The Mask You Live In

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Mask You Live In Movie Poster Image
 Parents recommend
Moving documentary examines what it means to be a man.
  • NR
  • 2015
  • 97 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The film's entire point is to examine and evaluate how boys are taught to be "men" -- and how the traditional/stereotypical definition of "manliness" can actually be damaging to both boys and adult men. Shows ways that children can be raised to reject outdated/limiting roles and help boys forge new identities as men, husbands, friends, and fathers. Empathy and integrity are major themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Many of the interviewees share heartfelt stories about other men who had a strong, positive impact on their lives -- as well as intense stories about men who weren't there for them or whose expectations led them to believe they weren't good enough. The featured teachers, athletes, and other experts who make it their mission to help boys fully express and understand themselves are extremely admirable.


Discussions about gang violence, murder, dead parents, bullying, and physical abuse within families. Montages include extremely gory clips from violent video games, footage from violent movies (including references to sexual violence, such as rape, assault, and bondage), news snippets related to domestic abuse/fighting, and references to sports violence. Glimpses of weapons (guns, more). References to/talk of suicide and self harm.


Discussion of the widespread availability of online pornography, including montages with some graphic visuals (the most extreme bits are blurred out) from both porn movies/websites and Hollywood movies (The Hangover, Anchorman, etc.). Discusses how boys are socialized to objectify women, how porn facilitates this, and how it all can contribute to a culture that at best tolerates, and at worst, encourages sexual violence. References to unprotected sex, talk of of sex/intimacy, analysis of "hook-up culture."


Frequent strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "d--k," "f-g," "bitch," "balls," "get laid," and more. Candid conversations touch on the words boys use to insult each other ("sissy," homophobic slurs, etc.).


Many mainstream movies and video games are discussed/featured, but it's by no means product placement.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of discussion about how and why teenage boys start to drink and take drugs. Partying montages include scenes from movies, TV shows, and real life; they're drinking and taking drugs and in some cases are clearly very wasted. Drinking/drug paraphernalia shown; mention of smoking pot, drinking, and arrest for drug possession.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Mask You Live In (from the folks behind Miss Representation) is a deeply affecting documentary about how boys are directed to grow up to be "men" -- and what it really means to be a man in today's society. There are eye-opening interviews with experts and inspiring teachers/athletes/other role models, as well as with young boys, teens, and men who discuss their own experiences, both positive and negative; they often share moving, emotional, intense memories and feelings. Expect frank discussion (and sometimes-graphic montage footage) related to sexuality, homophobia, sexism, pornography, abuse, suicide, and rape, as well as many clips that show young men (and women) drinking and taking drugs to the point of being completely wasted. There's also lots of strong language, including "f--k," "s--t," and many of the sexually charged slurs boys and men use to denigrate one another's masculinity. All of this material is accompanied by sobering statistics, but the ultimate message is one of hope; if kids can be raised to reject outdated/limiting roles, we can all help boys forge new identities as men, husbands, friends, and fathers. A slightly shorter/less edgy "Youth Version" of the movie is also available; visit the film's website for information. Note: Common Sense Media's founder/CEO, Jim Steyer, is one of the movie's interviewees.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bytechmomYo November 26, 2020

Understand boys and men' emotions

Great documentary video shows how boys and teens deal with their emotions. What should be our social values? How teens see themselves? What can educators do?
Go... Continue reading
Adult Written byJennifer H. November 15, 2018

Powerful and Important

These are powerful and frank discussions about what our society expects of boys and men, and how we can give them a healthier self image and encourage better re... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bydoxl4 September 13, 2020

It's acc pretty decent

Fights for core values and the emotional wellbeing boys - a group that society has not allowed any semblance of vulnerability.

Overall, breaking the barriers a... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE MASK YOU LIVE IN is a moving, often intense look at how boys grow up to be "men" -- and what it means to be masculine and manly in today's society. The film starts from the premise that the traditional image of strong, tough guys is the product of a culture that tells boys they can't cry, can't be "sissies," and must always show an impenetrable exterior to the outside world. And then it shows how that perspective has led to generations who aren't in touch with their feelings and have trouble connecting emotionally -- which in turn leads to everything from failed relationships and school trouble to abuse and self hatred. Through in-depth interviews with experts and dozens of discussions with boys and men of all ages, director Jennifer Siebel Newsom shows how hard it is for boys to navigate this challenging terrain. But she also offers plenty of reasons for hope as her subjects explain how they're trying to raise the next generation of men differently.

Is it any good?

Newsom takes on a tough subject with confidence, which makes Mask incredibly effective and moving. It starts with young boys and how they're trained to hide their softer, more empathetic selves, then delves into the turbulent teen years and talks about the issues and experiences that complicate men's experience of being men -- including drugs, drinking, porn, feminism, fatherhood, and what's referred to as "rape culture." It's the same approach Newsom used so effectively in her earlier film, Miss Representation, which looked at the media's impact on girls and women.

What what makes The Mask You Live In so effective are the candid, heartfelt stories that the interviewed boys and men share about their lives, as well as the sheer number of them. The details change for each subject, but the overall message is the same, and it gets hammered home time after time, eventually taking on more and more meaning: We need to find a way to let boys maintain their sense of selves without having to hew to an outdated, irrelevant stereotype. Our future depends on it. Mask is at times difficult to watch, but it's a must if we're to raise a new generation of emotionally healthy young men.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about being a man. What does it mean to be "manly"? Did your opinion change after watching The Mask You Live In ? How are boys currently taught to be men? Can/should that change?

  • What is The Mask You Live In saying about traditional gender roles? How have these roles changed over the decades? How might they continue to change? What will impact that?

  • What makes a celebrity or character a positive role model for boys? Who are your role models, and why?

  • The Mask You Live In includes lots of footage of sexuality, violence, and drinking/drug use. Does it glamorize these topics in any way? What makes its treatment of these topics different than the movies/shows/life experiences they originated from? What are the consequences -- both stated and implied?

  • How does The Mask You Live In promote empathy and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love great role models for boys

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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