Having a debut film play both Sydney and Melbourne film festivals, as Gayby Baby (2015) did this year, is an impressive feat and bound to generate a bit of buzz. However an ugly media storm around the film being played in schools, leading to a cowardly NSW Government decision to ban it, means that the current limited theatrical release of the film has a lot more buzz behind it than it would have otherwise.
For those international readers not aware, essentially a number of schools had planned to show the film as part of Wear it Purple day. A day designed to acknowledge LGBTI youth, particularly important given the rates of suicide amongst those people. The Daily Telegraph, the main right wing tabloid, found out and went about doing some hatemongering. The peak of this was Piers Ackerman, known to some as Jabba the Hut, bleating about how one of the 11 year old participants was not “normal”. Classy. The conservative liberal state government stepped in, did the bidding of the Telegraph and banned the film. With such horrid pervasive attitudes the norm and endorsed at a government level, it is little wonder that LGBTI suicide rates remain high.
Part of the stated objectives of the filmmakers is to illustrate that people in same sex relationships having kids, has nothing to do with the current swirling and idiotic debate around same sex marriage. Conservative Australian politicians such as Eric Abetz and *shudder* Cory Bernardi constantly raise the point that a child should have a mother and a father during debates on marriage equality. But the simple fact of the matter is that there are a number of avenues for gay couples to have children in Australia, through adoption, “spam” donors (as one of the kids in the film puts it), foster care and other ways. The film begins with images of ‘traditional’ families with statements from some of these bigoted politicians. The film simply focuses in on four different kids with same sex parents. The only way in which the film can be considered political, is if you feel those in same sex relationships having kids is fundamentally political. Otherwise, these are normal kids, each bravely facing up to unique challenges. Whether it be the pressure to perform to get into a performing arts school, the struggle of overcoming learning difficulties, agonising over one’s faith or learning to reconcile a passion for pro-wrestling with the real world (I still struggle with this last one). These kids are simultaneously as normal, and incredible, as other kids. The film also plainly shows the incredible job done by these parents, often stepping in where others had previously fallen away to provide the love, support and nurture required.
Stylistically, director Maya Newell chooses not to insert herself into proceedings at any point, even though as a 27 year old product of a same-sex relationship, she would have undoubtedly brought a great perspective to it. Instead, the children really do get the chance to speak for themselves, conveying four diverse stories. They are great characters, some of them with intelligence and deep thought beyond their years, others with a habit of cracking up the large audience I saw the film with. The approach taken by the film is a smart one. Rather than trying to tell the entire story of the kids or their families, it hones in on one aspect of their personality or one challenge they are currently attempting to overcome. That makes the film more thought provoking too I think. Showing the commitment of one kid’s parents as they attempt to overcome the horrible learning situation he faced in his first 5 years before coming into their care. Or another kid confronting a priest about why he considers his mum (a parishioner) a sin in the eyes of God. These situations will make you recall similar ones from your own life. The main takeaway for me had nothing to do with the fact these kids had same-sex parents. Rather, as a prospective parent the film made me ponder pretty deeply about how difficult it will be to protect and guide my son in the pressures of this world. I can only imagine what it would be like if he had to read that he was ‘abnormal’ in one of the widest read newspapers in the country. Shameful.
Verdict: By presenting four unique stories, Gayby Baby ensures that there will be something you connect with personally in the film. Rather than a thesis or idea being rammed down people’s throats with the film, there is a beauty and normality to it. Or perhaps a beauty in the normality. Showing that these kids face many of the same issues that all others face. And hopefully one day soon they will be the only ones they face. Pint of Kilkenny