The Most Dangerous Year


Just a good old-fashioned protest.

(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 McCrory was eventually defeated in his bid for re-election and his successor, a Democrat, quietly repealed the bill.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
NEXT:
Collisions

Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride


People are people; what’s on the outside is just gift wrapping.

(2017) Documentary (XLRator/Seventh  Art) Gloria Stein, Butch Rosichan, Dan Friedman, Steven Shulman, Susan Schaffel, Natalie Chasen, Larry Sands, Dawn Heber, RB Perlman, Ricki Perlman, Arlene Shaffer. Directed by Robyn Symon

 

Everyone has their own journey in life to take. Sometimes it seems to follow a set path but some journeys take us in unexpected ways to unexpected places. All we can really do is enjoy the ride; and it is a helluva ride.

She started out life as Butch Rosichan. A short, stocky man who made a living as an auto wrecker in Broward County (South Florida), he was a bulldog of a man who would get in your face at any perceived slight. He was not above getting into fistfights if he was provoked Homophobic and crude, he was something of a ladies’ man who had two sons from a failed marriage but that was nothing like his second marriage.

His divorce from that marriage turned into a bitter, knock-down drag-out thing. His ex and her pit bull of a lawyer hounded Butch into losing everything and then put him in jail for non-payment of alimony. When he finished serving his 120 days in the hoosegow, he found his business was finished and shortly thereafter another warrant for non-payment of alimony was issued. Not wanting to return to jail, he went into hiding instead – as a woman. Thus Gloria Stein was born.

As it turned out, she liked being a woman and decided that it wasn’t just a disguise. In 2003 she underwent surgery to change his gender. As Gloria, she met a man, Dan Friedman who as it turned out had been born a woman; Dan helped Gloria mellow out and smoothed out some of her rougher edges. She began reaching out to family members that she had alienated as Butch and began reconciling with them, although her two sons as of the filming of this documentary had yet to accept her or even return her calls. This is clearly very painful for her.

Butch became Gloria at the fairly advanced age of 67 (she’s pushing 80 now) and became the subject of a documentary by then-PBS documentary director Symon. The project, which was initially intended just to cover her transition from male to female became a decade-long endeavor.

Gloria is an engaging sort, an interesting subject matter who still refuses to take crap from anyone, although she’s less in-your-face about it these days. She’s an outspoken advocate for transgenders who does speaking engagements throughout the country. Along the way she has been a sex worker – a professional dominatrix – and oh yes, continues to have an interest in classic cars.

There are a lot of empty spaces in the film however and in many ways Gloria isn’t very forthcoming. When asked why she decided to undergo the sex change, she blurts out ‘I don’t know” and that feels a bit disingenuous. I suspect she knows but either can’t or won’t articulate it. Some of the more negative aspects of her life are glossed over somewhat; why she was unable to pay her alimony is never discussed although it is hinted at.

Apparently as Butch she was also involved in a stolen car ring but we don’t hear a lot about that other than a couple of moments discussing how she and her first wife used to take a cab to a restaurant then steal cars from the valet lot. Beyond that, we learn nothing about how she got involved with stealing cars and why. We’re also told that as Butch she was a homophobe but we get nothing else; I for one would love to have heard her feelings on her homophobia now that she has become a transgender. Considering that the documentary is only 76 minutes long, it seems incomprehensible that Symon had ten years to film and could only come up with 76 minutes of footage for her final product.

Symon utilizes home movie footage, re-enactments of certain events but primarily interviews with friends and family of Gloria, all of whom knew her as Butch. I’m wondering if the film couldn’t have used at least a couple of people who only knew Gloria and not Butch. The movie overall has a wry sense of humor about it that I liked very much.

It’s a fascinating documentary but maddeningly incomplete. I suppose it’s better to leave an audience wanting more than wanting less, but it’s still not a good feeling to leave a documentary wanting to know more about the subject and knowing that there was plenty of room to give us more. This feels more like a work in progress than a completed film, but at least it’s a quality work in progress.

REASONS TO GO: Stein is an engaging subject. The movie has a wry tone that is delightful.
REASONS TO STAY: The film could use much more fleshing out. Gloria needed to be a lot more forthcoming about her past.
FAMILY VALUES: There are adult themes, some profanity and brief sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Symon during her time at PBS won two Emmys.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/6/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Woman on Fire
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Blood Stripe