Filmmaker Brandon Ruckdashel has deftly answered the call for #HollywoodMustDoBetter with his film Grinder. I’m certain that it had been included in GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index (2016), it would have received a good rating for avoiding many common stereotypes of films dealing with LGBT issues.
It’s too easy for an impressionable teenager searching for affirmation and love to be groomed and manipulated, especially by an abusive, power-driven predator who promises to make dreams of success, love, and admiration come true. We meet 16 year old Luke grappling with his journey of self-discovery, his abusive home environment, and flirting online with Rich. With 50% of gay and lesbian youth reporting they are rejected by their parents for their sexual orientation, it is no surprise that after his father’s homophobia violently erupts, Luke runs away to the city towards Rich and the promise of acceptance and opportunity. He joins the “gays and lesbians [that] make up about 40 percent of all homeless youth.” To watch his innocence methodically taken from him in a myriad of ways is unsettling, and yet, that his story happens daily to many young people in his situation is truly heartbreaking.
When Luke comes to the city, he meets a photographer named Tim employed by Rich. Tim’s identity and sexual orientation struggles are exemplified by his literal running to escape who he is and what he wants:
Model: “What are we looking for?”
Tim: “Something that adds texture…without taking away from the focus.”
Model smokes cigarette. “I’m trying to quit.”
Tim: “I’m trying to take care of myself.”
He photographs Rich’s men for a profitable living. When behind his camera, Tim is at his most comfortable and emotionally intimate with his male subjects, albeit at a distance. Physical intimacy only happens not with his female fiancé, who is always absent, but with his male partners after self-hating and drinking. Tim develops a fascination with Luke, and not unlike many of us feeling the weight of our choices over many years, possibly sees a younger version of himself with all the hope and simplicity in life he still wished he had. Tim fights to give Luke the opportunity and freedom he so desperately wishes for.
The real Grinder here is not the app. Rather, it is overcoming the male meat grinder stuffed with toxic masculinity, homophobia, self-loathing, hatred, identity, power, striving, and finding one’s place in the world. To become successful, how far will you go, and what will it do to you along the way? What are the paths for young men like Luke to grow up with love and support to become the man he wants to be? Or the paths for men like Tim to escape toxic masculinity and embrace his own multifaceted place in the world? How can we help more men find them, and demonstrate support? Unfortunately these men are stuck in the grinder. However, daybreak, and the possibility of new beginnings, await.