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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Little Girl (2021)

Updated: Mar 22, 2022

For many years, whether intentional or not, film and TV have painted the trans community in overwhelmingly negative ways. Whether they are depraved, insane people or constantly being the victims of atrocious crimes, they’re often not given a chance to show more complex stories in positive or even meaningful ways. The journey for most trans individuals is often paved in growing pains with a vast majority of the world refusing to allow them to get in touch with who they know they really are. These stories of trans pain and torment are unfortunately painted with a heavy coat of truth, but after a while, members of the trans community and well, everyone, needs some sort of positive representation in the arts in not only narrative filmmaking but documentary filmmaking as well. I am not saying it’s all sunshine and rainbows, it’s far from that, and it's the trans community that has arguably gone through the most persecution and complete lack of understanding more than anyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. But there needs to be better, more meaningful representation for these people to try and reverse some of the damaging effects pop culture has played in perpetrating what a trans person is to the general public. Time to stop making them the mentally ill serial killers. No more using them as easy victims and mere plot devices. Time to show people that these individuals are just as complex, positive and important to the turning wheel of a happy, fully functioning society. Thankfully, there has been a buck in the trend as we are starting to see more positive trans characters and stories escaping from arthouse obscurity and into the mainstream.

As mentioned before, the trans community often goes through a lot of pain emotionally, psychologically, and physically in being who they know they are. Those stories are important. But when you look at the transphobia Hollywood has both intentionally and unintentionally created among most people, these effects are almost impossible to reverse - especially considering the influence said transphobia has created thanks to a lot of classic, widely-seen films (Psycho, Dressed to Kill, The Crying Game, Ace Ventura, etc.). Thankfully we are in a world that is constantly growing, with a lot of the younger generations going out of their way to understand their fellow humans. We are at a strange point in history where misinformation is more rampant than ever, but at the same time, there is more accurate information than there has ever been at our disposal. It's time to take advantage of that.

In Little Girl, we follow the journey of gender identity and ultimately, gender liberation of Sasha, an 8-year-old who questions her identity, and with the help of her family, allows Sasha to fully come to terms with who she knows to be her true self.

Documentary filmmaking can be a very tricky tight rope to balance on. The original intention has always been to provide as many objective and non-bias conversations as possible. Even if they’re great works, a lot of documentaries fail at providing a truly non-bias viewpoint, as most films often have the filmmakers eventually taking a definitive stance. Sometimes it is entirely necessary, other times it can turn the film into a completely condescending affair. So when it comes to the conversation of gender identity and the liberating effects of knowing who you truly are, it’s important to provide as much of a fly-on-the-wall approach without casting judgment on its subjects and the viewers who aren't as well informed. After all, being preached at, as well as dehumanizing a community that has gone through enough of it in the past, won’t do anyone good.

And this is why Little Girl is such a spectacular revelation. It’s important for LGBTQ+ communities and their allies, as well as proving to be essential viewing for parents, kids, and well, anyone really, as we continue to try and understand the complexities of gender identity that goes far beyond arguments of “But it’s biology! You’ll never be a girl! You’ll never be a boy!”.

Sasha is 8-years old, so it’s only natural for most people to see this as a mere phase in a child’s life, something her parents thought at first as she would play dress up and pretend to be something she has been told she is not. But Sasha is different, and this is what Sébastien Lifshitz does so brilliantly with Little Girl - showing us that this really isn’t just a phase. It may sound like he has already decided on his stance, but this isn't exactly the case, for the most part at least. We never have traditional talking heads of questions being asked and answered, and although there is a sort of talking head interview approach to this, no context is ever given beforehand, allowing for incredibly intimate and honest interactions to play out in real-time and paint the full picture without being spoon-fed information. Important moments of this information are cleverly relayed to us through discussions with a child psychologist. We are given chances to see firsthand how hard it is for someone who clearly isn’t going through a phase, something that is so obviously confirmed to us through extraordinarily humane scenes of internal and external battles both Sasha and her unbelievable family go through in order for her to be who she really is.

It’s both heartbreaking and uplifting seeing Sasha battling the gender she was assigned with at birth, and the gender she identifies with - doing its best to liberate itself in a world often against who she knows she is. Her parents fight with the school’s policies and refusal to allow Sasha to attend school as a girl, with Sasha’s classmates not fully understanding her, and in turn, alienating her. Her parents and siblings understand, and they just want her to enjoy her childhood as who she identifies with. So many of the LGBTQ+ community, particularly that of trans individuals, are denied this chance of living out the important childhood years as their true selves - denying them of true happiness in the years it needs to matter the most.

Sasha is so lucky to have such a loving family who only wants her to be happy. They go far and beyond to understand her as we see a young girl going through the struggles of being denied who she is, with Gender Dysphoria coming into discussion - creating awareness of the unbearable unease, depression and anxiety a trans individual may experience due to the mismatch of gender sex and the gender they identify with being. A particularly heartbreaking realization is Sasha's mother conceding to the fact that it will never be an easy journey for her. Her character will help, but it won’t protect her from a world of bigotry and hate that will inevitably lead to threats and, God forbid, potential assaults. It’s a realization that she knows all too well but still shakes you to the core when you see Sasha as happy as can be with her family, knowing full well that this will happen at some point or another. It’s a sad truth, but thankfully with films like this, it could allow for people to learn, leaving misconceptions in the dust of the past.

Fortunately, the moments of pure joy far outweigh the heartbreaking truths and occurrences that happen in Little Girl. Seeing Sasha wear a dress in public for the first time, going to the beach and playing with her siblings, her older sister who is willing to fight anyone who makes her feel bad. Friends of both Sasha and her brothers begin to understand and accept Sasha for who she is. These instances are so wholesome as they remind us that things can and will be ok for Sasha, further restoring some sort of faith in humanity as we learn more about ourselves and others.

Lifshitz may have the objective, neutral fly-on-the-wall approach, but you can’t help but feel the genuine love he has for this family and his need and desire for you to understand Sasha’s journey of liberating her true identity. So it’s not entirely objective because of this as he appears to be taking a stance, but the shooting approach allows for us to sit in on them as we see moments of humanity, both good and bad, reveal themselves. Sasha's mom even explains to her that not everyone will get it - that she needs to be patient so they can finally understand and eventually accept it. It helps us understand that none of this is a phase as we see Sasha’s true self: a sweet, beautiful little girl getting to be who she is destined to be - her whole life ahead of her as she is allowed to be the Sasha we know and love for the whole world to see.

Little Girl is a stunning piece of intimate filmmaking that gives us a chance to understand the complexities of gender identity and the liberating effects it has on those fighting to break free from the expectations placed upon them. Sasha and her family are endlessly inspiring, showing that love can still prevail in a world overcrowded with hate and ignorance. It’s not only one of the most important films you will see all year, but it may also be one of the most important films you will ever see. Completely essential viewing.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD Platforms (UK), Netflix (France)

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