The Red Pill (2016) / Documentary
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for language and some disturbing thematic material
Running Time: 117 min.
Cast: Cassie Jaye, Paul Elam, Warren Farrell, Fred Hayward, Katherine Spillar, Michael Kimmel
Director: Cassie Jaye
Review published May 17, 2017
Mostly unknown actress Cassie Jaye takes a turn at filmmaking in The Red Pill, a long but provocative documentary in which she seeks to uncover information about the Men's Rights movement taking root on the internet. Prior to her exploration, Jaye considers herself a feminist who has believed firmly in the fight for womens' rights, so hearing that there are men who claim to be victims who need additional rights runs entirely counter to her view of American society as patriarchal and stacked against women to succeed.
The Mens Rights Advocates (MRAs) are a bit of a rag-tag group as a movement, but they are united in their effort to suggest that there are problems in society that have led to a lesser quality of life for men, who have shorter lifespans on average then women, much higher rates of suicide, and far less legal recourse in such things as parental rights and domestic abuse. Talking head interviews as well as clips from public appearances show us some of the main topics of the leaders within the mens rights movement, such as Paul Elam (coincidentally, 'male' backwards), Fred Hayward and Warren Farrell.
The "red pill" of the title refers to an MRA metaphor derived from The Matrix as to whether people will choose to live in blissful ignorance in the world as we usually perceive it (Morpheus' blue pill), or whether to take the 'red pill' and see the world in a new light of how it really works. Jaye likens her journey into men's rights as 'going down the rabbit hole', a la "Alice in Wonderland", into a realm in which things are hard to decipher because they largely lie outside the issues in public discussion. It's an underground movement that very few seem to want to hear.
The film tries to stay balanced in its approach at getting both sides of the argument out there, though there is some personal bias employed by Jaye in trying to give us her feelings as she journeys into the realm of the MRAs and whether or not she can sympathize with their positions, which are generally considered anywhere from misguided to hateful, depending on the person making the judgments. Radical feminists are shown as being quite vocal in trying to shut down the MRAs whenever and wherever they may appear in public discourse, often associating them as they might a member of the Nazi Party or Ku Klux Klan.
While Jaye's experience with the MRAs may be personal, she does lend an air of credibility because she's a woman making this film, and also she is actively struggling with her own feelings as she is exposed to lots of new information out there that she had either disregarded as male blow-back for feminism, or had not been allowed to understand because others have labeled it all as misogynist hate speech. What the men are asking for, in some way, is for equal rights, both for men and women. Currently, only men can be drafted into the military, and have little to no say in what happens with the fetus once a woman is pregnant, or even once the baby is born. However, as mostly men are the ones that have made the laws, and they are the politicians that make the wars that send young men to war to die, notions of men being oppressed are likely to not hold much water beyond the MRA rank and file.
If there's one thing the film throws out a the beginning but isn't quite dealt with, it's the high degrees of real misogynistic language women often see and experience on the internet from men on the discussion forums of these Men's Rights Activist groups. It's something that the men interviewed aren't pressed about (not that these statements came from them), but it is certainly something that one can't seem to avoid when researching the MRA stances. The men interviewed here are measured and approachable, and while they may not be responsible for the vitriol spewed toward women from their supporters, they also don't have the opportunity to try to quell or condemn the hatefulness coming from their sides. Even those who may be swayed by the rather clawless leaders shown in the men's movement may find themselves recoiling back to their prior ways of thinking once they get a taste of bitter misogyny found by many of those willing to side on that side of the cause.
While feminists may likely continue to disregard The Red Pill as unconvincing, Jaye is successful at showcasing the intentions of the MRAs as not quite as hateful as they have been labeled by those who are against their movement. While society would still seem to be a primarily uphill battle for women to achieve equality, the film does effectively showcase a few health-related areas in which men are having a difficult time in trying to express their own feelings toward fundamental issues, leading to a diminished quality of life or injustice in the law. Your own thoughts may not change on the subject, but, at the very least, The Red Pill does raise some challenging questions, though for many, the biggest question is why whether all defined gender roles might need to be put to bed for the sake of true equality, and whether this can ever be achieved.
©2017 Vince Leo