“An in-depth study of toxic masculinity that misses opportunities.”
What’s the worst thing that could happen to a parent? This is the central question of Hate Crime. The film follows two sets of parents, one who lost their son and the other who is about to. The cause of the tragedy is shown in the opening scene. The two sons, Raymond and Kevin, are in the midst of a fight, with Raymond throwing punches. The cause of the fight and its devastating consequences unravel slowly as the film progresses. Told from the parent’s perspective rather than the sons, Hate Crime takes a unique perspective on the aftermath of Kevin’s death.
The title of the film is, in some ways, misleading. The hate crime at hand does not look like what most think of as a hate crime. The perpetrator and victim knew each other intimately and there are more layers to the situation than meets the eye. The film is not so much about the crime itself as it is about what factors led Raymond, the perpetrator, to express his rage in such a violent way; he struggled with toxic masculinity that reflects his father. Since the film centers the parents, it’s clear in Raymond’s father’s interactions with his wife that he has his own issues with rage. He also has strong ideas about what makes a man and what doesn’t. In efforts to please his dad, Raymond leaned into a more masculine mold that he didn’t entirely fit into. He may have had a short temper, but he was also an artist and had a tumultuous relationship with Kevin, an out gay man. Raymond’s toxic masculinity, instilled and reinforced by his father, seeped into his relationship with Kevin. The topic of toxic masculinity and the awful consequences it can have are seldom shown in movies. Often, those traits are praised and rewarded, especially in action films. Hate Crime provides a critical, thought-provoking examination of toxic masculinity and how it is taught rather than inherited.
Even though Hate Crime manages to deconstruct toxic masculinity, the overall narrative and the type of people it centers raises some questions. Raymond, the perpetrator of the crime, and his parents are given much more screen time than Kevin, the victim, and his parents. This provides space for the analysis of the cause of the crime, but it also fails to provide the same context for the victim. Kevin’s backstory is not explored. Instead, bits of information about his past are shared here and there, rather than included in the main arc of the story. For LGBTQ+ viewers, this may feel like a shortcoming because Kevin, a gay man, is not given the spotlight in the story of his own death. Instead, Raymond’s backstory is the focal point. Kevin’s story was not the intended focus of the movie, but it feels like a missed opportunity to explore the other side of the story more.
With those questions in mind, the question of this movie’s intended audience comes into play. In an interview, director Steven Esteb said the movie is for parents rather than being geared toward the gay community. When asked what he hopes viewers take away from Hate Crime, Esteb said “Love the shit out of your kids. No matter what they want to do, what they want to be, whoever they really are. See them and love the shit out of them. If you do that, you’ve got a good shot at something good happening.”
Hate Crime will be released for rental or purchase on digital platforms on September 24.