Hollywood and Beyond: Rescreening Domestic Violence

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Department of Humanities


In this chapter I employ a hybrid critical framework that draws on feminist media studies, feminist critiques of post-feminism, theories of intersectionality, and genre theory to consider a range of domestic violence stories on screen. The chapter begins with a summary of prototypical patterns of narrative and character in contemporary Hollywood films about abuse and subsequently explores two recent media representations that, while conforming to certain of these patterns, also introduce alternative perspectives: the 2017/2019 Home Box Office miniseries Big Little Lies and French director Xavier Legrand’s 2018 film Custody (Jusqu’ à la garde). I argue that both of these media texts draw on familiar genres that engage audiences not simply to generate sympathy for the abused woman-turned-heroine, but to challenge persistent myths about domestic violence such as that abusers are monsters who never show love towards their partners; that abused women are weak, passive, and the victims of their own bad judgment; that the effects and repercussions of abuse end with the departure of the abuser; that, ultimately, the problem of abuse must be “solved” by the individual; that the “solution” is as simple as leaving; and that there is little as a community or a society that we can do. I conclude that, in different ways and to different degrees, each of these media texts succeeds in making small but significant interventions into the predictable formulas of mainstream Hollywood domestic violence films through narratives that foreground the complexities, contradictions, and dilemmas of abuse.

Publication Title

Gendered Domestic Violence and Abuse in Popular Culture