'Changing The Game' Documentary Follows Three Trans High School Athletes, Tells A Story of Courage
In Wisconsin and across the country, conservatives have pushed to ban transgender athletes, especially trans women, from participating in school sports. Wisconsin Republicans claim that trans women have an unfair advantage, while the opponents of the ban decry the proposed legislation as discriminatory and seek to continue the marginalization of trans people.
Michael Barnett is the director of the recently released film Changing the Game, a documentary that follows three trans high school athletes through their journey of living openly and competing in high school sports. Barnett says that while this documentary has been released as the issue of trans athletes in youth sports has continued to be controversial, he wishes there wasn’t such a pressing need to tell the story of these athletes.
“It isn’t really great for these kids that the film is so needed, and it is so needed because it provides and comes from a place of their perspective, which is the perspective that is completely forgotten in this conversation,” he says.
Barnett says in making the documentary, he worked hard to allow the three athletes, Sarah, Andraya and Mack, to shape their own story because they were already having their personal stories taken from them by intense media and political attention. At one point in the documentary, Mack is shown in-between wrestling matches and he is swarmed by media.
In that and so many other moments, Barnett says a crucial part of youth sports is lost. With all the focus on fairness and competitive advantages, he says the fact that youth sports are supposed to be about creating community and teaching lessons like discipline, inclusion and proper mental and physical health along with the highs and lows of winning and losing is lost.
“We start talking about fair, fair shouldn’t come into play when you’re eight years old and want to play soccer, right? Fair should come into play when you are an elite athlete at an elite level, and we are testing. Let’s have that conversation then and let’s create a safe space for inclusivity, equality, for everyone to be a part of the incredible institution of sports and all of the positive byproducts that come from that,” he says.
With few exceptions, Barnett says most of the criticism and harassment of the young trans athletes was not coming from their peers but from adults. He says the overwhelming love and support that the subjects got from their peers, family and educators became a central piece of the documentary.
“Love and support is probably the biggest thematic, the thing we wanted to focus most on in the movie because love and support is everything,” he says.
Barnett wants Sarah, Andraya and Mack to serve as beacons of hope to show how courageous individual teenagers can be while facing incredible adversity.
“[The film] was a perfect story of love, support, athleticism, courage, strong mental health, all incredible things for kids that age to possess,” he says.
Sarah, Andraya and Mack are all now in college, and Barnett says, "They are all doing really extraordinary.” Changing the Game is available to stream exclusively on Hulu.