Weapon of war : representations of sexual violence in contemporary American war cinema

Abstract:

Sexual violence in war can no longer be ignored by contemporary American war cinema. There is a responsibility to bring to light what can be described as an epidemic of sexual assault within the American military and in times of war. This thesis looks at how the lack of representation of sexual violence in American war cinema rewrites history, and erases rape and sexual assault from public memory of military history. Due to the limited representation of wartime sexual violence, not only within American cinema, but also academically and historically, I focus on the lack of resources and cinematic depictions in order to posit how inadequate representations of sexual violence renders victims invisible.

 

In order to provide a comprehensive overview of sexual violence in American war cinema I draw upon historical as well as academic sources. By looking at examples of sexual assault in military history I am able to detail the ways in which American war films ignore the reality of wartime sexual violence in order to rewrite history. This rewriting of history, I argue, not only erases the truth of rape and sexual assault in America’s military history, it also glorifies the white, American, male soldier.

 

I have chosen to look at this issue from three perspectives. First, I explore what literature exists on wartime sexual violence, and where the lack of representation is in historical and academic sources. Second, I look at the Vietnam War where I discuss the films Casualties of War (dir. Brian de Palma, 1989) and Platoon (dir. Oliver Stone, 1986) in relation to their problematic depictions of rape. Third, I investigate sexual violence in the American military and its representation in the films The General’s Daughter (dir. Simon West, 1999) and G.I. Jane (dir. Ridley Scott, 1997), while drawing upon the statistics given in the documentary The Invisible War (dir. Kirby Dick, 2012). With the combined information discussed throughout this thesis I shine a spotlight on a difficult, yet important topic, in hope of helping to remove the invisibility of victims of wartime sexual violence.

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