Documenting Andrew Tate – learning from documentary film

By Nick Robinson


With over 11bn views on TikTok and accusations that his extreme views are creating real world harm, Andrew Tate’s rise has precipitated alarm amongst policy makers, the media and the public and is symptomatic of the ‘growing visibility of online “manfluencers” who espouse extreme masculine ideals and share them with their audiences of boys and young men’. As a recent report by Women’s Aid reminds us, Tate is not a unique phenomenon but is merely the highest profile manifestation of extreme forms of misogyny which are ubiquitous online.

It is within this context that three documentary films about Tate were released on UK TV by the BBC (‘The Dangerous Rise of Andrew Tate’ [1] and ‘Andrew Tate – The Man Who Groomed the World’ [2] and Channel 4 (‘I am Andrew Tate’) [3] between Feb 2023 and January 2024. Considering these documentaries in dialogue with emerging academic discussions allows us to ask what are the gaps in that academic work which these documentaries expose? What are the questions they provoke?

Understanding content

One core set of questions focuses on content. The programmes offer rich examples of Tate – speaking both straight to camera and in interviews – seeming to argue for women’s roles being to serve men; for men’s physical power as integral to their sexual allure; for the value of achieving wealth through hard work; and for women as inferior to men. A focus on such content dominates academic responses to Tate: perhaps understandably, given its ubiquitous nature and its troubling implications. But we need to go further in our analyse of that content.

First, research needs to actively engage with a crucial question raised by the first BBC documentary about whether or not this content can credibly be seen as ironic? Shea (the narrator) shows Tate ‘off camera’ where he seems to perform a very different persona – actively stating his content is a joke. Shea thus questions whether this is all a joke designed for commercial ends?

One way of addressing whether Tate’s content can be seen as ironic is to engage actively with audiences. The Channel 4 documentary does precisely this, finding adults who espouse this view. Haslop et al similarly use focus groups to explore what children make of Tate’s content and they find that ‘several of the boys’ in those groups do see Tate as ironic. These children rationalise their engagement with Tate’s content on the basis that it is just a joke/Tate is not being serious. But this is not a widely held view: there are huge numbers of adults attracted to and taking Tate’s views seriously, while teachers are reporting considerable challenges in dealing with rising misogyny in the classroom.

Second, academic work also needs to acknowledge and engage with the recent changes to Tate’s content identified in these programmes. For example, the second BBC documentary identifies the growth of content featuring Tate in family situations, for example, in conversation with his sister, and playing in a garden with a dog and his niece. Examples are also shown of Tate’s conversion to Islam. The implications of such changes are important – they may create ambiguity in his messaging and/or be symptomatic of a desire to present toxic masculinity with a more ‘human face’. 

Why is Tate attractive?

Recent surveys by both Women’s Aid and YouGovdemonstrate that Tate’s material is attractive, with Women’s Aid finding that 40% of children age 7-18 report having viewed ‘potentially harmful content’ such as that featuring nudity and hatred against women and girls. Women’s Aid also found strong correlations between having seen this content and agreeing with views including whether there should be one dominant person in a relationship and whether hurting someone physically is acceptable if you apologise afterwards. YouGov’s survey of adults in 2023 found similar results, with 63% of British people having heard of Tate and 27% of men aged 18-29 having a ‘favourable view of Andrew Tate’ and 35% agreeing with ‘the sort of things that Andrew Tate says’.

There is thus a pressing need to gain greater understanding of WHY people find this material attractive. The TV programmes all present interviews with men who engage with Tate’s content: these interviewees see themselves in dead end jobs and see Tate as offering attractive ways forward. He offers a vision of an opulent lifestyle centred on fast cars, valuable watches and beautiful women, as well as sharing strategies/pathways based on individual self-reliance and hard work as a blueprint to becoming rich and acquiring status and power to those who feel they have neither.

Implications of Tate’s online persona

The emerging academic work which engages with teachers is extremely valuable, given that teachers are at the ‘front-line’ in engaging with young audiences for Tate’s material. All of the documentaries and this emerging academic work expose patterns of boys abusing other girls and boys abusing teachers in extremely problematic ways. The Women’s Aid report also highlights the implications of Tate’s popularity, emphasising that such content is engendering harmful attitudes with implications for domestic violence and abuse.

But as these programmes demonstrate, the focus of interviews could and should also be expanded by researchers to include social media companies, regulators, government officials and policy makers, in order to explore what should be done; those who have worked within Tate’s industry, in order to understand the inner workings of his social media empire; and the victims – both women and girls who suffer misogyny but also men who have been radicalised by such messaging, in order to fully understand its effects.

What these films could learn from academic work

Finally, documentary film makers could learn from academic work by placing Tate in a broader context. These programmes, perhaps understandably, focus very centrally on Tate. But does centring Tate in this way risk reifying him? Or suggesting that if he is removed from social media this will resolve the problems that his content and its consumption personify? Placing Tate in a broader context, which Women’s Aid argues we must, demands that he is considered as part of deep-seated changes in which extremism is increasingly flourishing in everyday life. If Tate is seen as just one among many manifestations of everyday extremism then our focus and our research needs to be attuned accordingly.

Nick Robinson is Associate Professor in Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. His research focuses on videogames, militarism, social media and extremism, particularly as it unfolds in the everyday lives of citizens.

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Image Credit: PEXELS

Alternative links to the documentaries: