As J.K. Rowling could tell you, transgender politics is one of the biggest, most incendiary minefields of the 21st century. Who knew it would be responsible for so many Twitter wars, or that so many American politicians would care so much about restrooms they will never use?
The level of general ignorance about the transgender community among the public – including myself – is what makes the new HBO documentary “Transhood” such essential viewing. I’d also make this mandatory to be shown in schools (it will probably prove as illuminating for teachers as well as students).
In what was clearly a labor of love, over five years director Sharon Liese followed four kids at various stages of childhood with one thing in common: As filming began, they all identified as a different gender to the one assigned to them at birth.
The subjects range from 4-year-old, dress-wearing Phoenix – who initially describes herself as a “girl-boy, a boy who wants to be a girl” – to Leena, a 15-year-old who’s starting to take hormone blockers, dreams of being a model and is thinking about the day when she’s an adult and can have sexual reassignment surgery. Or as her grandma so colorfully describes female genitalia, she can have a “playpen” installed between her legs.
In between we have Avery, a 5-year-old whose multicolored hair matches her vibrant personality. She started her social transitioning from boy to girl at age 4 after announcing to her parents that they should start referring to her as female. Then there’s Jay, a sensitive 12-year-old whose on-screen journey also starts with his first day on hormone blockers as he transitions through puberty to what will likely be manhood.
“Every transgender journey is unique,” a caption reads at the start, and boy/girl/it is that borne out by what follows. In less than 100 captivating, profoundly moving minutes, this beautiful film shows that while childhood is hard for all youngsters, it’s even more challenging when you’re certain the gender written on your birth certificate is not who you really are.
Luckily, these four kids have incredibly supportive, loving parents who are simpatico despite raising them in religious and conservative Kansas City, Missouri – which in 2015 was known as “the epicenter of transgender violence.”
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All of these parents are “Dad/Mom of the Year” potential, but I was particularly struck by three of them. From the outside, Leena’s dad, Mike, looks like your average blue collar Joe, jokingly threatening to beat up her boyfriend if he doesn’t treat his daughter right on their first date. But despite the jock-like mannerisms, Mike’s always loyally by Leena’s side every step of the way.
In addition to Mike the mensch, there’s also Avery’s mom, Debi. She was “raised as a Southern Baptist, hard-core conservative,” but became a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community after accepting Avery for who she was – something that saw Debi disavowed by most of her family and friends.
We also have Bryce, who’s raising Jay as a single mom and is also persona non grata with most of her family. “My mother thinks I’m a child abuser, but I know in my heart that it’s the right thing to do – and I would rather have a healthy son than a suicidal daughter,” she says early on, summing up her philosophy and seemingly that of everyone here.
The kids’ journeys sometimes go in unexpected directions, perfectly highlighting why, as one mother explains, children aren’t allowed to have any gender-related medical interventions before they reach puberty. After spending time with these kids, you want this to become a transgender “Seven Up!” series that also revisits them every seven years to see how they’re coping with life’s challenges.
I can’t tell you if it’s being a parent that made me connect with “Transhood” so much or just the sheer scale of warmth and decency on display – but I hope it’s the latter. This is a film that, barring one brief clip of conservatives spewing their bile, is very much about providing a welcome – and necessary – voice for transgender kids and their families.
For a subject that has apparently confused so many adults in recent decades, it’s left to a 10-year-old kid to put it all into context. “What I really hope,” says Avery, “is that people realize we’re not some exotic species – we’re human. That’s what matters.”
Amen to that, as they no doubt say in Kansas City.
Is it possible to like a show populated by so many unlikable characters? Apparently so, if HBO’s new eight-part series “Industry” is any guide.
This British show is set among a group of wannabe investment bankers in London’s financial district – no, wait, come back, hear me out! To be honest, it took me two episodes to accept any of these characters as anything other than “Apprentice” candidates from hell, and I’m sure some viewers will be tempted to trade them in after the first episode.
Stick with it, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a flawed but oftentimes fascinating look at the ultra-competitive world of investment banking. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write unless I was reviewing a Michael Lewis book.
“Industry” is very much two shows unsubtly welded together: a rather tired one full of explicit sex, drugs and electronic beats (imagine, if you wish, “Euphoria” relocated to the streets of London); the other a taut drama set in the world of high finance, where the newbies are treated with all the respect Donald Trump has doubtless shown all of his staff over the years.
The characters are equally schizophrenic: For every three posh Old Etonians hoovering up drugs like a Dyson and looking like the bastard children of Hugh Grant or James Wilby, there’s an enigmatic female character or mature colleague who is intriguing enough to compensate for their “spaffing” (to quote British Prime Minister Boris Johnson) young associates.
To watch “Industry” is to be reminded of the genius of a show like “Succession,” which created memorable, engaging characters in an otherwise morally repugnant world.
Sadly, there’s no one here to compare to, say, Matthew Macfadyen’s Tom Wambsgans. But four episodes in, “Industry” does have several characters well worth sticking around for: Myha’la Herrold is Harper Stern, the young American at the show’s core, who’s economical with the truth about her past but is clearly a financial whiz; Marisa Abela is Yasmin, a Notting Hill princess with a punishing workout regime and even more punishing (nay abusive) boss; and Ken Leung is Eric, the baseball bat-swinging managing director on the trading floor who only avoids being branded “monstrous” because there are even worse ogres around him. When a young graduate informs him that he studied the classics, Eric fires back: “How the fuck did you end up in a bank? Only in England!”
“Industry” was created by two former finance workers – Mickey Down and Konrad Kay – and it’s during the workday that this show truly comes alive. Otherwise, it’s just your average Gen-Z show featuring equal measures of white powder and white privilege. (I had to stop myself automatically reaching for the off button whenever I heard that a character was educated at Eton – in this case there are at least two of them.)
The great irony is that the work scenes are engrossing despite most sentences sounding like a foreign language. I don’t have a clue what “We need to be sharper at packing trading strategies across asset classes. High margin, multi-asset play” – but it all somehow works to build up the high stakes.
There’s a lot of British humor here that may fly over the heads of an international audience (a running gag about reality TV star Joey Essex, for instance, or Harper’s response to seeing an uncircumcised penis: “I feel like I’m in a Richard Curtis movie”). But that local wit is one of the show’s greatest strengths, providing it with an authenticity reminiscent of Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” from earlier this year.
“Industry” should also win an award for the most gratuitous full-frontal shot – though, in a sign of the times, it’s a male nude (perhaps Lena “Girls” Dunham’s most memorable contribution as director of the first episode?). In truth, it’s not likely to win many more, but if you can get past the initial obnoxiousness of some of these characters, this financial drama just about pays off.
‘The Secrets She Keeps’
I’ve always had a soft spot for Australian film and television, dating back to the days when the likes of Russell Crowe, Hugo Weaving and Nicole Kidman were first cutting their acting teeth. It may have dropped off the radar for a while, much like Crowe’s career, but it’s showing signs of life in recent years.
“The Secrets She Keeps” is a six-part thriller starring Laura Carmichael (“Downton Abbey”) and Jessica De Gouw (“Arrow”) as heavily pregnant moms-to-be whose distinctly different lives in suburban Sydney collide in increasingly dramatic (nay melodramatic) ways. Just call it “Fetal Attraction.”
It’s based on the 2017 novel of the same name by Michael Robotham, which is part of the seemingly never-ending stream of psychological thrillers – led by the likes of “The Girl on the Train” – in which apparent domestic bliss is upended by the intervention of another person (invariably a woman) in a couple’s lives.
Carmichael is Agatha “Aggie” Fyfle, an English expat who moved to Australia at 14, enduring the kind of hard-knock life Little Orphan Annie would surely relate to. At the other end of the scale is “yummy mummy” Meghan Shaughnessy, married to a local TV sports presenter (Michael Dorman) and curator of a blog called Mucky Kids. This allows Meghan to pour her middle-class heart out about her “oops baby.”
It’s a supposedly successful blog, yet fails to generate even $400 a month. Then again, it does attract hate Gifs from anonymous members of the public, so maybe some things can’t be valued purely in monetary terms.
The novel, which splits the narrative between the two women, sums up their differences perfectly with this line from Aggie: “Meg looks like Andie McDowell [sic] in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral.’ I look like Janet Leigh in ‘Psycho’ before the knife starts shredding the shower curtain.” One other major difference is that Meg looks like she’s carrying Wilson the volleyball to term, showing once again how hard it is to convincingly make actresses look pregnant on-screen.
This is one of those domestic dramas that presumably earns that tag because it throws everything but the kitchen sink at the storyline. I won’t list them here, but there wasn’t a plot twist I couldn’t see coming until episode 5. Sometimes predictability has its own charms, though, and I found the characters of Aggie and Meghan engaging enough, and the drama gripping enough, to happily spend five hours in their company.
It’s also worth noting that while “The Secrets She Keeps” is based on a novel, it’s actually inspired by a true story. I’ll leave you to google “Abbie Humphries” if you want to know more about the story behind the story (best wait till after you’ve seen the series, though).
Ultimately, I think I’m a bit of a sucker for all those Australian accents and scenic places like the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. And talking of Aussie icons, any show that can take Kylie Minogue’s pop classic “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and turn it into a haunting intro (sung by Melbourne artist Juice Webster) is definitely worth at least three minutes of your time.
“Transhood” is on Cellcom tv, Yes VOD and Sting TV from Friday, and Yes Docu on November 16 at 10 P.M. “Industry” is on Hot HBO on Tuesdays at 10 P.M., with episodes available every Tuesday on Hot and Yes VOD, Cellcom tv, Next TV and Sting TV. It’s airing on Yes Drama from December 20. “The Secrets She Keeps” is on Hot 3 on Tuesdays at 8:45 P.M. and will also be available from Hot VOD and Next TV.