(2018) Documentary (Passion River) Vlada Knowlton, Aidan Key, Meghan Hebert-Trainer, Kristina Olson, Joe Fain, Tiffany Dolmseth Kelly, Jim Ritter, Sarah Taboada, Ryan Trainer, Laurie Jinkins, Cyrus Habib, Erika Laurentz, Asaf Orr, Kristina Olson, Kevin Hatfield, Huddle Morris Blakefield, Johanna Olson-Kennedy, Jennifer Popkin. Directed by Vlada Knowlton
The Human Rights Report called 2016 the most dangerous year for transgenders on account of all the so-called “bathroom bills” aimed at disallowing transgenders from using public bathrooms of their gender identification, mandating that they use the bathrooms of the genders that they were born with. The supporters of the legislature tended to demonize transgenders, depicting them all as some sort of closet Norman Bates, going into women’s bathrooms to prey on women despite absolutely no evidence that this sort of issue was occurring. In fact, transgenders have been using the bathrooms of their gender identification for decades without incident. All of a sudden, they’ve become demonic sexual predators in the eyes of Middle America.
Much attention was focused on HB 2, the notorious North Carolina bill that was signed into law by governor Pat McCrory which led to widespread protests and sanctions, losing the state an estimated $400 million in revenue. McCrory was eventually defeated in his bid for re-election and his successor, a Democrat, quietly repealed the bill.
=However, there were similar bills that came onto the books in a succession of Red States and, surprisingly, Washington – one of the most progressive states in the union. Vlada Knowlton, a documentary filmmaker based in Seattle, especially had a stake in the politics – she is the mother of a five-year-old (at the time) trans daughter. She, like many parents of transgenders, realized that the bill was just a first step in making second class citizens of their children and could lead to violence against them. The suicide rate among transgenders is already high.
The movie chronicles the fight against Washington SB 6443 which was similarly worded to the notorious HB 2, and then later attempts to get a ballot initiative (I-1515) onto the 2016 ballot for the citizens of Washington to vote on. Knowlton attends plenty of senate hearings, court cases and town halls; while she interviews a few supporters of these bills and questions them as to why they believe that way, clearly this isn’t a subject she can’t be objective about – nor should she be.
Aidan Key, a transgender activist, comes off as one of the heroes here as does Washington State Senator Joe Fain, a Republican who voted against the bill which led to some anger among his supporters, one of whom threatened to punch him in the nose at a contentious town hall (note to Angry White Man: You do not have the right to punch a state senator in the nose. You make the decision to do so. The State Senator then has the right to bring you up on charges, and you have the right to representation when you go to trial for assault and battery).
This is an important documentary, a little bit on the raw side but certainly one that needed to be made. Even the Gay and Lesbian community hasn’t been as vocally supportive of the Transgender community as they might have been; in some ways Transgenders are the most vulnerable of our population; they have little representation and few supporters. That the parent’s groups have stepped up is heartening. Parallels are drawn between the segregation of African-Americans in the Jim Crow South and the current laws (or attempt at laws) aimed against transgenders that are effectively done.
The soundtrack has is really nice and Knowlton is a decent narrator. There is a whole lot of interview footage which can get tedious but one can’t deny the passion or the heart behind the documentary. All parents of transgender kids – and those who are allies – should see this. More importantly, people who think transgenders should be excluded from using the bathrooms of their gender identification should see this too.
REASONS TO SEE: The stories are heartbreaking. The soundtrack is terrific.
REASONS TO AVOID: There is an over-reliance on interviews.
FAMILY VALUES: Thematically this is on the adult side; there is also some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Knowlton worked at Microsoft prior to becoming a filmmaker.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/19/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Freedom to Marry
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10