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Sundance: ‘The Mask You Live In’ Examines America’s ‘Boy Crisis’

There’s a “boy crisis” gripping America, argues the provocative new documentary “The Mask You Live In.”

Society’s narrow definition of what it means to be a man is having a host of unintended consequences, ranging from substance abuse to violence to rape.

“We as a society are failing our boys and I wanted to delve into the concept of ‘how do we create a culture that doesn’t leave them so lonely, isolated and in pain?'” said director Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

“The statistics of boys compared to girls are frightening,” she added. “Boys are more likely to be expelled or kicked out of school, to binge drink, be prescribed drugs, engage in violent crime and to take their own lives.”

“The Mask You Live In” premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It marks a return to Park City for Siebel Newsom, who was previously at the indie gathering with 2011’s “Miss Representation,” which examined media representations of women.

“The Mask You Live In” maintains that many gender traits are a social construct and that the images of men that boys receive at home and from television, films, sports and video games encourages them to be stoic, dominant and to resolve conflicts with violence.

Siebel Newsom, who is married to California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, was inspired to dig into male culture after becoming pregnant with her son Hunter.

“This film is about my son and my husband and my father and all the men I love and admire,” she said. “It allows me to take a step back and reveal the culture that boys and men are fed and to inspire and encourage individuals to take action.”

The film does tackle some familiar sources of liberal outrage such as violent video games and pornography, but Siebel Newsom says she wants people to think about the images these entertainments present, rather than to demand wholesale institutional change.

“Our goal is not to decimate the violent video game industry,” she said. “Our goal is to inspire individuals to look at how they are socializing their sons.”

The hope, Siebel Newsom said, is that “The Mask You Live In” could be integrated into education curriculums. In her own life, she said that she and her husband have worked to encourage her son’s interest in cooking, a pursuit that historically has not been seen as a masculine one. They’ve also emphasized the importance of looking after other family members when they get hurt.

“We want to reinforce that caring is not just a feminine trait,” she said. “My son is always grabbing ice or getting Band Aids and taking care of our scraped knees and elbows. It’s about expanding him as a human being.”

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