The most dangerous phrase in the English language is “be a man”. To be a man today, says film-maker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is to fight for success and sex, to reject empathy, and to never, ever cry. The result is depression, anxiety and violence.
Siebel Newsom’s first documentary, Miss Representation, explored the way the media contributes to the under-representation of women in power, and premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. When she was touring with the film she was pregnant with her second child, a son. And as she discussed the need for positive female role models, she inevitably heard from audiences asking: “But what about the boys?” Some $100,000 of Kickstarter donations later, she premiered The Mask You Live In. It has just arrived on Netflix, a fast edit of men talking wearily, and boys confused; an attempt to speak to what she calls the “boy crisis”. As a child, one young contributor says quietly, he used to have a group of close friends. Now he’s a teenager he struggles in “finding people I can talk to… because I feel like I’m not supposed to get help”. “If you never cry,” says another, “then you have all these feelings stuffed up inside you and then you can’t get them out.” In this film, Siebel Newsom calls for a whole new masculinity.