New film depicts the oversexualization of children that has seeped into all corners of our society.
If you’ve spent any amount of time on YouTube or Facebook or Vine or any of the other various social media outlets, there’s a good chance you’ve already run across one of the images which opens up director Darryl Robert’s latest documentary, “America The Beautiful 3.” It’s a cell phone video showing a young boy and girl, presumably not yet old enough to enter first grade, grinding away to some hip hop. In case you’ve never heard of it, grinding (or twerking, take your pick) is a dance style in which the girl bends over while the boy simulates having sex with her from behind. The hokey pokey it ain’t.
What makes the video even more disturbing, at least to sane people, is that a large number of adults are standing around laughing and cheering the kids on. Based solely on what we see in the clip, everyone on screen appears to be blissfully complicit in the sexualization of the two preschoolers in their care.
To this scene of dumbfounding domesticity, Roberts overlays the voice of President Obama speaking at the Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil. “This is our first task, caring for our children,” the President opines, “If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.” By opening with the imagery which it does, it’s clear that “America The Beautiful 3” has indeed judged us as a society… and found us wanting.
From that somber beginning, Roberts then takes viewers on a nationwide tour to visit a variety of subjects. He attends a beauty pageant for toddlers in rural Georgia, talking with some of the mothers about why they feel it’s appropriate to dress their daycare-aged daughters up in sexually provocative outfits. He interviews a number of poor unwed teen mothers in Chicago, discussing with them the pressures they felt to begin having sex at an early age. He talks with people involved in the production of pornography in Los Angeles, as well as a group of teenaged boys addicted to such X-rated material.
Large segments of the documentary are devoted to following the stories of two very different teenage girls: Sydney Spies, an aspiring actress/model who made national headlines when the photos she submitted to her high school yearbook were deemed too racy for publication, and Cali Linstrom, Roberts’ own intern who organized a boycott against clothier Abercrombie & Fitch after that retailer’s CEO publicly stated that his company was only interested in catering to teens who were thin and cool.
With such a large number of disparate segments, the narrative comes across somewhat scattershot and unfocused, a criticism that’s been leveled at Roberts’s style as a documentarian in the past. It’s also true, as some other reviewers have noted, that there’s not a lot of new information in “America The Beautiful 3.” Both Spies and Linstrom’s stories received heavy rotation on cable news outlets and all of the other topics have individually been covered in more depth elsewhere.
But as valid as such criticisms might be from a technical standpoint, it has to be said that Roberts’s choice to lump all of the stories together in one place does serve to drive home the larger point of the film, that the oversexualization of children is a sickness that has seeped into all corners of our society regardless of race, religion or status. Sure, something like “Toddlers & Tiaras” may have provided a more detailed look into the mindset of the moms involved in child pageantry, but by showing the activity in the same context as blatantly sexual advertising aimed at children, Roberts does a convincing job showing how such things all come together to form a greater societal problem.