Masculinity does not have to be toxic, but the way it has traditionally been presented and passed down in our society, it is. With an emphasis on stoicism, rejection of activities that have been feminine coded, and a presentation of men as hunters and warriors as the only acceptable standard, masculinity can cause—and most definitely has caused—damage in our society, not just to women but to men.
With her new documentary, We Will Be Brave, Chrisann Hessing follows a Toronto artists’ collective called “The Good Guise”, which was formed by men looking to start conversations around healthy masculinity and to find alternatives to the shame and societal stigmas that come with traditional presentations of what it means to be a man.
The portrait that Hessing paints of these five men, all people of colour or queer (or both) is one of vulnerability. Each of them comes from a background where the ability to be vulnerable with other men is difficult to the point of near impossibility, and the collective provides them the life-changing opportunity to open up. Later in the film, a situation arises where one of them leaves the group for fear of not being able to commit to the work they are doing, and their choice is framed with understanding and empathy; it’s not a loss or a defeat, it’s just time to take some space.
It’s a fascinating look at what we, as a society, should probably know already: speaking from our hearts and revealing our truths, difficult as that may seem, is the way forward. That empathy is the key to healthy masculinity, and it’s interesting to hear these men speak about that in the same spirit.
It also follows them as they create art installations and experiences for their community, portrayed with noble intent. Unfortunately, the impact of these events is never investigated excepting how it affects the The Good Guise themselves. Herein lies the biggest problem with We Will Be Brave: its scope feels too limited. These five men are having healthy conversations, and to their credit, they are making forays into the community, but the full impact is never shown. This documentary may spark to some of that, but it would be nice to know that the mental health check-in phone booth they create early in the film, for example, positively influenced the community at large.
The filmmaking itself is also relatively standard; there are conversations filmed from a fly-on-the-wall perspective and lots of talking head style interviews, but once again, these don’t extend to anyone outside of The Good Guise themselves. Neither does it show them doing the same in their personal lives. One member of the collective is a martial arts instructor, which presents a perfect opportunity to show him paying these ideals forward, but the film does not stretch to that.
The result is that We Will Be Brave has some very meaningful content. The conversations that the men have in the film portray vulnerability and empathy in ways that will be important for many other men to see, but with the scope of the documentary so narrow, it doesn’t have the larger impact it hopes strives for.