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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Most Dangerous Year is a documentary about transgender rights. It was mostly filmed in 2016, when a number of anti-trans bills were being debated in various states. The film is thoughtful and sympathetic, and most of its subjects emerge as heroes who show the courage and integrity to live their lives as they please -- and to accept their loved ones as they are. That said, viewers will also see and hear from less accepting people who say they feel sorry for trans people "who are confused about their gender" and that genitalia determine gender, rather than a person's inner feelings. Viewers also hear extensively about suicide, which is much more of a risk for trans people. Photos and the suicide note of a teen who died by suicide are seen, and parents whose children talked about or attempted suicide are interviewed. The documentary clearly separates gender from sexual identity, but viewers will hear fearful people talking about their worries about sex offenders, conflating them with trans people. Trans subjects, meanwhile, affirm their right to use whatever bathroom and locker room they feel comfortable in. A successful activist campaign may show viewers that they have a voice and power in the democratic process.
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What's the story?
Cultural pundits called 2016 -- a year when many anti-transgender laws were proposed in different states -- THE MOST DANGEROUS YEAR for trans people. Mere months after LGBTQ Americans won a major victory when the Supreme Court affirmed the right to same-sex marriage, the same conservative sources that opposed that decision came after trans people's right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender identity. Through interviews with trans children and their parents and footage from protests, state senate sessions, and press conferences, this documentary builds a clear picture of the happy, productive lives trans people can live if they're supported and accepted by those around them -- and the miserable existence they're doomed to when they're not.
Is it any good?
Thoughtful and enormously affecting, this documentary digs into a political fracas -- but in doing so presents a compelling picture of the magic of unconditional love and acceptance. As The Most Dangerous Year's main voice, Washington parent Vlada Knowlton tells us that when she finally accepted that the child she thought was her son was actually her daughter, it was a "terrifying time." Was her child doomed to live a miserable existence, shunned by society? She found her fears crystallized by the 2016 cultural backlash against LGBTQ rights in the form of "bathroom laws." On one hand, so many people seemed so threatened by people like her child. On the other hand, she soon learned that 41% of trans people who aren't supported by those around them attempt suicide.
After all, as we see, trans people are frequently shown ugly images of themselves in the media (e.g., Norman Bates in mom-drag and Buffalo Bill in his "costume") and are treated with something between contempt and fear by many people. Which makes little logical sense, as we learn, since gender isn't a "choice" or a "preference," it's literally coded into our physiology. Yet the 2016 anti-trans activists were able to get a long way by playing on hate and fear, conjuring the specter of sexual deviants who were just aching to violate the sanctity of bathrooms and locker rooms. Scenes in which bigoted rants from anti-trans protesters dissolve into sweet moments of trans children going happily about the business of being a regular kid are perhaps the movie's most powerful. Because despite all the hate that's been leveled at people like them, at home these kids are loved, just as they are, by their families. And it turns out that that's the most important thing of all.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what it means to be different. What's the right thing to do when we meet people who seem different from ourselves? Is "different" the same thing as "bad"? How did The Most Dangerous Year affect your opinion on that subject?
How might this film change if it were about just one transgender person, rather than providing an overview of many people's lives? Would it be more or less interesting? Is there a person featured in this documentary who you'd like to know more about?
Do you think society should be required to accommodate differences so that people can be treated fairly? Or do you think that society has no obligation to look out for people who don't conform to established "norms"? Why?
- In theaters: April 12, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: July 9, 2019
- Cast: Huddle Morris Blakefield, Meghan Hebert-Trainer
- Director: Vlada Knowlton
- Studio: Passion River
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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