July 8th, 2022
MOVIE: LEAVE NO TRACE
DIRECTED BY: IRENE TAYLOR
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
I was never a Boy Scout myself. The thought of camping, starting fires, and competing in rugged activities with other boys never interested me. This might explain why I teach and write about film and television today: these were my real passions as a child. My parents allowed me to make my own decisions about hobbies and interests, sometimes to a fault. As a result, I never had the experiences associated with being a Boy Scout. Perhaps I made the right choice though given the many stories about sexual abuse by leaders within the Boys Scouts of America. The new documentary, Leave No Trace, pulls together the history of these accusations and how the organization did or did not address the unwanted behavior. It provides an eye-opening and very disturbing account of these tragic circumstances.
Director/Producer Irene Taylor does an admirable job providing a history of the scouts and the significance the organization has had in developing the minds and skills of young boys. Particularly effective here is the use of archival footage featuring almost every U.S. President from Roosevelt to Trump praising the scouts, their good will, and their value to society. Also included are training and promotional videos which emphasize the powerful messages the organization has communicated and some of its basic values such as trust, kindness, and obedience. This is where she begins to find cracks in the system as many leaders used these values as a way to justify their behavior with young boys leading to years of “hidden” sexual abuse.
Through interviews with survivors of various ages and regions of the country, we get a very strong picture of how this abusive behavior occurred and the emotional toll it has taken on each of the victims. Many express their anger, shame, and embarrassment at not coming forward sooner than they did. Taylor also illustrates why: many may have reported the illicit behavior but the Scouts did nothing more than file away those accusations for decades.
It’s extremely disheartening to find from the film that these reports extend all the way back to the 1920s. The organization didn’t share this information and only recently acknowledged that some 82,000 cases have been reported. It’s shocking but also says so much about the value our society has traditionally placed in strong and silent masculinity. As a result, many young boys have been taken advantage of and the organization kept these facts from the public.
The film does a great job of covering the gamut of what the organization has represented from its Norman Rockwell’s connection to its ironic banning of out gay leaders and its filing for bankruptcy in 2020. It isn’t a film about the positive side of being a scout and all of the skills and values it can provide but it exposes the darker side, the cover-ups, and the long-lasting effects the sexual abuse has had on its members.
I have no doubt that there are people who might view this film and see it as much too one-sided. Yet, that is the point of it. We’ve known that parents have enthusiastically sent their boys to scout camps for over a century. The film suggests though that not exposing what has been happening under the surface does a disservice to these families and their children. For people to not be aware of this side is to be blinded from reality. Sure, not ALL scout masters are sexual abusers but with 82,000 reported cases of abuse in the last century, it is definitely something a parent must take seriously. In this sense, Irene Taylor does magnificent work providing the footage, interviews, and reports that make these issues public and allow people to make their own decisions about getting their children involved with the organization.
Leave No Trace does end with a report of the current status of settlements to the victims. Whether this is enough, is left for viewers to contemplate. Taylor isn’t simply expressing what one massive settlement does for victims but she gives us an opportunity to explore the fairness of such cases and to question if we can ever truly trust and obey such an organization again.
LEAVE NO TRACE IS CURRENTLY STREAMING ON HULU
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Dan Pal