“It’s not enough to be an ‘unproblematic’ good man when you have a voice to make a positive change.”
Charles de Augustin stares directly into the camera and says those words on his crowdfunding page on Seed & Spark, making the case for his planned feature film, Good Men.
That title is at once a real and ironic nod to those who say nothing, do nothing when someone around them does something inexcusable. Those who stay silent, de Augstin argues, contribute as much to a problem as the person who commits a grievous sin.
In the case of this film, the sin is rape on a college campus, committed by a member of a fraternity. And the idea of being a “good” man gets examined through the dynamic of how such a crime affects otherwise good guys—guys who don’t catcall women, who don’t belittle them or think of them, as de Augustin puts it, “as currency” —when it’s one of their friends who commits it.
Before going on, a few important points need to be made about how this film will play out. First, it is not an outsider’s attack on Greek life on a college campus and not a cartoon vision of what it is to be a “frat bro.” Second, the story does not depict the rape, not within its timeline, not in flashback, not at all.
Third, the guy making it is not part of the world he is depicting, but he’s not so far removed. de Augustin grew up in West Windsor and graduated from High School South in 2016. He’s a junior at Rutgers in New Brunswick this semester, studying a dual path of film and philosophy. He’s a straight white male, and he considers himself to be a good person. He’s not a member of any campus Greek organization, but some of his closest friends are.
“My first semester,” de Augustin said, “I entertained the possibility of joining a fraternity. But it wasn’t really for me.”
Nevertheless, on the outside, de Augustin looks and sounds a lot like someone you’d find in a fraternity comprised of upper-middle class white young men. Which means that from this position as a straight white male surrounded by straight, white male friends who are involved in campus Greek life, he knows how guys who look and sound like him think.
And that tends to mean they think they’re not part of the problem when it comes to topics like sexism, sexual assault or gender disparity, because they don’t hoot at women, don’t say obnoxious things to them and don’t assume they can help themselves to women’s bodies as a reward for being at the top of the food chain.
But the point of Good Men is less about the abuses committed by the powerful and more about the culture of doing nothing that enables the powerful to get away with abuse. At it’s simplest, the film is an examination of passivity, specifically connected in this case to masculinity. This combo is a popular one in de Augustin’s creative output, he says.
In fact, Good Men is a kind of expanded remix of a short film he made last year called Broken Dicks, which looked into rape culture in fraternity circles at college. A sexual assault happens at a frat party and those in the brotherhood are unsure of what to do now.
“I’m proud of that film, but it left me unfulfilled,” de Augustin says. “I really wanted to explore these issues and the infinitely other ways and places they exist. The dangers of passivity in these cultures.”
The story features two main characters in their second semester at college: Trent, an upper-middle class white guy who learns that his Latina friend, Sophie, was raped one semester earlier by a member of the fraternity Trent is pledging.
‘A big part of the audience I’m trying to reach are the people who are problematic.’
Both, de Augustin says, are designed to be more than what stereotypes might suggest, as are all the characters. de Augustin doesn’t want you to see what you picture in your head when you hear a description like “frat bro” or “Latina from New Brunswick” (although, it should be noted that the story is not set at Rutgers, even if part of it is about a young woman from just outside its grounds).
The bare essence of what de Augustin is trying to do with the film is move past cartoonish visions of white men and Latina women and into the nuances behind the cultures of power, privilege, and race. He wants to explore the dynamic through the lens of Greek life on campus because it’s an ideal look at the power infrastructure of well-off young white guys who are, for the first time in their lives, adults who are, largely, accountable only to each other, and their perceptions of women (especially, in this case, a non-white one) as commodity; something to indulge in, trade in, spend, and enjoy as a treat to which they’re entitled .
Sophie is Latina, he says, because she represents a lot of what New Brunswick is in relation to the university—a community that navigates both within and outside one steered mainly by white money and power. She is, therefore, representative of how well-off white male society sees and treats people who are none of those things.
Of course, if Sophie (and her world) existed solely in relation to the white man and his institutions, that would be pretty one-dimensional.
“I’ve found it helpful to phrase it as Sophie providing a ‘window’ to the vibrant Latinx community in New Brunswick,” de Augustin says. “So yes, on one hand her world functions as a way to highlight the negative effects of non-inclusive cultures of white power and money. But we’re definitely exploring Sophie and her world in its own right.”
In short, de Augustin sees New Brunswick as far more than a college town, and “to solely consider it as such would be ignorant and implicitly promoting the process of gentrification,” he says.
Ultimately, de Augustin wants to show more humanistic and true characters because he’s hoping to educate those might otherwise pay no attention to the kinds of matters women face around men who consider them little more than accessories.
“A big part of the audience I’m trying to reach,” he says, “are the people who are problematic.”
Yes, he does know guys in fraternities who think of women as commodities. He does know guys in fraternities who snicker at their required sexual assault awareness workshops and roll their eyes at every woman (or man) who suggests that there is a real rape-and-silence culture wherever groups of powerful men gather.
And yes, some of those people are in organizations that his friends are in. In that sense, Good Men is an examination of de Augustin’s own attitudes of how to be friends with people who are connected to people who have bad attitudes, or maybe have done bad things.
Surprisingly, though, de Augustin says he has butted heads with only a few people over his project. He admits there is “a weird barrier” between him and his friends.
“They’re my friends, but I’m criticizing this thing they love,” he says. “Generally, people are pretty supportive.”
Women aware of the project have been universally supportive, he says. Guys have for the most part been as well, but he has run into one or two who don’t quite appreciate it—most seemingly because they don’t want the film to come off suggesting that every frat boy is either a rapist or the guy who covers up and dismisses impropriety.
‘No, you’re not a rapist, you don’t catcall, and maybe you even voted for Hilary. But if you’re passive, you’re still in it. That can be a hard concept to drive home.’
de Augustin actually focuses an almost journalistic eye on fairness in his script. The film intends to explore the consequences of groupthink and its impact on the lives of those who are victimized and then left to a world that isn’t always supportive of what they say they’ve been through. But it also brings up a lot of the good that fraternities do—the community service, the chance for young men to find friendship and a sense of family as they enter the world outside of home.
“It’s a tough balance,” de Augustin says.
Part of the way to show fairness is to break the stereotype that all fraternities are the same.
“There are good frats and there are bad frats,” de Augustin says. “Some exist purely for professional purposes; specific organizations promote issues of sexual assault; and there are ones that could not care less.”
de Augustin says he’s done (and continues doing) a lot of talking with people on all sides of the issue to avoid being insensitive while still making his point that bad men do bad things and their otherwise good friends need to speak up. One person he spoke with does outreach at fraternities, and asked everyone in the room to raise his hand if he thinks he is part of the problem when it comes to sexual misconduct.
“No hands went up,” de Augustin says. “Then he said, ‘Raise your hand if you think someone in this room is part of the problem.’ And all the hands go up.”
This, he says, is the reason he’s calling the film Good Men. Most guys don’t think they’re part of the tapestry that creates such a problem.
“No, you’re not a rapist, you don’t catcall, and maybe you even voted for Hilary,” he says. “But if you’re passive, you’re still in it. That can be a hard concept to drive home.”
Good Men needs to secure enough funding to get made. de Augustin has set a budget of less than $10,000, and a deadline for himself to have it ready as his senior thesis. That’s about a year-and-a-half from now, which he admits “sounds like a long time” but absolutely is not, for something so ambitious as a feature film. He’ll find it a success, he says, if he feels he is showing truth.
de Augustin is not a believer in objectivity when it comes to film, documentary or fictional. Pieces of life sucked in through a small lens pointed at only one place at a time are too complicated to be portrayed as objective.
“You can’t capture actual reality with a camera,” he says. “It’s automatically a subjective truth.” Rather than chase the fantasy of pure objectivity, de Augustin wants to convey the power of voice and social purpose in a way that is accessible, And, of course, listened to.
That sounds like a intimidating message to deliver. But behind Good Men is a universal truth that de Augustin hopes will make that message easier to digest – he understands why people don’t speak up.
“Everybody wants to be part of something that’s bigger than themselves,” he says. “Doing something to upset that is daunting. This machine is making you happy, so what does someone gain by revealing a truth like this?”
It’s a good question. And it comes with its own B-side, which de Augustin hopes people will ultimately ask after seeing his film – what does someone lose by not revealing a truth, even if it means risking this thing you love in order to reveal it?
For more details on Good Men or to help fund the film, go to seedandspark.com/fund/goodmen.