Maya Newell’s debut documentary Gayby Baby is winning over audiences outside the LGBTQ community. Released in 2015 in Australia, the film has been screened around the world, emphasizing that raising children is hard work, no matter who is doing the parenting. The movie is told from the viewpoint of four young adolescents who are being raised in Australia by same-sex parents. As it turns out, these children are more worried by internal familial battles, issues that crop up in ordinary families, than they are about the external war being waged against homosexuality and gay parents.
Gabby Baby – Kids care about the battles at home and not the wars outside.
In the opening credits, the camera pans across framed portraits of conventional families – the moms and dads sitting beside their children, their faces gleaming with pride. The dissonant voice-over of Australian parliamentary members debating the adverse effects of gay parenting plays in the background. Finally, the camera focuses on a happy family – two mothers with their children, all of them beaming with joy.
Director Newell invites the audience into the homes and lives of four preadolescent children – Gus, Ebony (photo, top), Matt and Graham – each being raised by same-sex parents. While the children confront issues outside of gay rights, there’s no doubt that family structure also has an elemental impact on their actions, reactions and interactions.
Gus, age ten, is struggling to find his masculinity. He is passionate about WWE and wants to attend the live show, but his lesbian parents discourage his interest, fearing that wrestling’s portrayal of violence and machoism will make him too aggressive.
Matt, 11, is struggling to understand why his biological lesbian mother blindly believes in the preaching of the church, the same church that ousts her for her sexual orientation. This leads him to question religion and God. His challenge is sticking to what he believes, while not questioning his mother’s devotion.
After relocating to Fiji, Graham, 11, is instructed by his gay parents to keep their family dynamic under wraps. However, he is more afraid of being outed for his inability to read, a result of his birth parents’ poor upbringing..
And last but not the least, Ebony, 12, hopes to attend an inner-city performing arts school where she can pursue her dream of becoming a popstar. She also hopes that the new school would be less likely to judge her family.
Of course, the issues the documentary raises – machoism, insecurity, illiteracy, and aspiration – are ones that most young adolescents face regardless of the family make up. Once we have seen these families, Newell subtly yet politely raises the most primal question – what makes a good parent? Creating a positive environment for children has less to do with the sexual orientation of the parents and more to do with the qualities they bring to the role – patience, self-sacrifice, love, and encouragement, to name a few.
Movie banner featuring Gus
Despite its political message, the film is delightfully entertaining as the main characters speak extemporaneously with no hidden agenda. At one point, Gus argues with his mother about his reluctance to join the school’s debate team. After going back and forth, Gus fails to convince her, thus winning his point that he lacks the very basic skills of debating.
The filmmakers interviewed over 40 families before settling with the four children in the film. They made the decision to cast children between the ages of ten and 12. “It’s that beautiful cusp between adulthood and childhood, when you’re beginning to have a vision and opinion of the world” said Maya.
Gabby Baby, released in 2015, was shot over the course of four years, during a time when Australia political climate was roiled with proposals to ban LGBTQ marriages. The filmmakers used crowd-sourcing to fund the movie. Producer Charlotte Mars said that the film raised more than $100,000 in its first six weeks.
This film does have a realistic happy ending. Gus’s mother, despite having her doubts, partakes in his passion for WWE; Graham, with the help of his fathers’ encouragement shows continued improvement in his literary skills; Matt stands up to his belief of disbelief and happily opts soccer over church; and, Ebony, although not gaining admission to the school of her choice, loses interest in singing but emerges a more confident young woman, a spirit that is stronger and more prepared to face any societal challenges she may encounter.
Ultimately, the documentary addresses the day-to-day pressures of parenthood, demonstrating that LGBTQ parents are no different. As the American author, Jill Churchill, puts it, “There is no one way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
Courtesy of SUPERGRAVITY Pictures