04 March 2020

XY Chelsea

It's not the mess you make; it's the mess you leave behind. If you are a data analyst for the US army and you tell the people on the ground where to go to kill people, including civilians, that is making a mess. But if you're doing it, and you realise it's wrong, and you then do whatever you can to stop it, you've cleaned up to the best of your abilities. I was fascinated by Manning (then still known as Bradley) when the story broke. To be complicit in something awful, and then making it public, even though it's evident that that will come at enormous personal cost; that's quite something.

And then she turned out to be transgender. Blimey! As if that doesn't give you enough to fight for in your life. Then to take on the entire US military! And end up in jail, where you are powerless anyway, and where you are probably 'the other' to the guards anyway, but extra so if you don't confirm to nice black-and-white gender expectations. Especially in a male prison. And she came out alive! And I know it has been close, but she did.

When I saw a documentary about Chelsea Manning (XY Chelsea) advertised I wanted to go. And I found Fiona willing to come along! And we didn't have to hurry to get tickets. A blockbuster this is not. 

One thing I was surprised by in the blurb of the film was that she was heralded as a Welsh hero. Eh? I thought American? But the documentary explained her mother is Welsh, and even lives in Wales. I had no idea!

So what was the film like? It started with a free Chelsea and then flopped to and fro through time. You see her legal team get the call from the White House about the sentence being commuted. You see the house she grew up in. You see her come out of jail and try to acclimatise in her first days of freedom. You see her discover Twitter. You see the the leaked footage that received the most attention. You see the jail from the outside. And much more.

In the footage, you can pretty much keep track of time through her hairdo. As she was held in a male prison, she was forced to have a short haircut. But once free she lets it grow (of course). And you see it get longer and longer while she does public interviews, attends rallies, and in the end, even runs for Senate. (And loses.)

You don't at all get an analysis of the effect of the leaks. You don't get an analysis of very much. You don't get much in the way of what it's like to present as a woman in the outside world, even though you left it to go to prison presenting as a man. You mainly are a fly on the wall in her day-to-day life. When you see her campaigning they don't really go into what she's campaigning about, or against. I'm sure it's a highly curated view but it's not polished! There are warts there. And a bit more depth would have been nice but this would do.

For me the most poignant scenes were one where an interviewer asks about the solitary confinement she had to endure. And you see her struggle. And she says she doesn't want to think about it. Or be reminded of it. And that she is happiest in the rare moments when she manages to not think of it. (I'm fairly certain she won't read this so I'm not making it worse!)

The other one is one in which she says that her adversaries will never give up the fight. Never. And that that means she might as well keep fighting too! Even though it's hard. She's never going to have a nice quiet life so she might as well try to make a difference with the hard life she has.

And with these scenes in mind it's hard to stomach she is back in jail. And has at least been kept in solitary confinement for some of the time.

After the film we popped to a cafe to digest the film. There was enough to think about! 

I hope she will be out soon. She's served her time! And I hope a next time around she will get elected into the senate. She's a flawed human like all of us, but blimey, not just any! One who will put civilian lives before the reputation of her country. One who is willing to suffer immensely for what she believes in. We can all do with more of those!

XY Chelsea Poster

No comments: