“Gayby Baby speaks to the changing shape of the modern family, and contours this rise in demographic of children with same-sex parents.”
Maya Newell, Director OF ‘Gayby Baby’
I sat down with Maya Newell to discuss film as a force for change in the LGBT+ Community.
About a month back, I attended a screening of the documentary film ‘Gayby Baby’ as part of the Birmingham PRIDE celebrations. Directed by Maya Newell and produced by Charlotte Mars and Billy Marshall Stoneking (EP), Gayby Baby delves into the issues of same sex marriages through following the lives of four Australian families. But, rather than giving the main narrative to the adults, this documentary shows “same sex marriage, told by the kids”.
Throughout the film we follow the lives of Matt, Graham, Gus and Ebony; budding tweens going through the peaks and troths of puberty, as well as facing challenges from the restrictive heteronormativity that society thrusts upon family units.
I chatted with Maya Newell, the director of the documentary film about her inspiration, the making of the film, the mode of film as a force for change, and the value of young voices in important debates.
Q. What inspired you to create this documentary?
A. In Australia we are in the midst of a very ugly debate over Marriage Equality and whether or not children in same-sex families are at risk. Many politicians and public figures repeat the argument that “marriage is about having children and all children need both a mother and father”. I suppose I felt there was a voice missing in this discussion – that of the kids themselves. Even though gay couples can’t marry, they have been having children for generations already. I know because I am one of them.
Charlotte Mars, the producer and I wanted to make a film that represented the voice of this new generation of kids. Gayby Baby is one of the first feature documentaries that tells the story of same-sex families, from the child’s perspective.
Looking back, when one of my mothers, Donna, came out to her mother – my grandmothers’ first thought was of despair. She was distraught because she so wanted to have a grandchild and her only daughter being a lesbian seemed to crystalise this ultimate fear. Since that time, changes in technology, policy and public opinion have led to a worldwide Gayby-boom and for the first time in history, same-sex couples can expect to have a family. In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of Gaybies growing up and spreading their wings all over the world. That is so exciting! Gayby Baby speaks to the changing shape of the modern family, and contours this rise in demographic of children with same-sex parents.
Q. What was it like watching, filming and growing with these families during the shooting process?
A. I have spent 5 years observing parenting and standing by as these tweens mature into talented, articulate and thoughtful young people. What a pleasure it has been. For me, these newfound friendships are now an extension of my family and I hope I am a part of the children in Gayby Baby’s lives for a long time into the future. The quality of relationships behind the camera is reflected in the stories we tell and that is the crux of why I love working with documentaries.
Q. Why did you want to predominately look at the issue of same sex parenthood through the eyes of children?
A. I had heard narratives of our community fighting for their rights, of parents trying to conceive, of marriage equality, yet somewhere my story was not reflected in our screen and seen history. Gaybies are the newest members of the queer community, queer by nurture and birth right and we offer something fresh to long-lasting prejudices that encircle the LGBTIQ+ community.
I also think, as a society, we often overlook children’s opinions, seeing them as naïve, but it is in that innocence that lies a strong sense of morality that is often beat out of adults. I think children’s’ voices have the power to allow the rest of us to see. Children have just as much agency, wisdom and intelligence as adults – often more.
Additionally, in the marriage equality debate there is genuine concern for children growing up in families like mine that lies at the heart of such rigorous debate. So who better to respond than children themselves.
Q. What has the response been like from schools to your awareness-raising packs?
A. We are in a very challenging space in Australia right now with the conservative right waging war on the education about LGBTI issues – they call it the ‘gay agenda’. In August last year, Gayby Baby was banned from being screened in NSW schools during school hours by top government ministers as it was seen to be ‘promoting a homosexual lifestyle’. At the same time, we have had over 500 downloads of our new ‘School Action Toolkit’ in the first 2 weeks of launching it. So we know that the need is out there, and will continue to push for understanding and representation of family diversity in our school system. Every child, whether from a single parent family, a heterosexual family, a same-sex family, a step-family or kinship family deserves to have their family structure reflected and celebrated in their education.
For more information about Maya’s work with schools, click here.
Q. Why do you think film is such a great tool for change?
A. Film catches our imagination, pulls at our heartstrings and gathers us together for a shared experience in the way that reporting, news or storytelling cannot. It is nourishing, a mobiliser and offers us all that rare opportunity to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Film is a tool to show us that there is more that connects than what separates us, and that is key if we are going to share this planet into the future.
Q. There was a visible clash between faith and sexuality in the documentary, what are your views on the marriage or alienation of homosexuality and faith with each other?
A. Of course, faith values and non hetero-normative sexuality can be two parts of the same person. We just need more leaders within faith-based organisations to promote love, diversity and inclusion.
Matt’s storyline in Gayby Baby is really about a young boy who is having an existential crisis… he’s asking ‘why should I believe in a God who doesn’t support my mothers love?’. I think many conservative religious leaders have not considered that fact that by turning away LGBT people, they are also turning away families and children – a new generation of potential believers.
A huge thanks to Maya for being so accommodating, and for taking the time to answer my questions, and for creating such a thought provoking documentary film.
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