Disclosure: This is not an unbiased review. The maker of this documentary describes how she went on a journey – the process of ‘swallowing the red pill’. This expression refers to a scene from The Matrix where Keanu Reeves is offered a red pill that will open his eyes to the true reality that surrounds him, and is often used by members of the Men’s Rights movement to explain what it feels like to start looking at gender issues from a male perspective and without a feminist lens. I write this review from the point of view of someone who has also had this experience.
The story of The Red Pill begins back in 2013, when feminist documentary maker Cassie Jaye decided to look into the men’s rights movement (MRM), after having previously made films dealing with women’s rights issues such as reproductive rights. She thought this would be a Louis Theroux style film-them-talking-and-show-everyone-what-idiots-they-are affair. She was wrong.
Cassie Jaye did her homework. She may have been biased to start with – partly because when people start trying to figure out the MRM a lot of what they initially uncover has been put there by feminists who have worked very hard to make sure you feel too sick to scratch any deeper. But unlike the journalists who only put a few days or weeks into their research, Jaye invested years. One thing I can categorically say as someone who is familiar with the communities she was investigating is that she has taken the time to figure out who the main personalities are, and to understand their messages. Perhaps most importantly she does not make the mistake of conflating all aspects of online opposition to feminism with men’s rights activism. So she’s well ahead of the BBC there.
The film includes video diaries made by Jaye throughout the process. This was not her original intention, but part of the way through the filming she realised that this is where the real story lay. She was listening to the men and women of the MRM on subjects such as domestic violence, custody, workplace deaths, male genital mutilation and realising that they have a point.
When these individuals pointed out the ways in which feminist theory and activism misunderstands and misrepresents the problems faced by both sexes and in many ways makes the situation worse, she was shaken, in tears even. She felt her feminist side objecting – there was a part of her that did not want to believe. So she decided to interview some prominent feminists on men’s issues in order to provide some balance – it’s left for both Jaye and and the audience to make a choice about who they think makes the most sense.
It’s also important to remember that there’s another story here. One that’s not told in the film but would make for a fascinating documentary in itself. The story of what happened to Cassie Jaye after the filming was completed. Once it became clear that she was going to give the MRM a fair hearing, something mysterious happened. All her funding dried up. Suddenly the interest was gone – and of course while there were plenty of places to apply for funding for female focused projects there was diddly-squat out there to help her make films about men.
What she hadn’t quite realised is just how far the feminist establishment will go to preserve their stranglehold on the narrative – as I’ve blogged about before female documentary makers have had to cancel their projects and waste years of work because they were intending to present a balanced view of these issues and give the MRM a fair hearing.
According to Jaye any help from feminist quarters would have meant surrendering full editorial control, which would have resulted in a propaganda piece; ‘I won’t be getting support from feminists. They want a hit piece and I won’t do that’. She decided to run a Kickstarter campaign, and with a few useful plugs from people like Milo Yiannopoulos it funded in no time.
Cue utter outrage from many members of the feminist community accusing Jaye of making MRA funded propaganda… despite the fact that Kickstarter backers have zero creative control – and funnily enough there was no mention of how feminist funding would have similarly rendered the Jaye incapable of balance and logic. They really came after her with false allegations and all sorts of dirty tricks:
This campaigning has not stopped. Since the film started screening in various cities there have been campaigns to have it pulled from cinemas, with at least one success. Having watched the film it is clear to me that those who set up petitions such as this had no idea about the film’s actual content and made statements about the movie that were entirely false. Reviews in mainstream publications have been similarly agenda driven.
The consternation among feminists circles is understandable. It is hard to imagine a filmmaker from whose lips this movie’s message could be more undermining of the feminist narrative: She is a millennial woman who works in the arts and comes across as highly talented, kind and genuine. Cassie Jaye started the process a perfect feminist, and her previous projects demonstrate there was nothing false about her wish to highlight important issues. Many viewers will be forced to confront the fact that the people of the MRM don’t hate women. That’s why many feminist campaigners are trying desperately to silence the message of a young female filmmaker because her voice isn’t saying the right things.
Cassie Jaye’s is an exercise that has shown exactly where the priorities of the interested parties lie, and for that reason alone (as well as many others) it is worth watching.
The Red Pill will be screening in Cambridge on December 3 and London on December 8.
The film will be available on VOD and DVD worldwide in early 2017.