Hot Docs 2019: Our Review Of ‘XY Chelsea’

Hot Docs 2019: Our Review Of ‘XY Chelsea’

American Soldier. Trans woman. Whistleblower. Activist. Political candidate. Director Tim Travers Hawkins’ documentary XY Chelsea concerns subject Chelsea Elizabeth Manning (born Bradley Edward Manning), who is released from prison in 2017 after her 35-year sentence is commuted by President Obama.

Manning was dishonourably discharged from the army and incarcerated after leaking classified/sensitive military and government documents to WikiLeaks during her service as an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

XY Chelsea is not unbiased. Hawkins clearly chooses a side. This review will focus on the story as it is presented, without taking a political stance on either end.

The film begins on a positive note – directly before Manning’s release – but includes backstory for added context. One can’t help but be reminded of The Shawshank Redemption as Manning herself mentions having become institutionalized and that she is expecting great difficulty in acclimatizing to a free life.

Further adding to that challenge, we see that Manning is constrained to a safe-house as her release has stirred the ire of the alt-right. She’s also received death threats.

Manning’s transition to female is treated with respect and restraint – Hawkins chooses to highlight it only when relevant. While it is a considerable facet of his subject’s character, her sexual identity is not the central story of the film.

It is clear that Hawkins considers Manning a hero, but his movie sugarcoats her crimes as inconsequential. She did leak information during a highly volatile time, and her more reasonable detractors can be forgiven for taking significant issue with that. Yet the film paints all of her opponents with the same brush – presenting them all as alt-right extremists – which feels a little unfair and sensationalist.

XY Chelsea is an engaging documentary, but given its distinct subjectivity, it is not likely to change minds on this particular subject.

  • Release Date: 5/2/2019
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