The backlash against the NSW Government over banning schools from screening controversial documentary Gayby Baby during class time has come from all directions – gay and lesbian groups, school students, even the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had a crack at his counterpart north of the border.
The Baird government has been accused of spreading a message of intolerance, and the ban certainly does deprive students of the chance to find out more about same-sex parenting.
But there’s something else they’ll be missing out on – great filmmaking.
Gayby Baby doesn’t just treat queer families with respect – it actually takes the novel approach of treating viewers with respect as well.
In an era when even serious topics are given the reality TV show treatment with contrived situations and ridiculous voiceovers – think SBS’s noble-but-sometimes-tacky Go Back Where You Came From or Struggle Street – Gayby Baby is documentary in its purest form, and one of the better examples to come out of Australia in recent years.
Some newspapers’ hysterical coverage of the gay “propaganda” being forced on vulnerable young children is suspect in plenty of ways, not least of which is it fundamentally misunderstands what this film they’re so worried about actually is.
Gayby Baby is not a feature-length GetUp campaign video – it is an intimate, mature account of the very specific circumstances of four families with same-sex parents, warts and all.
Director Maya Newell, herself raised by same-sex parents, said she wasn’t looking to create an advertisement for same-sex mums and dads, and she certainly doesn’t shy away from the challenges of growing up in such a situation.
There’s 12-year-old Ebony facing auditions to sing her way into Newtown Performing Arts High, where she hopes fellow students would be more likely to accept her same-sex mothers.
There’s 11-year-old Matt, struggling to come to terms with how his deeply religious mother can love a God who doesn’t seem to accept gay people.
Graham, also 11, moves to conservative Fiji, where he has to keep the fact he has two dads a secret. Finally there’s 10-year-old Gus, obsessed with the macho world of wrestling, and faced with the uphill battle of convincing his mothers to let him go to a big match.
It sounds serious, but this doco is an absolute breeze to watch.
These four tales are delicately interwoven and perfectly paced – periods of introspection and light-hearted family banter breaking up the occasional heavier moments.
The style is less fly-on-the-wall than it is child-on-the-floor – the stories are told from the perspective of the kids, who give all the interviews and receive most of the camera’s attention with lingering close-ups, low-angle shots and shallow-depth of focus.
Driven by the priorities of the young protagonists, Gus being banned from wrestling with his sister is treated as just a big a deal as Mat’s showdown with former PM Julia Gillard on gay marriage (who several years on seems to have come around to Mat’s point of view), and all subjects are approached with childish whimsy.
Judging by the film, perhaps Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Ackerman was right to say that kids with same-sex parents aren’t normal – that’s because all children are just generally very weird people, no matter who raised them.
The kids in Gayby Baby are just as hilariously offbeat as those raised by heterosexual parents, providing plenty of brilliant quotes that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
If a film that merely shows what life is like for people in a certain segment of the community is propaganda, then so is every documentary ever created.
It’s a beautiful, warm film that doesn’t beat you over the head with a heavy-handed message.
Well worth watching, even if it does have to be outside school hours.