Spring Break. That halcyon bacchanal advertised to college students as a time of wanton hedonism and open sexuality. It’s also become the breeding ground for rampant sexual assault and rape. If you’re a man Spring Break is a proving ground; for women it’s a battlefield. Director Benjamin Nolot sets out to look at spring break double standards in Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution, available to stream on Netflix. Whether you dreamed of going to a spring break destination or went and hated it Liberated is a documentary about the new generation of spring break participants.
Audiences know what to expect the minute they hear the words “spring break.” Young college students gyrating on the beach, women in various states of intoxication flashing their breasts for beads or, in many cases, nothing more than the hoot of the male crowd. It’s almost laughable to think that the “future leaders of America” could be the ones you see doing shots and entering themselves in bikini contests.
Nolot’s documentary takes its time getting started, and if you aren’t committed to the venture it could have derailed entirely as he struggles to find the perspective he wants to take. A ham-fisted introduction with little children sets the tone that it’s only through adolescence that youth are indoctrinated into gendered, sexualized roles that make spring break hijinks possible. The first section of the documentary revolves around “hookup culture” and the idea that men engage in a pack mentality when it comes to sexual encounters with women. This is showcased through interviews with Shay, an Australian college student intent on bedding as many women as possible.
Shay is the quintessential example of the new breed of male: handsome and confident to the point of arrogance. He always has a line handy and the frustrating thing is how many people are aware of his apathetic douchery. His friends tell the camera he’s deliberately responding in a way to make himself look good, yet has no qualms about taking photos next to a bedroom bloodstain from his latest virginal conquest. With such an emphasis on him it’d be easy to assume Liberated is about putting men on blast, or making the audience sick from his male privilege. Thankfully the film finds its feet though it is surprising that we don’t return to Shay and ask him to explain his behavior in the wake of what the audience knows about female experiences of spring break.
Once Shay’s story is perceived as over Liberated goes the standard route of interviewing talking heads alongside various women about spring break. Unlike Shay, whose spring break is fun and filled with sex, a rapid-fire series of clips show women admitting they feel unsafe, recounting being assaulted by men, and generally discussing how spring break is terrible. One of the interview subjects, Kimmie, and a friend go to a bikini contest where, despite dancing for male consumption, they’re badgered to show their breasts.
The various talking heads discuss how pop culture has “pornified” everything, and though the assertions aren’t revolutionary they demand to be heard. Several of the women refused to have their faces shown or admit they’ll “get in trouble” at their school if they’re caught doing terrible things, yet the men interviewed freely admit to putting their hands on women inappropriately. What’s surprising is that the movie doesn’t seek to offer solutions or suggestions short of “don’t go on spring break.”
Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution won’t light the world on fire. It’s not An Inconvenient Truth for spring break, but it is a documentary audiences should see. IN a world where women’s bodies are still seen as being for male consumption, it’s important to realize how pop culture and spring break have furthered that discussion and has created physically unsafe environments to engage in assault.
Liberated is available to stream via Netflix.