Director Michael Barnett follows three separate stories, as politicians across the country have sought to enact state bans on transgender athletes competing in high-school sports — efforts positioned as being about fairness, but which critics say merely represents a calculated attempt to create a political wedge issue.
Of those featured, the one that received the most media attention involves Mack Beggs, a trans boy in Texas, denied the right to wrestle against boys because of a law limiting competitors to the gender on their birth certificate. The film thus finds him marching through the girls’ competition, pursuing a second state championship.
Elsewhere, Sarah Rose Huckman is a downhill skier in New Hampshire, while Andraya Yearwood runs track in Connecticut — states with a more progressive attitude about transgender athletes than Texas, which doesn’t prevent some parents from loudly objecting, with one shouting about the unfairness of Andraya participating after a race. (A lawsuit was filed last year in Connecticut, claiming the policy violates the Title IX act.)
Mack has been raised by his grandparents, with his grandma, Nancy, calling herself a “hard-core Republican,” while harboring zero sympathy for those who would deprive her grandson of the right to compete.
Sarah’s father, Tom Huckman, similarly, notes that he and his wife are generally conservative, but reject the efforts to block the eligibility of transgender athletes.
“There are people who try to politicize it, but they don’t understand,” he says.
Despite loving friends, family and coaches, the criticism that Mack in particular faces — from video of conservative media commentators to jeering crowds — can be uncomfortable to watch, especially when juxtaposed with data about the inordinately high suicide rates and incidents of violence involving trans youth.
Sarah, for her part, has become an activist, speaking out on legislation regarding trans sports while saying that all she wants is “to be accepted as me.” That is, in fact, the recurring theme of “Changing the Game,” which keeps the focus on getting to know its subjects, and not being sidetracked by the usual back-and-forth about this issue.
Overall, Barnett delivers a pointed argument about trans teens and high-school sports in an understated, often touching manner. The only quibble with “Changing the Game,” really, is the title: Because in terms of the history of battles over LBGT rights, the playing field periodically shifts but the game — especially among those who leverage such issues to stoke political division — hasn’t changed much at all.
“Changing the Game” premieres June 1 on Hulu.
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