Four kids talk about their lives as children of same-sex parents.
Maya Newell, 2015
Gayby Baby is an Australian documentary that focuses on four pre-teen kids from Sydney: Gus lives with his two mums and his sister and is obsessed with wrestling; Ebony lives with two mums and two brothers and dreams of getting into a performing arts school in Newtown; Graham is moving to Fiji with his brother and two dads, and struggles with reading and writing thanks to learning at a late age; and Matthew’s religious mother split from his father and wants to marry her partner, causing Matthew to struggle with her faith’s view of her lifestyle. Getting up close and intimate with the kids and their families, the documentary explores life within a rainbow family. Themes such as masculinity, secrets in the face of cultural disapproval, and the unfairness of the society in which we live are explored by the kids as they go about their daily lives.
For the uninitiated, Gayby Baby is a film that has sparked a little firestorm of controversy in Australia recently. Some schools wanted to show it on Wear It Purple day, and the New South Wales government, in its infinite wisdom, decided to ban it. Of course, banning a movie is the best way to guarantee that absolutely everyone will want to see it, so it’s had a big boost in interest since then. The irony that this is an incredibly gentle documentary that was purposefully made without a political agenda seems to be lost on these politicians. Director Maya Newell keeps a very tight focus on the kids, interviewing the four children at the centre of the film and not anyone else in their families, to create a very personal documentary. There’s a lovely, dreamy quality to the cinematography, which looks terrific for the film’s budget. The camera often focuses tightly on the children’s faces as they go through some private, internal struggle. Ultimately, though, there’s no way to make a film like Gayby Baby without politics, because the lives of minorities are inherently political. Rather than apolitical, the desperation to be purely personal renders the film somewhat toothless.
The kids are really well-chosen. They’re eloquent, charismatic, and interesting in their own ways. Matt is perhaps the most self-conscious of the bunch, but he seems to loosen up as the film continues. A few of his conversations feel staged, and he seems to be a fairly introverted kid. His storyline has the most actual politics in it, thanks to his mother’s campaign for then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard to allow same-sex marriage. I was personally fascinated by Graham, whose learning difficulties are compounded by the move to Fiji. His dads are very careful about the information they share, and the information they tell their sons to share, about their relationship. Ebony’s struggle with her audition is easy to connect with, but the fact that we never hear her preparing her song is kind of odd. It’s Gus who provides the humour of the movie, and he seems to be the most rounded in what the film allows us to see of him. We get to see him at his best and his worst. He’s a whirlwind of obsessive energy, sometimes providing really sharp, insightful humour, and at other times harming those around him. Those are the kinds of moments this film needs more of: in trying to prove that gayby babies are just like us, they’ve minimised the negative sides of these kids’ humanity. The movie is so good in most ways that it’s a real shame about the lack of bite.
We were lucky enough to score an interview with director Maya Newell and producer Charlotte Mars over at the Silver Screen Queens podcast. You should check it out!
Gayby Baby on IMDb