—Sally Douglas Arce
May 20, 2001

Many boys are suffering. Some are on the verge of a meltdown. Often adults don’t notice. The new documentary film, Boys Will Be Men, explores the terrors and triumphs of growing up male in America and suggests ways in which we can help boys on their journey. The San Francisco premier of Boys Will Be Men takes place at 7 P.M. on Wednesday, May 23rd at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

“The childhood message that many boys receive – that to be a man means to be tough and dominant, can be dangerous to their health,” says Tom Weidlinger, the films producer and director. Recent cases of school violence have been linked to patterns of bullying. They are the tip of the iceberg of social conditioning that leave some boys seeing few options but to defend their turf by bullying and, occasionally, by violent behavior.

“The challenge is to create a community atmosphere that promotes caring and kindness among boys,” say Alan Gold, a Marin school psychologist and panelist to discuss the film with viewers. “We have to consciously affirm these emotions and the positive characteristics of boys in order to counder the "boy code.”

The ‘boy code’ prohibits boys from showing emotions such as caring, compassion, sadness and hurt, but makes it OK to express anger. Boys risk being called gay if they show any of the emotions that are cast as “not masculine.”

Experts are only recently discovering what a burden boys carry. Some authorities in Boys Will Be Men point out that rites of passages can help boys sort out conflicting messages about manhood. “Young men of color are struggling with violence and a sense of entitlement,” says Ricardo Carrillo, director of training and technical assistance for the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence. “So it is important to bring back ancient rites of passage to assist young men with accountability, responsibility and learning to be affectionate in their families and in the communities.”

Michael Meade, mythologist, storyteller and author of Men and the Water of Life is featured in the film Boys Will Be Men. “The crucial point of change inside a young person is when he realizes that he has some kind of intrinsic value – that he is a meaningful part of something, not because of the group he belongs to, not because of any achievement, but because of something inherent in him which you might call the soul or the spirit,” Meade says. “So that’s how I begin working with them, by telling a story and trying to engage that part of them which is imaginative, ancient, and capable of inspiration.”

In the film, 20 boys from two Chicago high schools participate in a three-day workshop that begins with Meade telling them the Legend of the Half Boy, an African folk tale about a boy who is born into the world only “half there.” Ostracized by his village for his deformity, the half boy journeys into the world searching for the context of his life. In Meade’s workshop the boys use the metaphor of the legend to search for the context of their own lives. They write poems based on their interpretations, which they perform ceremonially for teachers and parents. Over three days the boys grow; from shy and inarticulate to outspoken and eloquent. The climax of the event is a conversation between the boys and their teachers and parents. They say things to the adults that they have never said before, defining and staking out their development as boys into men. Clinical psychologist, William Pollack, also featured in the film echos what Meade accomplishes in the workshop, “The best thing a parent [or any concerned adult] can do is to let a boy show us the way he wants to become a man. That’s what makes a boy healthy, happy, successful, and nonviolent.”