Gabriel Ponniah, Editor In Chief
ATX Screen Scene
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that dogs are man’s best friend, but the documentary film Cat Daddies disagrees.
As viewers are introduced to various men from different regions and walks of life, all united by an uncommon love for their feline friends, they run the gamut of emotions from laughter to tears. But the true genius of the film lies in that while executing these individual stories with sentimental precision, the doc still manages to comment on an underlying social phenomenon: the conflict between the semiotics of cat ownership and hegemonic masculinity.
The film follows a sprawling cast of characters: an eligible bachelor influencer who chose his cat over his love life, a station of brawny firemen who dote on the local firehouse feline, an honest-to-god cross country trucker and his stylish road trip companion, a stuntman and his wingman (wingcat?), an unhoused undocumented immigrant and his lucky lifeline—the list goes on. What’s remarkable here is the dichotomy between the ostensible “manliness” of the subjects and the unexpectedness of their tender relationship with their cats. How does the archetype of a traditionally masculine firefighter or truck driver jive with the crazy-cat-lady connotations of fathering a feline? Or in other cases, how does someone whose livelihood is built around presenting an image of strength, i.e. an influencer or stuntman, reconcile his love for his cat with his job and personal brand?
It’s these questions and more that were clearly gnawing at director Mye Hoang when she set about making this, her first documentary feature. The Dallas, TX native directed her debut narrative feature nearly a decade ago after graduating from Southern Methodist University in her hometown with a BA in Cinema, but Cat Daddies demonstrates Hoang’s ability to work effectively in either space. In a Q+A segment at AniFab, she mentioned that her experience on this project has led her to prefer documentary filmmaking to narrative. Perhaps it’s the allure of uncovering stories in the wild, or the raw truth to her subjects in Cat Daddies, but the medium afforded her no less creative input.
Hoang and company originally sought out subjects on Instagram, building a cast around the idea of exploring the oddity that is male cat ownership and its social implications. Since the beginnings of internet culture, the pervasive cuteness of cats has dominated engagement, and this trend continues straight through the ubiquitous adoption of social media in the United States and abroad. Indeed, social media plays as much a role in the selection of subjects for Cat Daddies as it does in the lives of its subjects; the brand maintenance of Tora the Trucker Cat and Keys (AKA “Goal Kitty”) actively factor into the livelihoods of their owners.
But beyond the economic, Cat Daddies examines the social—particularly the romantic. Several subjects mention their cats in the context of finding a partner, and some go further in suggesting that it’s precisely the ownership of the cat which attracts members of the opposite sex. In a rejection of hegemonic masculinity, the doc demonstrates that men who ignore traditional, often harmful behaviors in favor of caring for their cats (a traditionally female action directed towards a traditionally female-owned pet) possess a security about themselves that is in fact more attractive than strict adherence to the status quo. Don’t believe me? Ask Megan.
As originally conceived, Cat Daddies was meant to examine this phenomenon through those two lenses: the economic and the social. But Hoang, a veteran filmmaker, remained open to the happy accidents and meandering leads that can elevate good art to great. While David and Lucky were not part of the initial vision for the film, Hoang and company discovered their story during production and pounced on it. Through David, Cat Daddies gets its emotional lynchpin. His struggle allows Hoang to comment on the inhuman way America treats its unhoused and undocumented, and demonstrates the resilience supported by animal companions in the face of a cruelly mismanaged healthcare system. Perhaps the most powerful piece of b-roll I’ve ever encountered reintroduces David’s thread midway through the film, as a young white woman, eyes glued to her device, ignorantly hoverboards past an unhoused New Yorker resting on a stone fixture, while a bright LED American flag is reflected through an adjacent window. It’s almost too perfect.
It’s no surprise, then, that the emotional rollercoaster of Cat Daddies engendered tremendous audience response. Hoang faced no shortage of questions from audience members, as her film’s screenings were well-attended straight through the weekend. Cat Daddies received the AniFab award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Filmmaking at the festival’s conclusion, and has springboarded onto other stops on the festival circuit. It’s among my favorites of the batch. It’s smart, clean, funny, hopeful, and heartbreaking. But I could be biased—I’m a cat person after all.