I’ve never understood what it is about transgender people that causes apparently sane adults to lose their shit, and I’m particularly baffled when the focus of their incoherent rage is transgender children. Witness the current fad in the United States for state legislation designed to harass and humiliate trans children and ultimately keep them from living their true identity while taking part in one of the traditional rituals of childhood, playing on sports teams. And I’m not talking about yahoos who might not know any better—Rand Paul, a Senator who is also a medical doctor, went out of his way to liken transgender care to genital mutilation, scoring a few cheap points with his base by mischaracterizing what can be lifesaving medical care for people who don’t fit into his predetermined gender binary.
Given that context, Little Girl, a documentary by Sebastien LIfshitz, feels as gentle as a spring breeze after a winter of blizzards. The film follows a year in the life of Sasha, a seven-year-old girl identified as male at birth, and her family. It’s not all roses and sunshine in Sasha’s world—kids can be mean, and the principal at her school refuses to acknowledge her gender identity until her mother gets a letter from a specialist stating that Sasha has gender dysphoria—but she was born into a loving and cohesive family that accepts her as she is, and is determined to do their best to help her take her place in the world. The family also seems to be financially comfortable, which always makes life easier.
Little Girl is definitely Sasha’s film—hers is the only name we learn, and we see other people mainly when they are interacting with her—but it’s also clear that her whole family is going on a journey as well. It’s most obvious with Sasha’s mother, who worries that she might have said the wrong thing, or done the wrong thing, or thought the wrong thing (a specialist assures her she did not), but is dedicated to helping Sasha lead a normal life, meaning one where she can be safe and secure while being herself at school, has friends who understand her, and can take part in activities like ballet class without being singled out. One of the older girls in the family also speaks out, saying she wants to be a strong role model for her little sister, while Dad and the other siblings simply accept Sasha as she is, without fuss.
Sasha is a charming child, and you can’t help but root for her to be allowed to bloom into her true self, as her mother is fond of saying. She’s a natural before the camera, and it’s a credit to Lifshitz and cinematographers Paul Guilhaume and Céline Bozon that they have captured such natural scenes of family life, and of Sasha interacting with other kids and adults. Pauline Gaillard’s editing feels so natural that the year seems to simply unfold before your eyes, a result that, obviously, requires a lot of hard work behind the scenes. Little Girl reminds above all of a fictional film, Celine Sciamma’s Tomboy, which offers a similarly unforced view of a girl who simply decides, for one summer at least, to be a boy. | Sarah Boslaugh
QFEST runs April 16-25, with programming only available in Missouri and Illinois. Tickets to single films are $14 for general admission and $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students. Once you begin watching, a film remains available for 48 hours, and several passes are also available. Further information is available from the QFest web site.