It was an evening of sharing and cross-cultural exchange, an evening that showed just how universal the search for identity and acceptance is, whether it’s under the wide Montana sky or in the sultry streets of Chennai.
The event was the screening of ‘Prodigal Sons’, an acclaimed documentary by transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed, at the U.S. Consulate auditorium as part of the city’s ongoing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride (LGBT) Pride Month celebrations.
Entirely autobiographical, the documentary is a startlingly honest telling of Reed’s own transition and the struggles of her adopted brother Marc, who suffered brain-damage in a severe automobile accident in his 20s. With gorgeous shots of ‘big sky country’ Montana as the backdrop, the story of their sibling rivalry, Marc’s search for his birth parents and the family’s difficulties in dealing with his degenerating mental state unfolds in a powerful, and at times disturbing, tableau.
What begins as a tale of Reed’s return to her hometown (where she was last known as Paul McKerrow, star quarterback of the high school football team) turns into something far more universal – a story of making peace with one’s past, and coming to terms with difficult family relationships.
“This is such a personal story, and it’s wonderfully rewarding to see it connect with people across the world,” said Reed during the video conference interaction with the audience that followed. “There are a lot of unusual things going on, but this is basically a film about love and family, and I hope that message made it across to India!”
Judging by the reception the filmmaker received – a big round of applause, cheers and waves from the packed audience comprised of members of Chennai’s own transgender community, social activists, etc. – it would appear that it did. Warm and immensely likeable, Reed spent the next half an hour answering questions from audience, helped along by coordinators Kalki, transgender activist, and Amy Hirsch of the U.S. Consulate.
The result was a discussion on everything from mental illness (“Sometimes I feel that is the real taboo subject in our society”) to Reed’s own transition (“One of the best things I did was not be afraid to take it slow… it’s more important to get your head right about it rather than get your body right”). In between, Kalki spoke of some of her experiences and those of the transgender community in Tamil Nadu, leading to sharing on the similar difficulties the communities in the U.S. and India face.
“The fight is still going on in the U.S. – poverty is a problem here as well,” Reed said. “About 50 per cent of transgender youth take their own life – it’s absolutely tragic and something needs to be done about that.”
If some of the questions veered more towards rambling commentary, that was a minor issue during an otherwise rewarding evening. It was apparent that ‘Prodigal Sons’ made a deep impression on much of the audience, and what made this event truly meaningful is that they were able to share that with its director –and its subject— living halfway across the world.