'Raising Zoey': Outfest Review

Raising Zoey Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Outfest

Raising Zoey Still - Publicity - H 2016

An appealing doc.

In this documentary, Zoey Luna, a young transgender girl in Los Angeles, makes a smooth transition with the help of a supportive family.

Transgender stories are no longer a novelty, but Raising Zoey, a documentary that received its world premiere at Outfest, is certainly one of the most succinct and stirring of these chronicles. The film tells the story of Zoey Luna, who was born as a boy but began to identify as a girl even before she entered school. The film convinces us that gender identity is an inherited trait, and it also convinces us that these transitions will always be easier with a supportive family.

Zoey’s older sister and especially her mother, Ofelia, are interviewed at length and express unwavering support for Zoey’s transition. We are told that Zoey’s brother is also supportive, but he chose not to appear on camera. And her situation was clearly difficult for Zoey’s father. Ofelia reports that he had a very hard time when Zoey preferred dolls to the X-Men toys that he bought for her. But her father died young, and this family tragedy may have made her transition easier than it would have otherwise been.

The film is quite candid on other challenges for young people in this situation. Administrators at her school asked Zoey to transfer to make their lives easier, and Ofelia had to enlist the ACLU to insure that her rights were protected. Early on, the family consulted with a doctor at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles to inform the family about medical and surgical options once Zoey reaches puberty. But health insurance does not usually cover gender reassignment surgery, so this is another challenge for the family.

It is quite impressive how much information director Dante Alencastre packs into a film that runs just 54 minutes. The production values are limited, though Zoey’s whimsical drawings provide nice transitional moments. At a time when many young trans people face tremendous hostility both at home and at school, we can only marvel at the loving family that helped Zoey’s adjustment. Near the end, Ofelia expresses a bit of anxiety at the prospect of Zoey pulling away from her family as she gets older, but her independence will be a direct result of the unwavering support she was lucky enough to experience.

Director: Dante Alencastre

Producers: John Johnston, Dante Alencastre

Art director: John Johnston

Editor: Andrew Kimery

Music: Jason Thomas Hill, Shane Ivan Nash, Summer Luk

No rating, 54 minutes