In 2015, I came across a notice of a Kickstarter funding page for an independent documentary filmmaker who was looking to raise enough capital to finish work done on her new piece, The Red Pill. A self-proclaimed feminist, Cassie Jaye had previously had success with her earlier forays, including Daddy I Do, and The Right To Love, which (I understand) won awards in various film festivals.
Generally speaking, I don’t do a lot of this funding on Kickstarter, but as I watched the pitch video, I started to think that there might be a chance that Jaye – a confessed feminist – might actually be attempting to do a “here are the facts, you can make up your own mind.” After watching her pitch, I decided to invest $100 in the idea. The investment offered me a copy of the pre-release film, and my name in the credits (yes, I actually have my name in the credits of a movie now – it’s a “Dear diary” moment!).
The Movie That Almost Wasn’t
At the time, Ms. Jaye was looking for $97,000, and by the time I got involved she had raised just under $2500. With only a month in the campaign, and already a week into the fundraising, there was no way she was going to succeed at that rate.
Then something interesting happened.
The feminists tried to no-platform her.
When they started to find out that Jaye wasn’t intending on publishing a biased hit-piece on Men’s Rights, she found herself at the business end of a vicious, vitriolic campaign to discredit and dismiss her. After all, from their perspective, airing the views of “the enemy” without explicitly condemning them is tantamount to traitorism. Feminist blogger David Futrelle – who at that time had never met or talked with Jaye – went for the jugular with accusations and insinuations designed to dissuade people from investing.
Even though Jaye tried to fight off the offensive with a rebuttal, the damage was starting to take its toll. Despite word-of-mouth pleas for assistance and a grassroots attempt at garnering support, Futrelle and similar-minded people were succeeding in suppressing any feminist support. At the halfway point, but only 22% funded, Jaye was struggling with the reality that the Kickstarter campaign was likely to fail.
Likely, that is, until Milo Yiannopoulos wrote an article about her struggle.
The underlying suggestion in all of this, of course, is that she has come to sympathise with the men’s movement and jettisoned a lot of received feminist wisdom.
As a result, Jaye has seen her funding dry up. One observer told Breitbart that grants and funding have been withdrawn and institutional support revoked.
Jaye is concerned about funding the film with angel investors, who she says often want creative control: “We weren’t finding executive producers who wanted to take a balanced approach, we found people who wanted to make a feminist film.”
The second option was funding via grants. Jaye says, “I started to see the bias towards women’s films and against men’s. There are no categories for men’s films though there are several for women and minorities. I submitted the film to human rights categories, and was rejected by all of them.”
According to Jaye, her sincerely-held opinions on the men’s rights movement have made her movie almost unfundable and support has dried up: “Films that support one side and act as propaganda do better than those that try to have an honest look. I won’t be getting support from feminists. They want a hit piece and I won’t do that. ”
Within 24 hours the attention Milo’s article gave her catapulted the project to the near-funded mark. At the end of the day, Jaye managed to raise over $200,000 to complete the film.
And now I get to review it.
“Kind of like trying to understand a snowdrift, one snowflake at a time”
One of Jaye’s interviewees, the controversial Paul Elam, states that understanding the issues surrounding Men’s Rights is complex and difficult to find a starting point into the labyrinthine maze of issues. Jaye evidently had a similar issue when trying to structure the movie, as the themes hopscotch across a number of different topics, including her own existential journey from being a “hard-core” feminist into being… something else.
Ultimately, it is Jaye’s role as a documentarian to tease out a contiguous strand from the Gordian Knot for the audience, and she does an admirable job, even if it’s not quite as successful as it could have been.
Feminism, and the corollary of Men’s Rights, is such an emotional subject that it’s almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation with anyone. Most of the time an impasse is reached within the first few minutes – faster than you can say the phrase, “Weaponized Metacommunication.” Sure enough, many of the interviewees in the film devolve their conversations this way, on both sides of the equation.
The issue is that when people try to “keep emotion out of it,” they begin reciting statistics. The problem lies in the fact that statistics by themselves – especially long strings of numbers – simply make it difficult to resonate as an argument.
Jaye’s documentary takes this approach as well, and while it is useful to have well-sourced data at your fingertips to lend credence to your argument, she deliberately attempts not to make an argument. It’s as if by not challenging either side, she’s remaining ‘neutral’ in her presentation of the material.
Peppered within the documentary are clips from her own “video diaries,” where she expresses her own struggles with challenging her previously-entrenched views. In the movie, it’s the only indication the viewer has that there is any impact on this “he said, she said” approach whatsoever, and serves as a form of character development with which the audience can hopefully identify.
The War Between The Birds and the Beasts
It should be noted that Jaye’s attempts are admirable and laudable. She is attempting to present information in such a way that each side can have its own voice, and the viewer must grant Jaye the concession that she does not explicitly choose one side over the other (although, there is no mistaking the tone of the movie or where Jaye’s personal trajectory is taking her).
One of my favorite Aesop’s Fables is the story of The Bat, The Birds, and The Beasts:
A GREAT conflict was about to come off between the Birds and the Beasts. When the two armies were collected together the Bat hesitated which to join. The Birds that passed his perch said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Beast.” Later on, some Beasts who were passing underneath him looked up and said: “Come with us”; but he said: “I am a Bird.” Luckily at the last moment peace was made, and no battle took place, so the Bat came to the Birds and wished to join in the rejoicings, but they all turned against him and he had to fly away. He then went to the Beasts, but soon had to beat a retreat, or else they would have torn him to pieces. “Ah,” said the Bat, “I see now,
HE THAT IS NEITHER ONE THING NOR THE OTHER HAS NO FRIENDS
It’s a powerful message, because it underscores the reality of needing to choose a side – especially if you have chosen a side.
In her attempt to be neutral, she fails to address some of the more glaring limits of her guests’ claims:
- One feminist reader is giving a speech about how evil Paul Elam is by misquoting an article written by Elam, even as the text of the article is on the screen. Neither Jaye nor Elam address the fact that the speech deliberately contradicts the content of the article. The text is only seen on the screen for a moment, so unless the viewer is a speed reader the impression left is that Elam actually does espouse violence against women.
- Early headlines from A Voice For Men are, indeed, incendiary and at times offensive. Jaye, herself, admits that she was put off by this, but the audience never learns why there was such a discrepancy between what these men write and how they speak. We never see Jaye have an “a ha!” moment, or see any motivation on her part to move beyond the initial impression of MRAs as psychotic. Whatever moment of deciding to give them the benefit of the doubt happens off screen, and off-VO.
- Jaye has done her homework on the statistics of men’s victims, but when her feminist interviewees effectively dismiss them with a wave of the hand, Jaye doesn’t even defend her own findings.
- Some of her feminist interviewees are truly vile. When one sociologist is questioned about the rights of fathers with custody as a result of a divorce, he snidely remarks that they should have been more attentive to wanting to spend time with their children before the divorce, instead of now wanting to spend time with them. Yet Jaye never comments about these sentiments, even during her “video diaries.”
- Some of her Men’s Rights Activists are too angry to be coherent. Regardless of how valid their points may be, on occasion they tend to allow their frustration to overtake their sense of reason, and it’s curious why Jaye (who was also the editor of the film) chose those specific clips to be included.
Jaye’s biggest flaw in this approach was that she allowed herself to believe that her journey from Feminism to Non-Feminism (in whatever form), was the biggest reveal the film had to offer. In repeated interviews she declined to state whether she still called herself a Feminist, as it was a “major plot point” to the documentary.
However, the film is not about her – at least, not ostensibly. Despite the video diaries and a cursory opening montage of her early acting career and frustrations of being a woman in Hollywood (and thus embracing Feminism), there simply isn’t enough of her to associate with from the audience’s perspective. We simply don’t know enough about her journey, because she withholds her own reactions of the incongruities between what her research has shown and the overly-confident delivery of her interviewees, to know whether we are actually paying attention to her “path.”
Jaye’s mental and emotional contortionism makes sense, though, as she was prescient enough to foresee the vitriolic backlash in advance, and her delicate tip-toeing through the content is an obvious attempt to forestall criticism as much as possible. I have to wonder if the attempt helped ameliorate her situation, however. I simply don’t see any of her harshest critics giving her a fair hearing in the first place.
Where The Film Shines, and Why You Should See It
Obviously, the film has some flaws in structure and execution, but where it really shines is when it steps away from the statistics and the emotion, and begins to focus on the deliberate miscommunication between Feminists and MRAs.
In one of the more brilliant edits, Jaye juxtaposes an interview with an MRA immediately with a one-on-one with Chanty Binx, a.k.a “Big Red,” a truly horrific example of the worst Feminism has to offer. After showing active attacks on laws for child custody and preventing laws to stop Paternity Fraud, Jaye cuts to Big Red, whose bizarre counter point is that it’s men’s own fault, because they’re men.
[Disclosure: I cut down some of the filler conversation at the beginning of Big Red’s interview to shorten for time.]
[Update: It appears that Cassie Jaye did not like this review, and issued a Copyright Takedown notice of the 1 minute clip, issuing me a Copyright Strike on YouTube. I honestly thought it was Fair Use, as I am using it as a part of this commentary:
Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.
Apparently Cassie Jaye does not agree, and I’m not sure if I’m should fight it or not]
While they’re not always so cut-and-dry or quickly obvious, these contradictions pepper the film. When Jaye gets her guests to self-contradict like Big Red does here, the audience can easily grasp some of the frustrations that the MRAs (and herself) must have when trying to navigate the turbulent waters of the men v. women divide.
What Jaye wants to do is establish the statistics (i.e., facts), and then flesh out the stories with the discussions between the two different camps. It’s in the latter half of the film where that starts to hit its stride, but once it moves out of a laundry list of complaints and fatality statistics and into-real world examples of policy, she’s on much stronger ground.
Jaye begins showing the systematic and regulated campaign of focus on women and girls and the neglect for men and boys.
One of the most galling examples of what the men in the film are talking about is shown as a clip of a daytime talkshow (you only have to watch the first minute of the clip):
Another is a long treatise on Boko Haram, which has murdered thousands of men and boys (identified as “persons”) in a decade-long campaign of terror, but it’s only when 200 girls are abducted do the overpaid, overwrought celebrities stand with their earth-moving hashtag signs.
The montage is brilliant (though the choice of music is a bit bizarre), and the lack of attention to the full tragedy is very telling.
As an aside, one newspaper clipping she shows thoroughly underscores the entire point, and if you blink you will miss it:
For all the flaws in her narrative style (which, I confess, I come close to nitpicking at times), Jaye has done a very good job of describing the issues at hand, and has demonstrated precisely why the Feminist and Men’s Rights Movements are at odds. Even when there is common ground seen as a starting point, the negation of its existence, importance, or even genesis is a ubiquitous stumbling block.
For example, when Binx chastises MRAs for not focusing on paternity rights and alimony, and tells them to start their own movement to rectify this (which she then mocks for doing so), she turns around and says that they should be embracing feminism because it’s “Patriarchy” that put them there in the first place.
Jaye tries to take a subtle hand throughout, allowing the audience to see for themselves some of the discrepancies and incongruities in each sides’ stories, but they are all there to observant viewers.
I Saw The Film. You May Not Be Able To.
There is nothing like this film anywhere, as it goes against the conventional wisdom of modern, 21st Century narratives. In fact, unless you’ve been following the debate for a while, much of what it contains will be news. In fact, so much of it goes against conventional wisdom (and Celebrity mantra cough Emma Watson cough) that you may even wonder how much of it is true.
Spoiler: It all is.
This may be why there have been concerted efforts to ban the film. Feminists like David Futrelle tried to shame people into not seeing the film when it was announced, and after its initial screenings Feminists tried to ban it from being shown outright.
In Australia, for instance, feminists managed to ban the film from being played in one chain of theatres, and then established additional petitions to have her banned from entering the country:
Unfortunately, the supporters of this film have found another venue, allowing them to spout their hateful propaganda. In a country where 1 in 3 women will experience violence from a man and 2 women a week are murdered by their significant partner we MUST stand against this kind of misogyny. We must make it clear to the world that this kind of disgusting rhetoric spouted by this film and its film-maker Cassie Jaye will not be tolerated in Australia.
As a way to fight back we must go to the source and make sure the MRA film-maker Cassie Jaye is banned from Australia.
Fortunately, both attempts at censorship – before they had even seen the film – failed. Efforts in Sydney, however, succeeded.
In the UK, several venues have pulled the film from their rotation, fearful of being labeled “misogynist.”
Vice.com called the documentary “bullshit” (again, before having screened the film), and explicitly labeled it “MRA propaganda funded by MRAs.” (One can assume this comes from Futrelle’s earlier diatribe).
In Ottowa, Canada, the movie theatre scheduled to show an advance screening canceled the film under accusations of complaints of misogyny. Sponsors and patrons threatened to withdraw their support of the venue if they went ahead with the screening:
Lalonde, one of several who complained to the Mayfair Theatre, called the documentary “misogynistic” though she said has only seen clips, not the entire film. She said a controversial film does not have an inherent right to be screened.
It’s important to note that nowhere in the film does a single interviewee say anything negative about women. Yes, there are anecdotes about how specific men are mistreaded by a specific woman, but no person interviewed ever says anything even close to making comments about women. There simply is not a single misognistic comment made in the film.
Ah, but here you have men talking about men’s issues (Suicide, Paternity Fraud, Divorce, Child Custody, Fatality Rates), so the act of talking about issues related to men are in and of themselves misogyny.
It’s important to note that the film has yet to be seen by the general public. It’s only advanced, licensed screenings that have been permitted in a very, very select venues. The organized campaign to silence Jaye and the film should tell you exactly what you need to know about how much people fear its content, and how little they respect you.
After all, you need to be protected from yourself. There’s no way you can make a determination for yourself whether Jaye has made any points in any persuasive fashion. No, they must no-platform her, and if you want to see such a thing then you need to check your privilege.
God, I wish I was making that up.
The Red Pill is important – not just for the content of the film, but the controversy surrounding its release. This is the first film of which I am aware that doesn’t follow the tired, clichéd (and frankly, overwhelming) virtue-signaling of all others that attempt to discuss women and men.
It’s notable that the film does not demonize Feminism, and resists the efforts to do this at almost superhuman levels. Here’s just one example: despite interviewing Erin Pizzy, who was assaulted with death threats by feminists (who also killed her dog), and forced her to emigrate to America to escape, Jaye avoids telling that part of the story in order to avoid criticism of Feminism. This was, after all, a piece about the issues surrounding men, not the atrocities of Feminists. To that end, she must be given credit for her focus.
Jaye illuminates aspects that – in my experience – the average Joe and Jane simply haven’t heard about, and places a human face onto them. It’s a trope that any time someone talks about an issue surrounding men, there needs to be “equal or better time” given to women’s issues. That is to say, the level of one-upswomanship is not just required, it’s considered misogynistic not to include it.
For the most part, Jaye resists this temptation. Her point is not to try to explain which of the sexes has it worse; her point is to explore the vilified Men’s Rights movement (and it is vilified), and in the process explore her own understanding of her Feminist upbringing.
Thing is, it’s almost like she sought to get compassion from “her” side to help justify continuing to identify as a Feminist. Whenever she brought up the points made by Men’s Rights Activists, she would interview feminist scholars and leaders in the hopes that she could point out that the MRA’s complaints were foundless. Instead, when she received outright negation of the claims (which she had substantiated herself), mocking dismissal of their severity, or even redirection back to Women’s issues as being more important (“We need to solve women’s issues first, because women’s issues affect all people), she was faced to realize that “her” side was the one that doing more obfuscating than enlightening.
My complaints about the structure of the documentary and Jaye’s tepid approach to taking a stand notwithstanding, The Red Pill does a very good job of presenting the salient information about the Men’s Rights Movement and the issues that surround it. What’s specifically noteworthy, in light of the 2016 election cycle (most of her filming happened in 2014 and 2015), is that much of the outright rejection and demonization of the MRM is precisely the reason why Identity Politics took a huge hit at the polls (more on this in another blog).
If you’re a fan of documentaries, or are interested in simply having a conversation about the subject that isn’t overburdened with ad hominem attacks, you should definitely see this film.
The Red Pill will be released March 7, 2017.
7 out of 10