Shot in a similar verité style to Sébastien Lifshitz’s Wild Side (2005), a feature in which non-professional actors played versions of themselves in situations based on their own lives, Little Girl, about eight-year-old Sasha assigned male at birth who wants to live as a girl, shares that film’s soft, slow compassion.
This is a gentle work, a welcome contrast to mass media’s hysteria around – and astonishing cruelty towards – trans children, which has no need to contrive any drama because conflict is built deeply into the society it depicts. Although we never see the dramatic climax with her principal or ballet tutor, we are aware of how precarious Sasha’s ability to live as she desires is, dependent as it is first on her family – especially her parents – and then on her teachers, who have the power not just to take sides on transphobic bullying but to entirely veto her gender expression.
The obvious comparison is to Alain Berliner’s feature Ma vie en rose (1997), with its traumatic scene where Ludovic’s mother cuts Ludovic’s hair to make it less feminine. Here, 23 years later, Sasha’s family are onside – not always the case for trans children – and Little Girl is a far quieter look at how they lovingly deal with the challenges that follow their acceptance. The focus on the mother, and how her journey to supporting Sasha has been more complicated than that of the father or siblings, is effective, making space for an audience to work through their own anxieties about (or hostilities to) Sasha’s identity and empathise with the enormity of what Sasha is up against.
Sasha is the only person named in Little Girl, with her ‘old’ name never mentioned. This is an example of the film’s subtle sensitivity, compromised momentarily towards the end in a way that feels superfluous. Mostly, Little Girl is a cinematic act of considerable kindness, toward Sasha and her family, and to the generation of trans children who she unknowingly represents.
Originally published: 24 September 2020