Bing Liu's Documentary Minding The Gap Offers Hope That the Vicious Cycle of Toxic Masculinity Can Be Broken

“I feel like a clown. You paint up your face and you put on your act for everybody, and you let that act become you,” says Zack, drinking one of the many beers he consumes throughout the entirety of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Minding the Gap.

This feeling of having to put on an act is just one of the many effects of toxic masculinity in this documentary. The film takes us through a few years in the lives of two of director Bing Liu’s skater friends from Rockville, Illinois, who have been deeply affected by the violence and abuse they endured during their childhood. Zack is a new father who resorts to alcoholism to deal with his trauma, which nearly destroys his family and working lives; Keire is a young black man trying to leave the past behind and figure out life while still making sure he has time to skate. We watch as both men try to break the cycle of abuse, defy society’s idea of what a man should be – macho, domineering – and leave behind their trauma and the dead-end town they grew up in to start their lives anew.

Keire, one of the main subjects of Minding the Gap, is a young black man trying to move on from his difficult childhood and find his place in the world.

Director Bing Liu shows just how pervasive toxic masculinity is in so many people’s lives – it's pervasive in his friends' lives, as well as into his own. Liu’s stepfather frequently abused him, and, though at first he didn’t anticipate incorporating his own story into the film, his personal experience makes the film all the more resonant. One of the most heartrending moments in the film is when Liu interviews his mother, who was also often the target of her husband’s fury. When Liu asks her the all-too-familiar question so many victims of domestic abuse are asked – why didn’t you just leave him? – Liu’s mother simply, tearfully responds, “I wish I could’ve been stronger.”

Skating comes into play like the way these boys survived their young adult lives – the way they defied their abusive fathers and escaped their difficult home lives. Skating gave them the emotional release they desperately needed, even if the emotion they expressed most often was rage – at least they were just taking it out on a board. The skate park became their home away from home where they could simply be who they truly were without pretending, and it’s still the place they seek that refuge. This is beautifully illustrated by footage from the boys’ teenage years, and by Liu’s handheld cinematography that allows the viewer to feel the adrenaline rush alongside them: you skate with them under the overhangs of parking garages, through the streets of Rockville, slaloming in between cars as they evade the notice of the police.

The film follows Zack as he tries to be a good father for his son, something his own father couldn’t give him.

The film masterfully handles the topic of toxic masculinity, a topic that rarely receives the attention it deserves in a society where domestic violence is often a precursor to mass shootings and the link between sexual assault and toxic masculinity has yet to be addressed or even understood. The film also comments on the link between toxic masculinity and police brutality, racism, and misogyny, showing that the issue is not easily defined and is often informed or driven by other inequalities.

The film does offer hope that toxic masculinity can be overcome and that one can start life anew. This hope is embodied in the warm, youthful spirit of Keire and in Liu himself, who became an Oscar-nominated filmmaker with this documentary. The film says that if we can move on from our traumatic past, there is hope for the future. In particular, there is hope that the future generations of young men can break the cycle of toxic masculinity and live in a world where they don’t have to be macho, strong, and emotionless; instead, they can simply be.

Available to watch on Hulu, Minding the Gap offers hope that someday we can all be as carefree as a skater riding down a hill, the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair, nothing on our minds but that next bend in the road.

 

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