The truth about The Red Pill is that you’ll already know if this is the kind of documentary you want to watch. You’ll have heard it shouted about on news programs, with whispers shared on its dubious politics in dark corners of social media. You may have even read how it was funded by the very people its investigating, which is certainly a headscratcher in terms of conflict of interest. Its premise is simple: actress turned filmmaker Cassie Jaye delves into the world of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs) and, whilst in deep discussion with numerous members, begins to question her own feminist beliefs. It’s a sort of coming of age tale for the moderate right. Returning to the reputation that precedes it, you’ll no doubt have heard about The Red Pill being chased out of cinemas that have bowed to protests from those who feel Jaye’s findings are too confrontational. Whilst The Red Pill doesn’t overtly champion the problematic elements of the MRA movement, neither does it question them.
Most documentaries set out with an agenda, whether it be to push a political message ala Fahrenheit 9/11 or expose an injustice as seen in the heart-breaking Silence in the House of God. Boldly, The Red Pill attempts do both, succeeding in neither. Things are off from the start when Jaye drops her initial agenda soon after she gives her introductions. Having discussed her own feminist views, Jaye touches upon rape culture and the likes of Paul Elam, the founder of A Voice for Men, who deliberately elicit responses from people by touching upon these topics with an acidic tongue. Jaye expresses dismay at his caustic and problematic words and sets out to question him, and others, about their views. And whilst she certainly gives them a platform to share their thoughts, she never fulfils on her promise to question them on the things they’ve said. In fact, she never questions anything anyone says, from the left or right. Her only real thoughts on the matter are expressed through staged ‘private’ video diaries that purport to showcase her drifting from the ideals she held close to her heart. Videos that look anything but candid. There is no long winding path to anti-feminism; Jaye cuts her chords to the movement so quickly, it’s surprising it didn’t flick her in the eye and blind her.
Put bluntly, one of the biggest issues with The Red Pill is how badly it’s put together. Whilst there’s some traction to be had dissecting the extremism that can be found on both sides of the political spectrum, The Red Pill buries it under hearsay and second hand tales. There are too many occasions where someone heard something about someone else that someone else did which led that first person to decide that feminism is wrong. It’s the kind of rhetoric you’d find on website comment boards. Whilst watching, I was reminded constantly of documentaries like Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, a Ben Stein vehicle that attempted to shed light on a prejudice that supposedly runs deep in America’s education system in which educators who believe in creationism are persecuted. In actuality, the film was a hodgepodge of edited interviews and quotes taken out of context, where the funniest moment came from Stein trying to convince his audience that atheist pit-bull Richard Dawkins really believed in creationism. Likewise, there’s Are All Men Paedophiles?, a troubling documentary that massaged the facts to lead its audience to a predefined conclusion and made everyone who saw it want to have a scalding hot shower. Okay, The Red Pill didn’t make me want to have a shower, but it did take me a while to stop shaking my head. Statistics are twisted, fingers are wagged, lines are drawn but nothing is said.
Regardless of what side of the political fence you sit on, you don’t have to go too far to engage with others who aren’t as likeminded. Type any number of political hot potatoes into Google and you’ll find your curiosity quenched. The Red Pill might claim to offer an alternative viewpoint, but it says nothing that hasn’t already been heard a million times before. In my eyes, it doesn’t invite conversation, it screams in an echo chamber with its fingers in its ears, unpacking nothing and offering even less. It deals in absolutes, without any shades of grey, that simply drives the wedge further between ‘us and them’ whilst dealing out blame using the same broad strokes it accuses its opposition of doing.