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Review: Moving doc 'Changing the Game' highlights struggles of transgender athletes

Courtesy of Hulu


Just in time to kick-off pride month, Michael Barnett’s stirring documentary “Changing the Game” puts an emphasis on the struggles and tribulations of transgender athletes. Compiled like any standard documentary with talking head testimonials and clips blended in, “Changing the Game” morphs into a compassionate exploration of three athletes who thrived in their sports while constantly being told they weren’t good enough. Originally screened in 2019, but now headed for a wide release on Hulu, Barnett understands the gravity of his film, offering to educate viewers on how important it is for the transgender community to feel accepted, something, two years later, society struggles with. The overwhelming statistics of transgender teens and adults who contemplate suicide or get murdered are horrendus and “Changing the Game” reinforces how much work we’ve got until we can bridge the gap for good.

“Changing the Game” opens with Mack Beggs, an 18-year-old Dallas high school athlete who made headlines around the nation for being an undefeated transgender wrestler. Unfortunately in Texas, where laws against the trans community are some of the strictest in the country, Beggs was forced to wrestle in the women’s division despite pleas to enter the boys division as per the gender he identifies with. Elsewhere Barnett follows Andraya Yearwood, a sprinter from Connecticut, a state that celebrates gender identity; and Sarah Rose Huckman, a New Hampshire-based activist and skier who faces social bias and adversity at nearly every corner with her state mandating gender reassignment surgery.

Barnett does a flawless job at blending these narratives together for one cohesive vision despite some of the filmmaking mechanics steering on the conventional side. Learning about Sarah’s activism, which changed the course of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of New Hampshire; watching Beggs overcome serious adversity (including profanity filled threats from parents convinced their daughters are getting robbed of scholarship money); and the strength and persistence of Yearwood, an African-American athlete who is 10x more likely to get murdered because of her gender, is an endearing and humbling exercises that should be taught in classrooms across the country.

“Changing the Game” could have benefited from the use of more prominent lawmakers in each athlete’s respective district, whereas aside from a school official or archival footage from town hall meetings, there’s not much of an indication change can happen, especially in Texas. Clips of prominent transphobes (Tucker Carlson) are sprinkled in to remind what’s at stake and how the national spotlight on these issues have been woefully misguided. This enlightening and urgent documentary doesn’t necessarily change the game, but it highlights countless struggles the transgender community faces and pushes the conversation forward. We can only hope people listen.

Grade: B

CHANGING THE GAME is now streaming on Hulu


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