One of the easiest to watch and most beautiful documentaries I have seen of late is on Rialto Channel tonight, and I defy you not to fall in love with it.
Called GAYBY BABY, it is an Australian film that follows the lives of four kids - Gus, Ebony, Matt and Graham - whose parents all happen to be gay. As they each wrestle with personal change, the outside world wrestles with the issue of marriage equality, and whether or not kids of same-sex families are at risk. It turns the political into the personal, and by focusing on the children rather than their parents, gives us a truly intimate look into the struggle for all members of the families. It helps hugely that the children are all totally wonderful too - they are funny, surprising, passionate and incredibly articulate, as well as some of the most self-aware young people I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on screen.
The work of producer Charlotte Mars and director Maya Newell (who herself comes from a same-sex parented family), the film was widely praised and much loved upon its release, but soon attracted an absolutely infuriating level of controversy that rolled out a few months later.
The film was banned from NSW public schools by state education minister Adrian Piccoli and NSW Premier Mike Baird in August last year. It followed a front-page splash from News Corp's Daily Telegraph, entitled "Gay class uproar", which claimed parents were outraged at a planned screening of the film at Burwood Girls High School in Sydney's Inner West. Up to 50 schools across Australia, including 20 in NSW had organised a simultaneous broadcast of the film as part of a nationwide Wear it Purple Day campaign of sexual inclusion in schools. Ironically, Burwood Girls High School counts Maya Newall as an alumnus. Wear it Purple Day founder Katherine Hudson said at the time that she could understand the film being banned if it showed "grotesque sex scenes or violence", but it most definitely contains neither. “This is a film about families. Even for conservatives, this stuff would be easy to swallow," she said. Outrageously, NSW Premier Mike Baird said he did not believe the film belonged in the classroom either. "I think tolerance is a good thing. But I think there should be some parameters around it," he said. "This is something that can be provided but done outside class time."
The film’s creators now say that they are tired of the film’s controversy, which distracts greatly from its original purpose. "We were tired of it. We felt like there was something more considered we could offer with this film and maybe these kids could be that voice," Mars told the press at the time. "It wasn't about yelling, it was just about telling the story of these young people, who are incredibly compelling. I think that there's something powerful in that."
The Sydney Morning Herald’s film critic said of GAYBY BABY: “Use the words "children" and "sexuality" in the same sentence, and someone is bound to get upset”, and that seemed the only explanation anyone could possibly think of for the fuss surrounding the incredibly gentle and thoughtful observational documentary about children raised by gay and lesbian parents.
What it really demonstrates to me is that the parents in the film are very much like their straight counterparts, and deserve the same respect along with their kids. In 2015 this shouldn't even be controversial or headline grabbing, it should be a given. It seems though that it's still a lesson some of us need to learn – particularly adults.
GAYBY BABY Premieres on Rialto Channel on Thursday 4th August at 8.30pm