Responses by Joseph Bonnici, executive creative director/partner, Bensimon Byrne/Narrative
Background: The brief was pretty intimidating: create a film for White Ribbon, the world’s largest group of men and boys against gender based violence, that would help create a global conversation and educate people about toxic masculinity.
Reasoning: The film’s genesis came from the size of the problem we are trying to solve. Toxic masculinity is a massive social issue, and the only way we could do justice to it was by telling a story that was equally as big. It also had to reach people on a personal level. Many young men, parents and teachers will be able to relate to the scenes in the film, and that is imperative. This is just one boy’s story, but these represent the experience of millions of men around the world.
Challenges: Casting. We had to find young male actors of various ages, between infancy and young adulthood, who bore a physical resemblance and could handle the emotionally heavy subject matter. Luckily, Hubert Davis, our Oscar-nominated director from Untitled Films, is a master. He worked with an amazing casting director in Toronto named Shasta Lutz, and they painstakingly put together our young men who form the backbone of this film.
Favorite details: The authenticity of the film, the reaction of the media and most importantly, the public. Toxic masculinity can be a toxic subject as we saw from the Gillette ad, but social sentiment on this film is overwhelmingly positive because we approached this entire film from an educational standpoint. I’m proud that we made a film that will be used as a teaching tool to open a conversation with many young men.
Visual influences: We wanted the film to have a naturalistic feel—to bring you close to the scenarios we were portraying, like you were part of a moment you weren’t supposed to see. We also decided to hang onto shots longer. It was important to portray scenes as realistically as possible. That’s why when the young boy morphs from someone being bullied to the bully himself, we showed the other boy being punched in the head while he was lying on the ground. This is the reality of toxic masculinity and we didn’t want to shy away from it.
Anything new: We have so much progress we need to make to address this issue. When people don’t like something, they hate it with a passion. We had a journalist threaten to write an incredibly negative article, to which we said: Go ahead. It would further the conversation. I also read one article that said the film ended in a cliché moment—an implied assault on a young woman. Over 50 percent of Canadian women report being assaulted since the age of sixteen. I don’t call that cliché; I call that reality.