Parent upset over lurid photos in film by Newsom’s wife shown at Stanislaus school

Creekside Middle School, 535 Peregrine, Patterson, Calif.
Creekside Middle School, 535 Peregrine, Patterson, Calif. Modesto Bee File

A film on male stereotypes, directed by the wife of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, has created an uproar after it was shown to junior high students at a school in Stanislaus County.

William Springer of Patterson said his 12-year-old daughter came home traumatized after the “The Mask You Live In” was shown in her advisory class Thursday at Creekside Middle School. A portion of the documentary film shows nude images of females in lurid poses.

The images are blurred or pixelated, but Springer said they leave little to the imagination.

“Some of the images when slowed down were not blurred, and even when they are blurred, it is obvious what is going on,” Springer said. “It is absolutely profane and disgusting.”

The images appear in a portion of the film about young men searching for porn on the Internet. Viewers also briefly see a clear picture of sexual bondage and acts of violence against nude or thinly dressed young women.

Springer complained Friday to the principal of the Patterson middle school and even talked with a Sheriff’s Department official.

The superintendent of Patterson Unified School District said Monday he reviewed the film and agreed the images in one section of the film are disturbing. It didn’t take long for Alfano to determine the material was unsuitable for junior high students.

The recommended audience for the film directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the governor’s film-making wife, is age 14 and above. The students in the single Creekside classroom where the film was played are 11 and 12.

“The images appear pretty quickly,” PUSD Superintendent Philip Alfano said. “Nevertheless, it is troubling and definitely not appropriate for a 7th grade classroom.”

Alfano said the school has contacted parents whose children were in the class. He said a substitute teacher who was given instructions to show the film had concerns about the content after showing it Thursday. The substitute teacher talked with Creekside’s principal Friday.

Alfano said the class’ permanent teacher has apologized and explained that a mix-up occurred, resulting in the students seeing an unedited version of Newsom’s documentary.

According to the superintendent, the teacher of the class has shown a DVD with an edited, cleaner version of “the Mask You Live In”. The teacher left instructions for the substitute to play the film in class Thursday, but accidentally provided a digital link to an unedited version of the film. The substitute used the link to show the film in class.

Alfano said the teacher did not follow a policy that requires staff to first get approval from the school administrator for any potentially controversial supplemental materials used in class.

Alfano said he could not discuss any disciplinary action that may be taken against the teacher, but “it will be dealt with formally. ... The teacher was apologetic and did not do this maliciously.”

Springer said Monday his daughter told him the substitute teacher stopped the film at one point because of student giggles and laughter at what was on the screen. The father said his daughter had surgery at a young age for a serious heart defect and he’s careful about her education.

“It is the worst thing my daughter has been exposed to,” Springer said. “When I send her to school, I don’t want her to see porn. That is what this is.”

The Springer family bought a house in Patterson last year after moving to California from upstate New York. Springer was in the restaurant business in New York, but today is a stay-at-home dad of children with medical needs.

He pointed out that he is not hung up on the American male stereotypes that are the subject of the documentary.

The film, which has captured awards at film festivals, deals with masculinity in America and how young men are shaped by media pressure, peers and cultural messages to disconnect emotionally and degrade women. A Google search produced no other examples of community uproars sparked by images in the film.

The Representation Project, a nonprofit that promotes Newsom’s film-making productions, did not return a Modesto Bee email message Monday seeking comment.

Alfano said the cultural expectations of masculinity is a valid topic for conversation, but the language and other content in the “The Mask You Live In” make the edited version unsuitable for middle schoolers.

The superintendent said he would want to have a conversation with staff before he would consider approving the film for high schoolers. “It seems more appropriate for a high school or college audience,” Alfano said.

Springer said he was not satisfied with the apology from school officials and the district’s suggestion that showing the film was an honest mistake.

“To that, my response is ‘negligence,” Springer replied. “There are procedures in place to ensure events like this do not occur, and (the teacher) did not follow protocol.”