Following the warm reception and success of Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut of “A Star Is Born” conversations surrounding toxic masculinity have risen. Cooper has been praised for his character, Jackson Main, and his positive portrayal of masculinity while still being a “man’s man”. Jackson is deserving of praise, but it’s important to also recognize the more harmful traits he possesses and how they are framed in the film. They can be hard to catch because toxic behaviors — in this film and many others — are often very subtle.
First let’s acknowledge the good, because progress is still progress. Jackson Maine, a tough and hardened country singer, unlike so many men does not find his masculinity threatened by queerness. At the beginning of the film, Jackson stumbles into a drag bar and handles it in a way that is often absent from the portrayal of these scenarios in media. Straight masculine men interacting with drag queens is often centered around violence or sexualization. Jackson doesn’t do either of these things but instead interacts with them the same before and after he realizes they are in drag. This positive interaction helps to destigmatize drag and queerness as a whole. The framing of queerness next to masculinity is even more important later in the film when Jackson and Ally are seen having sex while Jackson wears makeup and fake eyebrows. Jackson Maine doesn’t just accept queerness, he respects it too. He helps blur the lines between masculinity and femininity in a positive light. Jackson also strikes a contrast to the past characters of this classic story as it is not jealousy that fuels his downfall. There are hints of jealousy through the story, Jackson dives deeper as he sees Ally lose herself, or his idea of her, not that she’s surpassed him. This is a huge step forward of male portrayal as he isn’t threaten by a woman’s success.
Jackson can be a great example for men to look to in some ways but he’s not exactly the ideal man. The obvious problem would seem to be his active addiction, but the underlying danger that Jackson poses is actually his charm. Multiple times Ally says “no” to Jackson and he instead hears “convince me.” Everyone does this to each other. You suggest a new ice cream flavor, your friend is comfortable with their usual but with a little nudge, you convince them to try your ice cream and they end up loving it. But when it comes to relationships, the stakes are much higher and this convincing can be dangerous.
The instance in the film that grabbed my attention most is when Jackson sends his driver to pick up Ally for a show after she already rejected the invitation. Her dad tries to persuade her which she combats with “Dad! He’s a drunk,” which is followed by his driver following her around until she spontaneously decides to go. Her decision to go leads to her marriage to Jackson, whom she loves greatly, and to a wildly successful career. The idea perpetuated by this situation teaches women they should give men with red flags a chance and teaches men that initial “no” can turn into a “yes” with enough persistence.
The media’s portrayal of “no” is dangerous and harmful to both men and women. Men learn that they should try to change women’s minds with persuasion and big romantic gestures. Women are taught to stick with men, despite signs that the relationship may not be positive. Jackson is a step in the right direction. He wants to make Ally’s voice louder in regards to her music, he shows a respect for femininity and queerness and he cares deeply for Ally. But Jackson and Hollywood have some things left to learn about how to truly support women. Listening to them and respecting initial boundaries are important, and I hope in the seemingly inevitable next remake these lessons will be learned.