I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Shaleece Haas, director of the film Real Boy, which will make its television debut on PBS on June 19th and will remain available on PBS.org for the remainder of the month. Real Boy follows the transition of a young trans man, Bennett Wallace, as he navigates the intersectionality of gender identity, substance use disorder recovery, and relationships. The transcript below is just a portion of a longer interview that you can hear on the Active Minds SoundCloud page.
Maggie Bertram: How do you go about choosing your projects?
Shaleece Haas: Sometimes I choose my projects and sometimes they choose me. Real Boy didn’t start out as the film you now see. The central protagonist in the film, Bennett Wallace, was 19 when I met him. He had just come out to his family as trans and was having a really hard time at home. Shortly after he met Joe Stevens, a beloved trans musician, at a conference for sober youth, I met him at a house concert where Joe was playing. I was really struck by his music and his lyrics. In some ways the film grew and evolved over time. It wasn’t so much that I set out to make this film as that I found people and moments that I was intrigued by and drawn to. I asked if I could film with them. They said, “yes.” And four years later we had a film.
MB: It sounds like it requires a great deal of vulnerability on your part as well as your subjects’.
SH: I think that’s true. Because it’s certainly not fair to ask people who have said, “Yes, you can film me,” to be open, to be vulnerable, to be accessible, if I’m also not available to do that.
MB: Has that ever bitten back on you a little bit?
SH: [Laughs] It was certainly hard. Making this film wasn’t just about figuring out how to tell the story—what’s the beginning, middle, and end, and raising the funds, and all of that. It was also navigating my personal relationships. I am very close with everyone in the film and I had to figure out when I was wearing my “friend hat” and when I was wearing my “director hat.” And could they be the same thing? And there were a lot of times when I had to really think, “Okay, in this moment am I coming over with my camera? Am I coming over without my camera?” And asking, “Can I come film with you even though this is a really rough moment for you?” But there were other moments where I would put the camera down, and I was just there to be a friend.
MB: So, you’re going to be reaching a much more expansive audience with this version of the film, and I guess I’m wondering what you hope audiences—especially during Pride Month—are going to take away from the film.
SH: That’s a good question and also a difficult one, because I think what someone takes away from the film is so personal and so particular to their own experience. I certainly hope that a lot of people will watch it. And since it will be on PBS and available to anybody who has a television, I hope we reach people who don’t think they need to watch a film about a young trans musician and his relationship with his family. I hope as they’re flipping through channels looking for something to watch, they’ll stumble upon the film and something they see will encourage them to keep watching.
Visibility is not everything. The path to eliminate transphobia from the world and create a safe, inclusive, healthy world for people of all genders requires a lot more than just a bunch of TV shows and documentaries. But I do think that if people see stories that make them really feel something—and then they get up the next morning and have a conversation with their spouse, or their child, or their best friend…or they decide to read the next article that comes out about the topic…and then they think a little more deeply when it comes time to vote at the PTA to create trans inclusive policies at their school—then, we’ve done something.
Hear more of my interview with Shaleece, including a call for you all to be in touch with your reactions to the film, on the Active Minds Sound Cloud page.
You can find out more about Real Boy, watch the trailer, and find out if there are any upcoming screenings in your area by going to www.RealBoyMovie.com.