of women compounded by the preposterous, not to say dangerous, notion that absolute helplessness causes a woman to fall in love with a man for whom she had previously expressed only contempt."

It's true. When Helena falls in love with the man who has stalked, imprisoned and dismembered her; the man to whom she has repeatedly said "no," the film takes the misguided notion that "when she says no, she really means "yes" to the apex of absurdity.

"Boxing Helena" is the newest in the film industry's repertoire of dramas that present violence against women as entertainment. It is the story of an obsessed surgeon, Nick, who imprisons and dismembers Helena, rendering her physically incapable of leaving him, thereby "boxing" her.


The filmmakers contend the film is a metaphor; a fairy tale about love and relationships. They dismiss the violence by saying it should not be taken literally--an idea so pretentious one wonders when last the filmmakers deigned to touch down on Earth.

The use of violence against women as entertainment may seem harmless within the insular film community, but it wreaks havoc on women's safety in the real world. Research scientists agree there is a definite correlation between media violence and criminal behavior.

According to Leonard D. Eron, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, "a recent summary of over 200 studies published in 1990 offers convincing evidence that the observation of violence, as seen in standard entertainment, does affect the aggressive behavior of the viewer."

"The media," Eron writes, "present violence as an appropriate way to solve interpersonal problems; an appropriate way to get what you want out of life." Nick, in "Boxing Helena," is a perfect example of this alarming, media-driven attitude.

Jennifer Lynch, screenwriter and director of "Boxing Helena," maintains the film's plot makes it possible to safely explore deviant behavior. There's one thing Lynch forgets.


The film's audience is composed of real people who, when they leave the theater, walk out into the real world. And Lynch has no control over how "safely" they incorporate the film's message into their lives.

If "Boxing Helena" were one-of-a-kind, perhaps it could be dismissed. However, a significant number of films use violence against women as entertainment. Film-goers are, therefore, "fed" a steady diet of entertainment that essentially says women have no value. The effect is one of desensitizing people to violent acts against women, teaching inappropriate behavior toward women, and presenting dangerously false impressions of how women think and respond.

We live in a country where domestic violence is the leading cause of death among women; where a woman is beaten every 15 seconds. We need to concern ourselves with all aspects of this problem--and the influence of film violence is an important aspect.

As long as women's safety and dignity teeter on the edge of the celluloid strip, there is a need for women to speak out--to say to the film industry, stop degrading us, stop killing us off for entertainment value because you are putting us in danger, and we're angry about it. In fact, in the immortal words of Howard Beale, "(We're) as mad as hell and (we're) not going to take this anymore!"

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