November 4, 2019


It’s complicated: ‘The Hunting’

By Kirsten Krauth
Image from ‘The Hunting’

The Hunting. Image courtesy SBS

This Australian series offers a sophisticated examination of teenage lives online

From the very beginning of the SBS series The Hunting the world it presents is mediated by a screen. We are introduced to a girl (Zoe) chatting with a boy (Andy) online. She looks at him but by design she is also speaking directly to the audience. It sets up an uncomfortable intimacy for the viewer, as boundaries are broken down quickly; there’s nowhere else to look. When both Zoe and Andy start masturbating, it’s clear that this series is going to confront the issues – sexting, consent and agency, image abuse, body- and slut-shaming – head on.

This isn’t surprising, given that the writer and director for three episodes is Ana Kokkinos, whose earlier films Head On, Only the Brave and Blessed revealed an uncommonly sensitive understanding of what it means to be a teenager, especially in diverse Australia. The strength of this series is the ways it makes clear that digital dilemmas are not just about teenage morality: it’s a world where teachers, parents, the police and the legal system are all struggling to keep up.

One of the challenges is that the borders between the virtual and the real are changing so rapidly and shifting all the time. My novel just_a_girl was released in 2013. It was based, in part, on my wondering what my teenage years would have been like if I’d had access to the internet in my bedroom. Through my research, I wanted to understand how much teenage girls revealed on social media and in chat rooms about their interests, but also about things that would affect their safety: where they lived, what they enjoyed doing. I found a naivete and lack of awareness that was surprising even then, not just from teenagers but the grown-ups around them.

My central character, in nature much like Zoe (Luca Asta Sardelis), at one point tries to seduce a much older man by masturbating on camera, and so, using the technology of the time, she records herself and sends this file to him. The difference, six years later, is that these exchanges are now live, less controlled, and a common early sexual experience between teenagers. They can also be recorded by both parties – in The Hunting, it’s Andy (Alex Cusack), who then distributes a screenshot of the video of Zoe, not only to his mates at school but to Our Local Sluts, a website where boys are encouraged to go hunting, capturing and uploading photographs of girls’ bodies without them knowing.

The Hunting examines teenage lives online with sophistication and a sense that all relationships – not just the digital ones – are about trust and constant negotiation. Focusing on families from a range of cultural and class backgrounds, and on both private and public schools, makes for diverse perspectives where every act and outcome – texting a naked photo to a boyfriend, sharing a photo with a mate, uploading a photo on a website – is made distinct and examined with empathy, while acknowledging that there are so many grey areas around culpability.

Dip (Kavitha Anandasivam) comes from a Tamil family and is shamed by her father when it becomes known that she sent her boyfriend, Nassim (Yazeed Daher), an image of her naked body. An act that is out of character for Dip, her family only discovers it when Nassim comes to the front door to apologise for it appearing on the internet. Nassim, whose father is Lebanese and a poet at heart, only sends on the image of Dip to Andy to prove he has a girlfriend. It is Andy who re-distributes it to his mates.

Zoe, who’s being raised by two mums and a dad, and who attends a conservative school where the uniform policy still doesn’t let girls wear pants, is comfortable with her sexuality online but not when it involves actual touching.

All of these teenagers have rich inner worlds linked by the need to feel loved and to belong, as they try to decipher what’s going on in their teachers’ and parents’ lives – an uncertainty echoed in the conversations the grown-ups in the series have about waves of feminism, the #metoo movement and the students’ sexuality. The writers play with the intergenerational dynamic in insightful ways, revealing how technology has changed the landscape and the conversation. At one point, Andy’s father, Nick (Richard Roxburgh), cautions him about being careful and using protection. It takes a while to realise that it’s not condoms that Nick is referring to but VPNs.

But it’s not just the immediacy with which this material can be exchanged that’s changed; so too has the way it’s regulated. With one in three teenagers engaging in sexting, for such a common practice the legal repercussions are murky. While laws vary across the states, and have been relaxed in recent years (so children under 18 are less likely to be charged with child pornography offences), in Victoria, according to Legal Aid, “sexting is a crime if you intentionally distribute an intimate image of a person under 18 to others, even if they agree to the sext message being sent, [and] you can also be charged by police with child pornography offences”. But it’s not a child pornography offence if you are under 18 years old and no person in the photo is more than two years younger than you. However, according to Youth Law Australia, it does remain a crime if you take and distribute a picture or video of someone else’s body in a sexual manner or others engaging in sexual activity if they didn’t know or didn’t agree – as is the case with the images of Zoe in The Hunting.

When Dip and Nassim go to the police to report Andy for re-distributing the naked image of Dip without her consent, they end up being the ones charged – a great surprise not only to them but to their teacher Ray (Sam Reid), who accompanies them to the police station and thinks he’s doing the right thing. In terms of ethical responsibility The Hunting offers no easy solutions, because the system punishes those who are less knowing. It’s Andy’s father, Nick, who has the upper hand, because he’s a lawyer, and he lies and evades throughout.

Teacher friends have said how difficult it is to work in the classroom with the constant distraction of mobile phones and the threat of slut shaming and sexual harassment, not just for the students, but for teachers as well. In the series the rendering of this diverted attention is clever, with texts appearing on screen and shadowed images of dick pics and box shots – yes it’s educational for parents too.

The Hunting is meticulously researched and written, and it’s acted and directed with care and nuance. A surprising number of parents over the generations seem to have experienced a cultural amnesia – hoping against the odds that their children (unlike themselves) will stay away from sex, drugs and getting drunk – choosing instead to ignore the problem until it happens. In the series, the principals at both high schools, from markedly different backgrounds (one a feminist; the other a conservative) choose to focus on achievable goals, skirts down to knees, disciplinary action, well behind in the evolution of technology. Many parents and teachers don’t seem to want to talk about masturbation, online or otherwise, with their kids. They don’t want to think about nude photos of their children or students on the internet. They don’t want them watching porn. But it’s happening, and this series offers up all the possibilities rather than dampening them down. One of its strengths is the ultimate emphasis on teenage girls and how they can have agency. They have the right to express their sexuality freely. Boys too can have the chance to know that intimacy can be a wonderful thing and just for them.

The Hunting is refreshing in that it encourages a shift away from focusing on girls’ behaviour. As Eliza (Jessica De Gouw) shows in the classroom, the girls are all too aware of how their bodies are perceived and how they are continually forced to adjust to society’s expectations; it’s up to the boys and fathers now. One thing remains clear – it’s not all about technology. As Nick takes his son to a strip club in the final episode, and together in some strange bonding ritual they watch a naked woman dance around a pole, the scene becomes a powerful commentary on the limits of toxic masculinity, competitive edge and misogyny for a series that highlights effectively the point at which derogatory attitudes to girls and women are first shaped and framed, and what we all can do about it.


The Hunting is streaming on SBS On Demand.

Kirsten Krauth

Kirsten Krauth is an author and arts journalist. Her novel Almost a Mirror, shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize, will be published in April 2020 by Transit Lounge.

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