Review: The Mask You Live In

By David Michael Newstead.

I’ve wanted to see this documentary for a while now. And last week, I finally got the chance. After watching it though, I felt like I needed to think about the material for a few days. The Mask You Live In touches on a wide variety of issues surrounding masculinity in America. In my view, this ends up being the film’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness since it covers so much territory. But that overview format also means the audience can identify with a specific issue that might resonate the most. These include insights on sports culture, socialization, education, violence against women, hook-up culture, suicide, mass shootings, and more. For me, some observations were applicable to my own life, while many others were not. However, that’s not a criticism so much as it’s a recognition of the vast differences that are possible within American masculinity.

For example, one segment focused on a kind of round table discussion by prison inmates who were all violent offenders, serving life sentences. Their perspectives on how they were raised, what manhood means to them, and how a man solves problems were incredibly interesting, because they embodied where negative forms of masculinity can lead. Related to that, Jackson Katz explained how mass shooters and sex offenders are essentially being manufactured and that they aren’t aliens that grow up separately from the rest of American culture.

And it’s that same culture that’s under scrutiny throughout the film. The basic takeaway being that a hyper-aggressive, emotionally atrophied form of manhood is the root of many of these problems or at least a major contributing factor. One way the film underlines this is by pointing to the significant jump in boys’ rates of suicide as they enter adolescence, which occur at five times the rate of girls’ suicides and are the third leading cause of death among boys.

But far from just discussing the extent of the problem, The Mask You Live In also advocates for a better kind of manhood and shows how we might get there. But for me to really reflect on that, I want to watch the film a second time.

Watch The Mask You Live In

Watching Question Bridge

By David Michael Newstead.

Question Bridge is a film project discussing black manhood in America. I’d heard of it some time ago, but recently I found a showing nearby and I wanted to check it out. What I found was a small, dark room with benches for viewers and a large screen split into five frames.

Each frame contained an ever-changing assortment of black men, young and old – posing questions, voicing perspectives, and talking about their experience on a wide range of topics like stereotypes, achieving personal progress, and growing up in poverty.

First started in 1996, Question Bridge seems to be a conversation that’s absolutely necessary, but has no endpoint. Likewise, it’s something I’m curious about, but I was only there to listen. It’s not my conversation to have. Maybe listening is a good start though.