REPRESENTATION MATTERS

It’s been just over a week since FIRST DAY premiered on ABC ME on Wednesday 11 October and was simultaneously released on ABC iView. While it’s too early for official aggregated ratings, there was a great deal of buzz leading into the release and the feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive.

While there were inevitably some who argued that a show about a transgender girl was inappropriate programming for the ABC (and I’m putting that nicely given the majority of the negative comments didn’t even make logical sense and were clearly made by people who hadn’t watched the show), there was an incredible amount of support from the transgender and LGBTQIA+ community and the wider community as a whole. Here are some of the comments from those who watched FIRST DAY:

Just watched 'First Day' and was so overjoyed to see such a positive representation of what a day in the life of a transgender young person could look like! Will be watching it again with my children tomorrow, please please turn this into a series.

Watched First Day, a small 20min film on ABC Me/iView. Fantastic, thank you. Not enough words. ❤ This was the most amazing viewing. Thank you for broadcasting such wonderful content. Will this be picked up as a series? How can we get this to be an ongoing series?!? This is the kind of fabulous content our world needs right now. Xx.

I've just watched this short film and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's a masterpiece in empathy and how you can use a piece of art to help people think differently about someone or something.

I think it's an incredibly powerful story and I'm so grateful for this opportunity to spend a moment seeing life through Hannah's eyes.

As a Trans woman myself this beautiful bright young actress is absolutely the most remarkable young person I've heard in years ❤ My heart is warm and my soul is alive seeing this.

What a brilliant concept! Not a single show like it around. 100% needs to be made into a regular series. Thanks ABCme. This is going to be such a positive important show.

More please! Well made, interesting and inclusive - so good to see broader representation of our kids. Make this a series asap!!

Thankyou abc! This made me almost cry. I have a 9 yr old m to f trans daughter and the idea of going to high school scares us both. I loved so much how this was done!

Absolutely loved this! Would be amazing to see this made as a series so that other children just like this character are able to see a representation of others like them which we currently don't have in Australia. Well done Evie and well done abcme.

It feels indulgent to include these comments here and it’s not something I would normally do, but as I was reading them I was reminded of the importance of representation on screen and why representation matters now more than ever.

When we don’t see ourselves and people like us reflected in the media it affects the way we feel about ourselves and the way we see the world. The message is that we’re invisible, that we don’t count, or worse still, there’s something wrong with us. We begin to wonder about our place in society and if we’re valued as a person.

Stories shape the way we see the world and the way we see ourselves. The Geena Davis Institute has conducted extensive research into the representation of women and girls on screen in the belief that “if she can see it, she can be it”. But the importance of representation goes beyond that for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, people of colour, and those of varied abilities. For many it is a lifeline. It helps our world to open up and reminds us we’re not alone. For LGBTQIA+ people in particular, seeing someone like them represented on screen can help make sense of how they’re feeling. It can give them the vocabulary and the impetus they need to start the conversation they’ve been too afraid to have.

Of course, the type of representation matters. If a character is merely defined by their ‘otherness’ and is used solely as a plot device, it can be more damaging than helpful. We need representation of complex characters who are three-dimensional human beings and being transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, a person of colour, someone of varied ability, or god forbid, a woman, is only one aspect of the character and not their defining feature. This not only benefits those finally seeing themselves represented, but also creates empathy within the wider audience.

There is also an unequivocal demand for more varied content and greater diversity of stories and characters on screen. This is why more people are accessing content online where traditional gatekeepers have been abolished and a wider variety of stories are being told. In an industry that has always been more show business than art, it makes sense financially to tell more diverse stories. The industry is changing, but the change is slow and a void remains waiting to be filled.

Stories are powerful and have the potential to create change - now more than ever.

In the lead up to the release of FIRST DAY and in the time that followed, a number of people commented on how much it meant to them to see a show like this on the ABC, our national broadcaster. While current technology means we can scour the internet and happen across someone like us, the fact remains that we shouldn’t have to. Yes, things are changing, but this change needs to happen more quickly. Representation matters and it matters across all forms of media. We all deserve to see ourselves reflected back at us, and at others, in mainstream as well as online content. The power of representation and the potential it offers for change means it’s too important to be left to chance.

By Julie Kalceff

 

 PHOTO CREDIT: NICK PROKOP PHOTOGRAPHY

PHOTO CREDIT: NICK PROKOP PHOTOGRAPHY

AUTHENTIC CASTING MATTERS

On Wednesday, 11 October at 7:15pm a stand-alone TV episode I wrote and directed, called FIRST DAY, will be broadcast on ABC ME. FIRST DAY is about Hannah, a 12 year-old transgender girl who’s starting high school. Having presented as male at primary school, it’s the first day she’ll wear a girl’s school uniform and go by her chosen name instead of the boy’s name she was given at birth. ABC ME is ABC TV’s dedicated children’s channel. FIRST DAY was commissioned through an ABC and Screen Australia joint initiative to celebrate the International Day of the Girl. The brief was to create a 20-minute stand-alone TV episode aimed at 8-12 year olds.

There is much to unpack in that paragraph and unpack it I will over the coming weeks, but today, I want to talk about the casting process. After hearing that FIRST DAY had been selected, Kirsty Stark, producer, and I, had our first meeting with the ABC. They were not only extremely enthusiastic and supportive of the project but they said they’d like us to try and cast a transgender girl in the lead. This had been our intention, but we weren’t expecting such outright support from the ABC. To be honest, I was still surprised they’d commissioned the project in the first place. 

After the initial euphoria wore off Kirsty and I had a reality check – yes, we wanted to cast a transgender girl in the role but the lead character of Hannah is in every scene. The success of the film hinges on her performance. What are the odds of us finding a transgender girl who has the courage to be part of this film, who can not only act, but who can carry the weight of this incredibly demanding role on her 12 year-old shoulders? Yes, we believe in authentic casting but we wondered, in this case, if it was even possible.

One thing became apparent over the coming weeks – if you think it’s impossible to cast authentically, you’re not looking hard enough.

The casting call Kirsty posted on her production company’s Facebook page, Epic Films, was shared over 370 times. We had 12 girls apply for the role. We had no money for casting, we had very limited resources, but we had 12 girls apply for a role we weren’t sure we’d be able to fill. Every girl that applied was brave, articulate and inspiring. They were each at different stages of their journey and they all have incredible futures ahead of them. We chose our Hannah from that 12.

Evie Macdonald is a 12 year-old girl from Melbourne. This was her first acting role and she nailed it! Without exception, everyone who was on set, who worked on the film in post-production, or who watched the film at any stage during completion commented on how incredible Evie’s performance is. We got lucky, you could say. We struck gold. But if we hadn’t tried, if we’d sat back and thought it was too hard, if we didn’t have the backing of the ABC, we never would have found Evie.

As far as I'm aware, it's the first time a transgender actor has been cast in the lead role of an Australian television episode. The fact that this will be screened on ABC ME and has been commissioned by the ABC and Screen Australia for children's television is especially groundbreaking. Again, I’ll unpack this in the weeks to come.

More and more transgender characters are appearing on screen but the tendency, especially in Hollywood, is to cast a cisgender white man in the role of a transgender woman. Casting a cis male in the role of a transgirl or woman is not an authentic portrayal of a trans woman. It’s reinforcing the ignorant and misinformed notion that a transwoman is really a man and being trans is about cross-dressing. Trans voices are crucial in telling authentic stories about trans characters.

As a white, cisgendered, middle-class lesbian, I acknowledge that FIRST DAY isn’t my story to tell, but as a white, cis, middle-class lesbian, I’m fully aware that I’m in a privileged position within my community and, as such, I have the resources to tell this story. By passing these resources onto Evie, not only does she have the opportunity to tell her story, but the story we set out to tell in the first place is so much better than it ever could have been without her.

There is much to talk about in regards to this project, particularly in the current political climate. I’ll do my best to talk through as much of this as I can in the coming weeks. I also have a feeling that once FIRST DAY has aired and people have watched it (or not), there will be a whole lot more to discuss and a whole bunch of people voicing their opinion.

By Julie Kalceff

 Photo credit: Nick Prokop Photography

Photo credit: Nick Prokop Photography