Review: Little Girl

By Juliette Moisan 3 March 2021

Image Courtesy of The Upcoming

"My name is Sasha, and I'm a girl'.

This statement seems banal, and yet it shook Sasha's family the first time she made it clear, years ago. Her parents, at first, didn't understand and simply took it for a childish fleeting will. After all, then, Sasha was only 4 or 5.

However, as time went by, this was only getting clearer : Sasha is, indeed, a girl.

This could be yet another story about malaise and rejection. However, Sasha's family have always been present around her, to support her and help her live her life as she wishes to.

What is fresh, and almost unique in Sébastien Lifshitz's work is the very respectful approach of the topic of trans identity. Movies, series and documentaries dealing with trans identity are often flawed, if not outright damaging to the trans community.

Lifshitz, who also directed Adolescentes, chose to follow for a whole year the daily lives of a French family: Sasha, Karine (her mother) and the rest of the family, as they go from school appointments to playdates, from family holidays to psychologists. This is how his latest documentary, Little Girl (Petite Fille, in French) was born.

Lifshitz aims to show a day-to-day life that could be anyone's, if it wasn't for the fact that outside the bubble of the family, people have a harder time coming to terms with the fact that Sasha is a girl. Striving to paint an accurate portrait of a trans child's life, it shows Sasha's daily life as it truly is, no matter how harsh it can be at times. We hear about the school principal and the school board who refuse that Sasha dress as a girl at school, and of her dance teacher who has her dancing only male roles. Through the angle in which it is shot, this film is a cry for acceptance and tolerance. We see through Sasha's eyes how painful the lack of acceptance is and how desperately she wants to be like her friends, just a "normal" little girl.

Despite being a documentary, Lifshitz's film is shot almost like a movie. The scenes are always beautiful and carefully studied, without ever looking stale or rehearsed. First of all, the camera is never voyeuristic, never aggressive: it simply follows Sasha's journey from a soft and tender approach, almost as if it were a member of the family's gaze. There is no sense of sensationalism as we can find in Growing up Coy (2016), exploring the same topic.

More importantly, it is dramatically important to see a trans person be represented on the screen by an actual trans girl. Indeed, trans characters are often portrayed by cis actors, from The World According to Garp (1982) to The Danish Girl (2015). A trans woman, for example, being portrayed by a male actor wearing makeup is highly damaging, as it implies that trans women are still essentially male. By giving a voice to an actual trans person, Lifshitz not only contributes to their representation in media, but he also allows her to tell her own story without having to ever compromise.

All in all, Little Girl relates, with a lot of love and tenderness, the story of a young girl and argues that no one should have to go through the hardships Sasha does : everyone has a right to be accepted for who they are, regardless of who people thought they'd be. It is also bracing to hear about stories of love and acceptance. Sasha's siblings ,talk only of how much they love their sister, without ever seeming confused: her identity is never questioned by her family, who accept her just as she truly is. We need more pieces of media portraying this kind of unconditional love, and not just exploiting trans identity to benefit from it.

Little Girl is, truly, a must-see documentary, likely to play a big role in paving the way in understanding trans identity in children.

There is still a long, long way to go in the path of acceptance for trans people, both in the UK and in France. However, talking about it and breaking the still very prevalent taboo surrounding trans identity is vital and urgent.

Little Girl is available on video on demand.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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