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"I am Andrew Tate" review: A toxic element of an even bigger problem

The new Channel 4 film is a well-rounded documentary on the planet's most famous misogynist—and it leaves you asking how to address his corrosive impact on young men and boys.  

January 07 2024, 19.04pm

Charming, charismatic, funny, wildly successful and confident – these are the qualities millions of young men see in Andrew Tate. Narcissistic, avaricious, violent, manipulative and dangerous – these are the reasons the rest of us fear his toxic influence. 

The title of the new Channel 4 documentary, I Am Andrew Tate, is slightly misleading. Filmmakers were originally offered exclusive access to Tate’s life before he and his brother Tristan were arrested for allegations of rape and human trafficking in Romania last year While Tate could well have exposed himself in first-hand interviews, the fact that Amos Pictures and producer Dan Reed  - of the infamous Michael Jackson documentary Finding Neverland - could not give this odious man even another second of airtime is surely a blessing. 

Instead, they resort to telling Tate’s story by trawling through hours of earlier interviews and existing online content, interspersed with original first-hand interviews with alleged victims, lawyers and disciples of the cult figure. These testimonies are the strongest part of the two-hour documentary, illustrating the harmful impact of Tate’s vitriol and actions, but are condensed to make room for temptingly controversial cuttings. The premise: to chart the rise and fall of the former kickboxing champion-turned-pimp and social media giant, while providing context on the incubation conditions that enabled a monster to thrive.

Early in the linear narrative of the documentary, we learn how 37-year-old Tate’s early childhood was filled with promise. Born in America, he was the eldest child of an international chess master and his father’s protege, playing for up to four hours a day and competing with adults at the age of eight.

“I was raised in a way that I really saw my father as a superhero but that was also based on the fact that he did not submit to the will of my mother,” Tate says in one clip of the man who would hit him if he stepped out of line. “I never saw my mum tell my dad to clean the dishes. I never saw him take shit from my mum, ever,” he shouts forcefully in another. “If she stepped in even 1 per cent he was like, ‘Bitch, see you next month, I’m out’. She was crying her eyes out ‘cause he would just fucking vanish on her. That’s who he was. So I grew up understanding, a man doesn’t compromise.”

By the time Tate was 11 his English mother had had enough and fled to Luton, raising her children in poverty and leaving Tate without his chess coach. This riches to rags arc created the perfect environment for the evolution of an Angry Young Man who would place the blame for his fall from grace on his mother, while still worshipping his absent father who continued to travel the world “drinking and fucking girls”. Tate also found an outlet for his anger in kickboxing.

It’s an important and illuminating point – though one that viewers must interpret themselves in this narration-free documentary. Tate would ultimately be able to manipulate and exploit a generation of lost young men and boys by preying on vulnerabilities he clearly possessed himself – channelling them into their most poisonous form: a cocktail of violent misogyny and rampant capitalism. 

Tate and his brother would go on to build a webcam empire on the backs of women they recruited to carry out pornographic acts. But without the need for the production values of the porn industry, as cam girls often perform from their bedrooms directly to consumers, Tate needed to find a way to make himself indispensable to them. He lured them with promises of love and marriage before grooming, manipulating and allegedly abusing them to ensure they are downtrodden enough to hand all their income over to him. 

Women describe the physical and sexually violent methods they claim Tate used to control them, including rape and strangulation. Cut to one of Tate’s own social media videos: “Choke her until she can barely fucking breathe, tell her she’s yours forever. They’re gonna believe it. You can programme them.”

But the second hand of the Tate brothers’ empire was to sell their business model to men enticed by a blend of a generically traditional value system, in which they have purpose and superiority, and a lifestyle of international travel, diamond encrusted watches, Bugattis, cigars and beautiful women to serve as sex slaves. Despite controlling and coercive behaviour in relationships being illegal under the 2015 Serious Crimes Act, Tate was able to package a veritable training manual for it and sell it to men via his Hustler’s University and War Room, which offered courses including a PHD – Pimpin’ Hoes Degree.

The juvenility of his methods appeals to young boys who don’t question Tate’s insistence that leaked videos of him violently beating women were “consensual”, don't understand the complex reasons why these same women may defend their abuser, and pass off instructions to “bang out the machete, boom in her face and grip her by the neck,” as “jokes” taken out of context. The documentary briefly illustrates Tate’s impact in schools, as radicalised boys became emboldened to share his misogynistic views in the classroom, claiming ownership over female classmates and attempting to subjugate their female teachers. 

We get a superficial understanding of how social media algorithms aggressively pushed his controversial ideology to young men before intervention from tech companies, under pressure from campaigners, led to him being deplatformed – only to see him become a poster child for the alt-right as it railed against cancel culture – his millions of “soldiers” mobilising to disseminate his content for him and “penetrate the Matrix”. 

Tate’s Matrix conspiracy theory – the word he uses to describe the conditions of a society designed to keep us in line – speaks to many who have lost faith in political systems, the mainstream media and corporations. It echoes the narrative of the alt-right and populist politicians who, along with Tate, are able to explain away any attempts to expose them as part of a plot to silence anyone who poses a threat to the status quo.

“First you get cancelled, then they make up a reason to put you in jail, and if that fails they kill you,” said Tate, positioning himself as a martyr for his cause on a podcast one month before he was arrested.

Tate’s individual platform is unsteady, and the increasing number of people who see him for what he is hold out hope that justice will be served for what appear to be blatant crimes. In the UK, lawyers for four of Tate’s alleged victims – one of whom describes the victim blaming she faced from Hertfordshire Constabulary – are seeking to have police reopen the cases that were closed in 2019 after the Crown Prosecution Service concluded there was no realistic prospect of a conviction. In Romania he and his brother are awaiting criminal trial – one that is anticipated to drag on for years but could result in up to a 10 year sentence. 

But the foundations that enabled his meteoric rise hold firm – unregulated capitalism, the mighty power of the internet and social media, and a patriarchal value system that has left a generation of boys unsure of their place in the world, unable to express their emotions through anything other than anger, and able to view women and girls as a commodity.

We must acknowledge that Tate is only one part of a much bigger problem that exists online within the manosphere – a sprawling and complex web of groups, belief systems, lifestyles and cults. Incels, pick up artists and men’s rights activists hide in plain sight to promote misogynistic values and radicalise vulnerable boys while parents are none the wiser.

And while Tate’s success may represent the most frightening aspects of the internet, it is not a modern phenomenon. The exploitation of women in the sex trade is as old as the oldest profession. The charismatic leader who amasses a huge following by preying on the vulnerable is as old as religion. Like the recycled clips that have amassed billions of views online, there is nothing new to see here.

Whether or not we needed another documentary about Andrew Tate is an open question. Is Channel 4 feeding the troll, helping him to remain relevant? Then again, if the film manages to expose a few more non-digital-native adults to the threats Tate represents, can it be a force for good? 

Either way, it is now is surely the time to move the conversation forward – to reflect and attempt to understand the nuances of a culture that allowed Tate to thrive and the wider implications for the future. The manosphere may never again have a cult figure as braggadocious as Tate. We must interpret the lessons of this self-professed ‘Top G’ so we can catch the seeds of misogyny that are sewn online as they reveal themselves in the language and actions of men and boys. Digging them out and ensuring they are unable to take root is a collective responsibility that needs shouldering at every level – in corridors of power, in all forms of media, in our schools and in our homes, as soon as the telly is switched off. 

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