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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is accompanied by sobering statistics, but the ultimate message is one of hope; if kids can be raised to reject outdated/limiting roles, we can all help boys forge new identities as men, husbands, friends, and fathers.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.
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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?
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