I didn’t realize until I was a little bit older that what we all saw thirty years ago this week in Back to the Future was a sexual assault, but I recognized the hero moment immediately. When George McFly opens the car door to find bully Biff Tannen with his hand up Lorraine Baines’s dress, he is shaken, but doesn’t move. Despite Biff’s attempts to scare him into leaving, George stays. “Are you deaf, McFly? Close the door and beat it,” he says. George stands firm. “No, Biff. You leave her alone.”
George doesn’t save the day with his weak punch that Biff immediately blocks, nor the more powerful one he later uses to knock out his tormentor. He takes a moment to savor the victory over Biff, but George’s real evolution comes when he stops the assault. I recall getting the message immediately, understanding that I’d watched George stop an attempted rape. I didn’t know the term “bystander intervention,” but I knew what it looked like to see someone do the right thing.
As a kid just out of the fourth grade, I learned from that Back to the Future scene that it was the responsibility of boys and men to stop sexual assaults and rape. But given how that the scene is set up in the film, I wish we could go back in time and make it vanish.