The Most Dangerous Year (2019)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
As important and timely a documentary as we can have right now.
To be quite honest, this film demystifies nearly all myths surrounding our transgender brothers and sisters. If you feel inadequate in knowing about the transgender community, The Most Dangerous Year is a nice place to start.
Important in seeing how identity politics and hatred for vulnerable and minority communities can take hold and spread like a wildfire, even in supposed liberal places.
Do not make me say it out loud.
Two weeks into the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival, I had shed more than a few tears after watching documentaries like the Mr. Rogers’ tribute, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? , and a certain film tracking a litter of puppies training to become guide dogs (the irresistible Pick of the Litter). However, I was caught off-guard and tremendously moved by Vlada Knowlton’s important and powerful documentary, The Most Dangerous Year.
In the spring of 2019, Knowlton’s film began its theatrical run and as important as the film felt in 2018, it somehow feels more vital and crucial now. With the transgender community increasingly under attack from politicians and the Trump Administration, the LGBTQIA+ community feels increasingly at risk of losing the equal rights they fought long and hard for.
The Most Dangerous Year shows us how, in what is regarded as one of the most liberal states in the nation, discrimination and prejudice can gain traction anywhere, any time, and any place.
Knowlton's film comes from a place of great personal vulnerability, truth, and conviction.
In 2015, she and her husband, Washington residents, were coming to terms with their 5-year-old child's transgender identity. Only a handful of months later, in 2016, a number of initiatives and political power plays would result in a push to rescind transgender rights laws and policies that the State of Washington had put in place, nearly a decade earlier, in 2006.
Over the course of 90 minutes, Knowlton somehow finds a way to share her story, step back from the deeply personal connection to what she is sharing, and present an engaging, factual, and galvanizing look at the myths, dangerous lies and misrepresentations that have bolstered a bustling and increasingly troublesome anti-transgender movement.
A key figure in the film is Aidan Key, founder of Gender Diversity, a Seattle-based advocacy and support group for transgender individuals, with an emphasis on transgender youth. Key spends significant time working with public school districts, helping break down the misconceptions around understanding transgender identity and assisting with tools that steer districts toward integration and acceptance.
The Knowltons got to know Key in 2015, when they went to Gender Diversity to find resources for their daughter Annabelle. Upon learning of Knowlton's status as a documentarian, he sought her help in what he knew was emerging on the political horizon in 2016.
A number of families share their stories and Knowlton weaves them into the tapestry of a narrative that simply asks for calm and level-headedness from its viewers. In the State of Washington, anti-trans legislation, in the form of State Senate Bill 6443, and two subsequent ballot initiatives, gained traction. Chief among the supporters of these anti-transgender drives, Joseph Backholm, founder of something called the Family Policy Institute of Washington.
Though Knowlton could treat Backholm with disdain and mockery, she doesn't and takes the high road. However, she doesn't adopt a pacifist's approach. Her message is firm, her focus sharp. Her points succinct and on point.
Systematically, she demystifies and flat out debunks the always shocking arguments that transgender individuals are simply pretending, or that they have mental illness, are simply making a choice, or somehow have malicious or abhorrent intentions in presenting as they truly are. Importantly, Knowlton spells out the always significant distinction that sexual preference and gender identity are two completely separate things that have nothing to do with one another.
Astutely, Knowlton shows that many of the same arguments used against allowing black people equal rights in the United States - the "Separate But Equal" era of civil rights history - are being used all over again in litigating against transgender equality. And while it is a shame that scientific studies have to continually be presented to the world, reminding people that transgender individuals have nothing wrong with them and simply want to exist peacefully in the world, Knowlton has little choice but to use the science to silence a dangerous rhetoric that can seemingly emerge at any moment.
Sure, she may have made this film for her daughter and family. She may have made it for the folks who work with Aidan Key at Gender Diversity. She may have an activist or political cause she's fighting for. The motives ultimately do not matter.
The Most Dangerous Year excels in doing what great politically-charged pieces of art often do. Knowlton centers us, grabs our focus, and makes us listen. She shows us the good, juxtaposed with the bad, and reminds us that even when the loudest and most vulgar among us command the media attention, love needs to stay vigilant and defiant in the face of institutional bigotry and marginalization.
CAST & CREW
Featuring: Aidan Key, Joe Fain, Cyrus Habib, Tiffany Dolmseth Kelly, Vlada Knowlton, Annabelle Knowlton, Huddle Morris Blakefield, Meghan Hebert-Trainer, Ryan Trainer, Kevin Hatfield, Asaf Orr.
Director: Vlada Knowlton
Written by: Vlada Knowlton
Release Date: April 12, 2019
Passion River Films
Note: This film was originally reviewed as part of the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival and is being shared again, with the recent theatrical release of the film.