By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on April 30, 2016)
NEWS FLASH: Just like the Russians, same-sex parents love their children, too.
And…their daily lives are virtually indistinguishable from any other typical family!
The parents feed, clothe, nurture their kids, have jobs…some even attend churches!
The kids go to school, play, laugh, cry, dream about their future…like normal kids!
I know, I know…I was just as shocked (shocked!) as you to learn all of these things.
Of course, I’m being facetious; although the sad fact remains that in the 21st Century, there are still those who would be shocked to learn life for kids in same-sex households is in fact, not tantamount to a forced “indoctrination” into some ungodly type of “lifestyle”.
Australian filmmaker Maya Newell sets the record straight in Gayby Baby, her documentary portrait of four kids who are growing up in same-sex households. Actually, the director herself doesn’t set the record straight; she just aims her camera, and the kids tell the story (that is to say, tell us their stories). Out of the mouths of babes, and all that.
This was a smart move, because children don’t view the world as a political battleground. They haven’t lived on the planet long enough to formulate any specific agenda. Ask them a direct question, and you’ll usually get an unadulterated answer (unless it’s “Who ate the cookies?”). Naturally, they are all aware that having two moms (or two dads) is atypical from their schoolmates…but that’s not something that any of them seem to obsess over.
They are mostly concerned with…kid stuff. A 10 year-old is preoccupied with all things WWF (and earns a stern talking-to when a wrestling match with his younger sister gets a bit too rough). One dreams of being a pop star; we watch her prepare for her audition that could get her into a performing arts school (warning: this likely will not be the first, or the last time you’ll weather a preteen girl’s approximation of “Rolling in the Deep”). An 11 year-old boy who grew up a foster child struggles with literacy. Another 11 year-old boy is dealing with a crisis of faith, pondering surprisingly deep issues for one so young.
Newell’s observational, non-judgmental approach is reminiscent of Paul Almond’s 7 Up, a 1964 UK documentary profiling 7 year-olds from varied socioeconomic backgrounds, sharing their dreams and aspirations. 7 years later the same subjects appeared in 7 Plus Seven, with director Michael Apted taking over. Updates continued with 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up, 49 Up and 2013’s 56 Up (my review). Newell’s subjects here are equally unfiltered and forthcoming; they leave you wanting for a similar update down the road.
In fact, I became so absorbed in the universal everyday travails of these families that I forgot all about any political subtexts until a brief jostle at the very end of the film where Newell inserts footage of some of the kids participating in a pride parade with their parents. Even in this arguably pointed coda, there is no palpable sense of proselytizing. At the end of the day, the film is not about being gay, or straight. It’s about being human.