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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Real Boy is a documentary that spends three years with Bennett Wallace, a young man in the process of transitioning from female to male. First aired on the PBS Independent Lens series, the movie won multiple film festival awards prior to its digital release. Shaleece Haas, the filmmaker, focuses on Bennett, his mom, and those folks who make up his "community." It's a profoundly intimate film about discovery, growth, and acceptance. The movie spotlights two other young transgender men, and Suzy, Bennett's mom. Viewers can expect candid conversation from Bennett about his emotional, hormonal, and medical changes. He's extraordinarily open and engaging. Bennett reveals a history of "cutting" and substance abuse at a young age; another character struggles with addiction as well. Only one use of "f--k" mars an otherwise profanity-free movie. A timely film, made with respect and insight, it's recommended for families, especially those with mature teens.
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What's the story?
When REAL BOY opens in 2012, Bennett Wallace (formerly named Rachel) has already made the decision to transition from female to male. He's 19 years old, a committed musician, and a student who is recovering from addiction. Aware from an early age that he was born "in the wrong body," his realization has evolved into action. His family is initially devastated, certain of Ben's truth and yet not wanting to accept it. So, at the outset, Ben is alone. Suzy, his loving mother, is conflicted, embarrassed, struggling to give up "Rachel" and accept a son. His sister won't speak to him. His dad, divorced from his wife, is distant -- at least in this movie. In addition to full access to photos, home movies, and some of Ben's early, very personal songs, filmmaker Haas's connection to the family becomes an indispensable part of Ben's journey. That journey includes a move to college, hormone therapy, and an initial surgical procedure. Most importantly, Ben builds a community ("family") of loving friends and supporters, including Joe Stevens, a transgender musical artist of some note, and Dylan Engle, a student who's in a similar stage of transitioning. Both Joe's and Dylan's families are featured in the film as they bond with Ben and affirm his life decision.
Is it any good?
This insightful documentary, which provides a sympathetic portrait of a very young transgender man and his family, is a welcome addition to the conversation about an increasingly visible population. Real Boy is, above all, honest. Bennett Wallace's comments and feelings feel uncensored, as are his mom's. In fact, Suzy Reinke's emotional evolution provides some of the film's most poignant moments. Never exploitative, Bennett's story is simply told, the conflict coming from personal moments of truth and character that are relatable and real. There are no neat resolutions, especially for Joe Stevens, who remains admirable but vulnerable. The film deserves a wide audience, humanizing Bennett and others whose stories promote empathy and understanding.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the changing definition of the word "family." In Real Boy, Bennett creates a second family. How do you think the concept of family has changed over the last decades? Do you see this change as positive or negative? Why?
How did you feel about Bennett's mom, Suzy, early in the film? How did you feel about her at the end? How did the filmmakers show Suzy's growing acceptance (think about such techniques as close-ups, intimate interviews, and simply the amount time spent with Suzy)?
Do you think documentaries like this one raise the consciousness of its audiences? If you don't know anyone who has gone through a gender transition, did this movie give you a clearer understanding of what's involved, both emotionally and medically? In what ways, if any, did your feelings about transgender individuals change after watching it?
What other documentaries have had an impact upon your understanding of important issues? How do you choose which documentaries to watch? Do you choose something you're already interested in, or something you'd like to know more about?
- On DVD or streaming: December 1, 2017
- Cast: Bennett Wallace, Suzy Reinke, Joe Stevens, Dylan Engle
- Director: Shaleece Haas
- Studio: Passion River
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Communication, Empathy
- Run time: 72 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: April 24, 2020
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