'Punching Bag' urges viewers to turn "victim consciousness into something more empowering"
The MeToo movement has helped expose the predatory behavior of many men in positions of power, it has it has also unfortunately created a sharper divide between men and women.
The MeToo movement is one of the most powerful and historic events of recent times and while it has helped expose the predatory behavior of many men in positions of power, it has also unfortunately created a sharper divide between men and women.This further has evolved into a conversation about masculinity, femininity and what they mean to the people of both genders, and it is precisely this conversation or at least inner dialogue that writer and director Jamie Anderson instigates with her film ‘Punching Bag.’
“I was talking to a wonderful male friend of mine, and he said he felt like a punching bag for women. He talked about his need to be less ‘sensitive’ and to step into his ‘masculine’, which spurred a further conversation about what is masculine and feminine,” Anderson tells Meaww, adding, “There seems to be a lot of confusion, more than ever, about what that means, especially since there is a predominant history of toxic masculinity.”
A strong believer in taking responsibility for personal choices irrespective on gender, Anderson says, “We have to see the value in what divine masculine and divine feminine can bring to the table. And in order to do that, I wanted to magnify, on an absurd satirical scale, what has typically been defined as masculine and feminine, in our culture. I also feel strongly that whatever gender you identify with, we have to take responsibility for our own choices. We have to see how all sides can be part of the solution.”
Anderson’s short film, which had its screening at the Other Venice Film Festival last week and the ITVFest this week, narrates the story of a man Stacy, who sympathizes with women and their troubles, and in order to ease their pain becomes a literal human punching bag at his brother Brock’s women’s empowerment class called ‘Douchebag Defense.’ Stacy, who has felt emasculated from as early as he can remember, thanks to his effeminate name, struggles to earn the respect of women on an average day, but these very women have no trouble inflicting pain on him for the crimes of all men.
A novice to the world of cinema, Jamie Wollrab, who plays Stacy in the film, is an incredible stage actor, whose talents have translated beautifully on camera. “I was shocked to learn he had never acted on film. There is so much talent in LA and in our world, and so few get their ‘break’ or even a chance to shine,” says Anderson regarding her hero.
In fact, Anderson was so touched by Wollrab’s performance and his story that she decided to write the role for him and based “much of Stacy off of Jamie’s own vulnerability”. Meeting him also helped her recognize one of her own callings, which is to “be a vehicle for dreams to come true for deserving talented wonderful humans.”
A wonderful human is exactly what she found in Jonathan Stoddard, too. “Jonathan is one of the most positive, dedicated actors I’ve ever met, and nothing like Brock in real life. I think that’s why the role worked because Jonathan's heart was underneath Brock’s bravado,” claims Anderson.
Jonathan’s Brock is the polar opposite of Stacy. The personification of Alpha male, Brock is a user – he uses the insecurity of his brother to make himself look manlier and more aggressive, while also making him do the lion’s share of work for no pay. He uses the vulnerability of the women that go to him for help to seduce them. As amazing as Stoddard is, Brock is a hypersexual product of toxic masculinity and it took Anderson a while to find the right man for the job.
She explains, “I did a casting breakdown for Brock, that was sent to agents and managers, received thousands of submissions, and carefully sifted through all of them. I had Jonathan come in to audition, and he blew us away! I knew I had found a diamond.”
Brock and Stacy’s parallels become the crux of ‘Punching Bag’; their inherent characteristic traits, their astronomically different responses to the stimuli, the way the opposite gender responds to them and so on. It is in these differences that we question what it means to be a man, what it would be like to live in a world devoid of gender conformities.
“An ideal world of balance would be one of respect, in which we dance with the divine masculine and feminine. I believe we break centuries of gender norms, by exposing where we have come from, to start building where we are going,” narrates Anderson, who credits the “ bombastic bullying male that holds our highest office” as a big part of the problem.
She asks the tough questions, “How do we shift out of victim consciousness into something more empowering while maintaining some femininity? How do we raise balanced men, who understand the value of their divine masculine, as well as a sensitivity? The answer is, I’m not sure. Let’s start a conversation, and let’s all take some responsibility for the solution.”