Like most gay men, the idea of masculinity has always been an enigmatic thing for me. Being gay, you are automatically at odds with the standard masculine expectations that are so esteemed in this country and in so many others in the world- a sports-loving, violent warrior who loves chicks, never shows weakness, or actually, never feels weakness, and is never, ever vulnerable.
To be happy, to live an honest, proud, and fearless life, I had to reject those ideas and discover my own definition of what it means to be a man, or really, just a strong, confident human being. In doing this, I was able to see just how damaging those expectations of extreme masculinity can be to men and thus, to society as a whole.
In my short film, Good Boy, I explore how this kind of toxic masculinity, passed down from father to son, that can stagnate development and cause psychosis, resulting in violence, often times towards those in LGBTQ community, which ripples through communities and down through generations.
Good Boy tells the story of Caleb and Macon, two former high school friends who are reunited when Caleb returns home from the military. The film parallels their tense reunion at Caleb’s homecoming party with flashbacks to a day when the two men were teenagers, playing paintball with Caleb’s younger brother, Eli, and his friend.
It’s clear that Eli and his friend don’t fit into the masculine mold that Caleb and Macon embody so well. A simple kiss between Eli and his friend, witnessed by Caleb and Macon, sets off a violent sequence of events that forever changes the lives of everyone involved, the scars of which still burn during the present day reunion.
Unlike most films that deal with bullying, I decided to tell Good Boy from the perspective of Macon, the bully. My aim was to explore the psychology of someone twisted by intolerant ideas and an uber-masculine upbringing and the essential role of their parents in planting the seeds of repression that eventually lead to psychosis. By the end it’s clear that the real villain of the film is not Macon, but his father, Scott, who covers up his son's violence, reassuring him he's a "good boy."
I’ve had people tell me that Good Boy is a very “masculine” film. There’s paintball, lots of bro-talk about smoking weed, a stoic soldier, father and son construction workers, and bikers playing poker all set against the backdrop of a working class desert community. Hell, even Caleb’s sister Kel could probably kick your ass. Yet, like many aspects of the strict masculine ideal, it’s all a façade. By the end of the film, we’re watching two grown men crying together in a teenage boy’s bedroom, completely vulnerable.
It was my intent to create this intensely masculine environment in order to show just how fragile that masculinity can be. It’s a mask that men are made to wear and act upon, repressing other aspects that they consider weak but which in reality, make a person whole. When that mask eventually falls away, what’s underneath is angry, frightened, and underdeveloped like an animal, blind because it’s lived in the dark its whole life, having never been exposed to the light.
Good Boy is a dark film but it’s that darkness which illuminates a better world. It shows just how destructive one act of intolerance can be on everyone involved, victims and perpetrators alike, from the moment it happens to its lingering, corrosive effects decades later. In this way, we see the full scope of the grim, joyless world that hatred and repression engenders and thus, just how important it is to promote acceptance, non-violence, and Freedom to Be, in our lives and in the lives of our children.