Making “The Red Pill,” Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema opening-night film, was a difficult and extraordinarily personal journey for documentarian Cassie Jaye.
When Jaye founded Jaye Bird Productions in 2008, her goal was to produce feature-length documentaries that would expand the mind and encourage critical thought on politically polarizing issues. But with “The Red Pill,” her exploration of the mysterious and highly polarizing world of the Men’s Rights Movement, Jaye fought to fund, make and screen the film amidst more backlash than she had ever experienced.
For Jaye, whose previous feature docs explored abstinence-only programs in America (“Daddy I Do”) and marriage equality (“The Right to Love: An American Family”), the subject matter was controversial but, nevertheless, had strong bases of support among a variety of potential funding sources. She was able to obtain funding through grants and “angel” contributors.
For “The Red Pill,” previous funding sources were not interested because of the subject matter. Jaye, even though a well-established filmmaker, had to resort to an online Kickstarter campaign, used more often by individuals mounting a project for the first time. Jaye said she had a potential funding source from a feminist organization, but chose not to use it in order to have no strings attached. “I knew I needed to maintain creative control in order to create a balanced film,” said Jaye.
Even after the film was completed, there was pushback from mainstream media reviewers, feminist groups and movie houses that canceled screenings.
For Jaye, a cautious filmmaker who prides herself on her methodical and balanced approach in creating her projects, making “The Red Pill” became a far more personal journey than she had anticipated — challenging some of her most deeply held beliefs as a feminist, and forcing her to confront and understand points of view often couched in inflammatory and off-putting confrontational language and headlines.
In each of her projects, she selects a subject that is often misunderstood by a broad segment of the public. But with Men’s Rights Activism, the polarization was intense. She spent a year making the film, interviewing 44 people and shooting 100 hours of film. She interviewed leaders of the MRM, both male and female, and listened to rebuttals by leaders and scholars within the modern-day feminist movement.
Throughout the filming, Jaye documented her personal struggle to openly listen to and understand points of view of the Men’s Rights Activists rather than react from her feminist perspective. Jaye said she has kept video diaries since she was 18, documenting her experiences. In “The Red Pill,” she interweaves those personal insights with the film interviews. She learns about what the MRAs call “Male Disposability,” the theory of why men make up the majority of workplace deaths and injuries, and suicides, and have shorter life expectancy than women. She also explores father’s rights issues including child custody, paternity fraud and pregnancy “entrapment,” as well as domestic-violence laws that men claim favor female over male victims.
The “red pill” term derives from the feature film “The Matrix,” when Neo chooses the red pill to experience reality as it is rather than a well-crafted illusion. Jaye said making the film proved to be a red pill for her, breaking traditional norms and reshaping her own reality.
“I do believe this is an extremely balanced film,” said Jaye. “It is not a propaganda piece. I’ve made it so that the audience can decide and make its own determination. My hope for this film is to educate audiences on issues that face men and boys in our society today, and analyze why the current gender discussion is not fully inclusive. I don’t have all of the answers, but I believe the first step in the right direction is asking the uncomfortable questions. I know this film may cause visceral reactions in some people but I now believe that if you aim to understand, you will never be offended.”
But since reaction, especially by groups and individuals who have not yet seen the film, has been intense, Jaye does have concerns about her future. “I definitely wonder if I’ll ever work again and that reaction could affect my future work,” she said. “But I sleep well each night knowing that the film was an accurate reflection of what I experienced. It’s the most important work I’ve done in my life.”
“The Red Pill” plays at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, as IIFC opening-night film at the Rustic Theatre. It will be released worldwide in March and available on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, and in wider theatrical release.
“If only we could talk with each other as human beings without using labels, whether a feminist or an MRA, a Trump or Hillary supporter, or as a member of one tribe or another,” said Jaye. “But I don’t see that happening.”