32 years after their last collaboration—1986's Pretty In Pink, which Hughes wrote—Molly Ringwald and writer-director John Hughes are still firmly linked in the public mind. Nobody’s more aware of that than Ringwald herself, apparently; the actress, who currently appears on The CW’s Riverdale, published a new essay in The New Yorker today, attempting to square two of the conflicting sides of the man who helped kickstart her career: The thoughtful, empathetic man who brought authentic-sounding teen voices to mainstream movies, and the frequently puerile former National Lampoon writer who birthed characters like Sixteen Candles’ Geek and Long Duk Dong into the world.
Clear-eyed and well-researched, Ringwald’s essay digs back into Hughes’ early Lampoon writing, examining pieces with names like “My Penis,” “My Vagina,” and “Sexual Harassment And How To Do It!”She also recounts her own experiences with him, including times when she pushed back against his more sexualized instincts, as when she successfully protested a gratuitous nude scene featuring a female teacher in The Breakfast Club. “I’ve been called his muse,” she writes, “Which I believe I was, for a little while. But, more than that, I felt that he listened to me—though certainly not all the time. Coming out of the National Lampoon school of comedy, there was still a residue of crassness that clung, no matter how much I protested.”
Ringwald’s essay was inspired, in part, by both the #MeToo movement, and a recent watch of The Breakfast Club with her pre-teen daughter—an experience she also recounted in an episode of This American Life back in 2014. Watching the film, she writes, she realized, “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 as ‘Queenie.’ It’s rejection that inspires his vitriol.”
Still, Ringwald never condemns her former friend and collaborator, who died in 2009, or attempts to negate the impact of his work on the depiction of teenagers on the screen. She characterizes their relationship as largely “symbiotic,” and praises him for writing and directing films from perspectives that no one else was writing at the time:
No one in Hollywood was writing about the minutiae of high school, and certainly not from a female point of view. According to one study, since the late nineteen-forties, in the top-grossing family movies, girl characters have been outnumbered by boys three to one—and that ratio has not improved. That two of Hughes’s films had female protagonists in the lead roles and examined these young women’s feelings about the fairly ordinary things that were happening to them, while also managing to have instant cred that translated into success at the box office, was an anomaly that has never really been replicated.
You can read Ringwald’s full piece here.