GAYBY BABY premieres Wednesday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Isabel Bader Theatre. For additional screening times, head here.
Last year at Hot Docs, The Case Against 8 was a powerfully political film about two LGBTQ married couples who fight to overturn Proposition 8 in California. Hot Docs 2014’s LGBTQ film selection on the whole was defined by this fighting and strive for equality. Conversely, Gayby Baby is a very quiet observational documentary that positions gay and lesbian parents as the same as any other parent. It makes the documentary a bit too quiet, and has very little narrative trajectory, but has a sweet and touching slice-of-life style.
Director Maya Newell makes an excellent choice in almost never interviewing the parents of the four children, instead allowing the children to tell their own stories about their experiences as the children of gay and lesbian parents, as well as territory familiar to every child: growing up, achieving dreams, and discovering their own ideals and beliefs.
We follow a wide variety of families in Gayby Baby, all of whom are facing a crossroads. Matt has a devoutly Christian mother and is facing a spiritual crisis–he can’t quite believe in a church that tells his mom and her partner they’re not welcome. Ebony comes from poor family with an epileptic little brother and dreams of going to a private art school and becoming a famous pop singer. Gus adores wrestling and lipstick equally, but can’t wait to grow up and get muscles, rejecting his–in his words–“fluffy” side.
Gus’ mothers are worried that wrestling is anti-gay and anti-women, prompting my favourite line in the whole film (when Gus’ mom declares that wrestling is too violent and encourages fighting instead of working out differences, Gus counters, “What about contract signing? They sit down and talk!”). Graham’s family has moved to Fiji from Australia, and he struggles with keeping his two dads a secret in a more conservative society while also learning to read (Graham was so badly neglected by his birth parents that he didn’t learn to read until age 11).
I applaud Newell’s decision to not make a film about how different gay and lesbian parents are from heterosexual ones. Instead, by following four families with children who have hopes and dreams and struggles outside of thinking about their homosexual parents, Gayby Baby positions gay parents as identical to every other parent. If anything, these are parents who value communication and understanding above all else because of their need to prepare their kids for a world that may not be okay with them. Parenthood is defined by love and care for children–not sexual identity and orientation, despite what bigots may think.
Laura is covering the 2015 Hot Docs Film Festival live from Toronto. Check out more Hot Docs reviews here.