Their shallow, male-centric cinephilia speaks to a wider issue within the industry. But is this stereotype changing?
Last summer a man I’d once met to talk about a script he had written invited me to go for coffee. I decided to throw caution to the wind; the slim chance I might get a script editor credit on a feature film just about outweighed the stranger-danger aspect of the situation, and that I was voluntarily going to listen to a man talk about himself for an unspecified amount of time.
His meeting place of choice was not a conventional coffee shop, but a co-working space (where we were the only customers) that resembled someone’s front room: a mishmash of chairs and tables that meant while he sat in a regal armchair I was hunch over on a folding garden chair. He offered me a cereal bar retrieved from the depths of his satchel. I declined.
My description of this scenario would be unfair if it weren’t for the conversation that ensued for the next two hours. As for the (albeit very vague) purpose of the meeting, we discussed some of my proposed changes: something I didn’t feel necessary was the gratuitous descriptions of the imagined women in the script. My concerns over repeated use of terms like “tits” and “arse” were quashed when he asserted that it was fine “because it’s set in the ’90s”.
The topic of my own work and interests eventually rolled around. When I mentioned the films of Joanna Hogg, they were dismissed as “pretentious”. I put on my coat and stared longingly at the door after we talked about I, Tonya. I had enjoyed the film and even read the script, but all its merits were eradicated by his assertion that it was “derivative”. For our extended stint in the glorified furniture yard, I paid £7.
Aside from this story’s value to a secondary school internet safety class, you might be wondering why any of this is relevant. Well, this man is a Film Bro, and as much as the experience made for a good anecdote to tell my friends, his behaviour reflects the misogyny that pervades the world of male film appreciators. I want to take you through how the Film Bro was conceived, what exactly one is, and how the stereotype is changing.
To understand the history of the Film Bro, you have to understand the etymological origin of the word ‘bro’. In the mid 20th century bro was popularised among the Black community as a slang abbreviation for brother. By the 1970s the word was no longer associated with just familial connotations, being used to refer to any male friend.
There’s a glaring contrast between this definition and the modern-day, overwhelmingly white, meaning of bro. As with so many other aspects of Black culture, bro was subject to appropriation. Surprisingly, the 1992 film Encino Man was a significant junction in this process. Katherine Connor Martin of the Oxford English Dictionary points out how the script describes the white characters as having “been bros since grammar school”.
By the late ’90s, bro had shifted from being a signifier of friendship between men to representing a kind of fratty masculinity among guys who like to party. At this point, I like to imagine that Chad stopped mid-beer chug, got his dudes together and told them that bro effectively lends itself to compounding. Terms like bromance and brohemian entered the cultural lexicon and, somewhere in the never-ending process of creating broisms, the Film Bro was born.
But an etymological analysis of the term doesn’t really tell you what a Film Bro is. Urban Dictionary defines a Film Bro as someone who “views themselves as a huge film nerd” despite having a “mostly surface-level knowledge of movies”. This is the definition that informs most people’s understanding of the term and I have certainly met people who fit this description. However, I’ve come to realise that ‘Film Bro’ is not a fixed idea; it’s a sprawling web that contains at least three major subtypes.
The first is the “surface-level” Film Bro. This is the quintessential Film Bro, epitomising the term as it first emerged in mainstream media back in 2017. It’s the film slogan t-shirt wearing guy I met on the first day of my film degree who thinks the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are Christopher Nolan, David Fincher and Quentin Tarantino; he’s responsible for the hoards of film-centric Instagram accounts that regurgitate the same films from IMDb’s Top 250. I think of this subtype as the gateway drug of Film Bro culture, from which someone might graduate to one of two levels of full-blown Film Bro-dom.
The second is the “turtleneck-and-Tarkovsky” type. He’s the pretentious one, smoking a cigarette at a house party while cornering a girl with unsolicited viewing recommendations. This Film Bro has gained notoriety by making appearances on the dating scene, immortalised by the Instagram account @beam_me_up_softboi.
The third subtype, occupying the darkest corners of bro culture, is the “cause-for-concern” Film Bro. He idolises the problematic male protagonists of American Psycho, Fight Club and A Clockwork Orange. He’s probably partly responsible for the onslaught of think pieces about the perceived dangers of Joker and contemporary anxieties concerning on-screen violence in general.
“The Film Bro didn’t invent himself, the industry did. If we want them to go away, we need to look for answers higher up.”
For the most part, all three Film Bro subtypes subscribe to the same established film canon: the films are critically successful, they fuel critical discussion and they often have a penchant for narratives that either objectify or subjugate women. What truly unifies the three types of Film Bro is how these values are expressed: through the gatekeeping of what is essentially mainstream cinema. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard remarks like “you probably haven’t heard of it” or “you wouldn’t get it”. This is particularly harmful because gatekeeping and insidious misogyny help to uphold a patriarchal film industry.
In 2020 Jack Loney wrote an article for Lithium Magazine entitled ‘How Critics Created the Film Bro’. He argues that Hollywood, specifically male directors, are stuck in a cycle of making films that cater “almost exclusively to men like [them]”. Because critical circles are also “overflowing with men’”, the film will receive both commercial and critical success and be placed within the “Good-Movie canon”. The male viewers’ opinions, which are often misogynistic, are then “validated through the narrative of [their] favourite film” and its positive critical reception. Loney cites the 2020 Academy Awards as a perfect example of this “circuit”; Joker, with its controversial depiction of male violence, received 11 nominations.
There are, of course, other forces quietly working away to reassert these patriarchal values. For example, there’s the “Frat Pack”, the nickname given to a group of male comedy actors (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, among others). As the name suggests, they’re a filmmaking fraternity who held a monopoly over mainstream comedy for the best part of a decade. The only female-led comedy film to rival their success, at least commercially speaking, was 2011’s Bridesmaids. These male collectives are impenetrable and, consciously or otherwise, they prevent a greater diversity of creators from entering the mainstream.
In a since-deleted article titled ‘The Cult of Paul Schrader’, a writer for Facets magazine pointed out that until fairly recently male-centric narratives were also lauded as “better” films than those with female leads and stories. Not only is there a dire representation of women behind the scenes, but audiences have long been conditioned to regard female-centric films as lesser forms of art. Despite their faults, it’s sad that films with female leads like Twilight and The Fault in Our Stars, both of which were marketed to teenage girls, have become the subject of intense mockery within film culture.
So while I can poke fun at Film Bros, for me to lay into them would be counterproductive. The Film Bro didn’t invent himself, the industry did. If we want them to go away, we need to look for answers higher up.
And this might just happen; the industry’s status quo is shifting. In addition to #MeToo, this generation’s Frat Pack, Team Apatow (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, et al), has been shaken by allegations of sexual misconduct against James Franco. Rather than enabling this behaviour and allowing patterns of toxic masculinity to be repeated, Rogen has said he has no intention of working with Franco again. Even the sordid allegations against Armie Hammer, the ultimate Preppy Bro, have revealed that bro culture is more than a meme-ready joke; it breeds a very real threat to women.
We are also seeing a trend towards increased diversity both on- and off-screen. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, a film deeply interconnected with Korean culture, wasn’t made for Film Bros; its success is so important because both neither its inherent values nor its widespread critical acclaim were dictated by white, cisgender men.
Likewise, female-led films are no longer relegated to the realm of rom-coms and family dramas; Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, an intimate portrayal of female subjectivity, won the 2021 Academy Award for Best Picture. Even the most change-averse awards bodies are pledging to diversify, disrupting the typical patterns of only male-oriented films receiving award recognition. As a result, Film Bros no longer have a monopoly of knowledge over the themes explored in mainstream cinema.
My advice? While we wait for the patriarchy to crumble, next time a Film Bro tries to talk about Fight Club, just walk away.
Published 7 Aug 2021
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