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Film screening explores what it means to ‘be a man’

It’s tough being a boy.

Or so the documentary “The Mask You Live In” asserts to its audience. According to the statistics featured throughout this documentary, boys and young men are more likely than girls and young women to be kicked out of school, binge drink, take drugs, engage in violent crime and commit suicide.

The documentary was shown on Tues., Mar. 31, inside the Graduate School of Business, followed by a Q&A with a four-person panel, including Ashanti Branch — the founder and executive director of The Ever Forward Club.

The Ever Forward Club is an after-school mentorship program based in Oakland that aims to guide young men to achieve their goals.

“I think what our work does is it provides young men the tools, so that when there is a conflict, when there is some kind of harm [being] caused to someone … they have better schools [which are] perfect … to deal with the situation,”  Branch said about The Ever Forward Club.

The 97-minute documentary, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, is the latest film by director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, who previously directed the 2011 film “Miss Representation” — a documentary that examined media representations of women. Newsom, who is married to California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, was inspired to dig into American male culture after becoming pregnant with her son.

“The Mask You Live In” contends that images of men that boys and young men receive from television, films, sports and video games — and thus, from American society — encourages them to be stoic, dominant and to only resolve conflicts through violence.

The documentary opens with a voice-over by Joe Ehrmann, coach, mentor and former NFL player.

“The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he is told to ‘be a man,'” Ehrmann said in the documentary.

After watching the documentary, Oakland Technical High School student Cleo Milton closed the Q&A panel’s round of questioning with his own personal anecdote.

“It was definitely interesting ’cause I feel like a lot of things I saw in there, I did kind of experience,  and I guess I would say I’m still dealing with now. In some ways, I wished I had seen this years ago,” Milton said.

Lizzy Schultz, current student at Mills and the program director of The Ever Forward Club, said that she and Branch have been attempting to connect with the Mills campus. They have been wishing to start a dialogue about how American culture’s narrow definition of masculinity is not only harmful to boys and young men, but is also often correlated to the oppression of women, trans people, and the gender non-binary and gender fluid communities in today’s society.

“I met Ashanti [Branch] through a class at Mills, so it just felt right that we started to connect the dots, and I think that there is so much [dialogue] on campus about gender,” Schultz said. “I think that we have a lot of empowerment for women on this campus, and [yet] there is still this gender tension. In a lot of ways, I think that this film provides a powerful introduction into that.”

Not only did various psychology, sociology, neuroscience, sports, media and education officials weigh in in this documentary, but also boys and young men from across the country. Among these participants, the film also featured Branch and local members of The Ever Forward Club.

After an audience member mentioned the film to be intense, Schultz agreed.

“It’s intense; it’s definitely an intense film, but I think it’s important,” Schultz said. “The hope is to spread the awareness.”

When asked if Mills will have a future screening of the film, Schultz expressed her aspirations and determination.

“I’m hoping that we can continue to show this screening now that we have the education licenses to the film, now that we can show it in classes … to show it to a larger audience,” Schultz said.

For more information about the documentary, visit its page on the Representation Project’s website.  The site includes statistics used throughout the documentary, the documentary’s trailer, curriculum and other resources.

For more information about Ashanti Branch and The Ever Forward Club, visit their website.