Zoey Luna is a happy teenager – engaged, involved and offering up herself as a voice for a new generation of young trans people.
But this wasn’t always the case.
Zoey, her mother Ofelia Luna and her sister Leticia Luna are the subjects of the 2016 documentary Raising Zoey — which not only takes us through Zoey’s physical and emotional transition into that happy self, but also covers how Zoey and her mother became reluctant and unexpected activists for the ongoing Trans Rights Movement.
The film does this in a taut 50 minutes – which initially makes you wonder what was left out and/or what else could have been covered. But while more story could certainly have been told – perhaps expounding upon the transition and the activism, you don’t get the sense that anything was rushed, underserved or left out for the sake of time.
Zoey herself is an engaging, well-poised and self-assured subject and the story of what she and her family went through with regards to her transition is compelling. But we don’t get an idea of what it was about her that made the filmmakers want to do a documentary about her – or choose her to be the subject of the documentary they wanted to make. But if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that the fact that she isn’t a celebrity or all that well-known (at least from my vantage point) is what’s most appealing about her. Zoey is an everygirl who could easily be anyone’s classmate, neighbor, friend, cousin, brother, sister or child – which can bring the Trans Rights Movement closer to home for some people.
But the true highlight of the film is Zoey’s mother Ofelia, who supported Zoey from the beginning by galvanizing the family together to figure out what to do about Zoey wanting to be a girl. But it was the pushback from the school and their suggestion that Zoey enroll in a different one that was the catalyst for Ofelia to take Zoey’s case to the ACLU and stand proudly with her daughter in the face of opposition as part of the Trans Rights Movement.
The best parts of Raising Zoey is the surprising (at least to me) reaction of Zoey’s classmates to her first days publicly presenting as a girl and Ofelia’s realizations about how to best help Zoey and then how to address her. These are keys to understanding, supporting and ultimately embracing the trans community and are incorporated into the film with little fanfare as something that should just be – which could be more effective in getting that point across than by making a bigger deal of it.
Whatever the reason for the length, Director Dante Alencastre has crafted a very fine documentary film that is accessible to young people of Zoey’s age (who definitely need to see this) without being too elementary for adults (who should also see this). And if it generates discussion between the two groups (as it is capable of doing), then the film stands to be a great resource for helping to create that understanding, building that support and creating that atmosphere for embracing.