When filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom was pondering what the follow-up project for her acclaimed 2011 documentary Miss Representation would be, she was pregnant with her second child, a son, and she kept coming back to something she calls “the boy crisis.” Her research led her to a number of grim discoveries about boys and young men: boys are more likely to be diagnosed with behavior disorders than girls; they are more often prescribed stimulant drugs; are more likely to binge drink; commit more violent crimes; and are three to four times more likely to commit suicide, among other things. Knowing all this,” Newsom explained to The Guardian, “and being pregnant with a son, I knew that not only did I want to make sure he didn’t become one of those statistics, but that I had to help change this culture for everyone.” The result was her 2014 documentary The Mask You Live In, which just debuted last week on Netflix.
The film hinges on a basic concept that many boys are taught at a young age: “Be a man.” Newsom, and indeed some of those seen on camera in her film, argue that those words arranged in that order are the most destructive idea a young male can hear. The phrase means a variety of things, but most notably it’s an order to repress emotion. And the ways in which the consequences of that repression manifest later in life, the experts she talks to in the film say, can have tragic implications. Mass shootings and murders are all attributed to male repression being passed down through the generations. Even since the film’s release two years ago, Newsom sees signs of the boy crisis in stories that pop up in the news. Misogynist responses to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Brock Turner sentencing fiasco are two instances she highlights.
Newsom said many wondered why The Mask You Live In lacked famous people — her previous film featured Condoleezza Rice and Gloria Steinem, among other luminaries, candidly discussing women’s issues. But in her latest film there were no famous faces. “It was largely because they didn’t exist,” she explained. “Men are not speaking publicly about these issues.”
The film is not without its critics. Christina Hoff Sommers who has authored two books on boys, accused the film of ignoring the differences between the genders in an essay for TIME magazine when the film initially came out. Hoff Sommers argued that Newsom is more interested in “re-engineering their masculinity according to specifications from some out-of-date gender studies textbook” than actually helping young men and boys. Hoff Sommers also took the film to task for never questioning any of the experts who appeared in it on the purely cultural idea of manhood that was presented.
Watch the trailer for the film below.
Read the full story at The Guardian.