Review: 'Little Girl' a Gracious Portrait of a Family's Loving Support and Determination

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday January 18, 2022

'Little Girl'
'Little Girl'  (Source:Music Box Films)

Sébastien Lifshitz's documentary "Little Girl" follows a French family as they push back against ignorance and prejudice from the school where their eight-year-old daughter, Sasha, has found acceptance from a few good friends — but institutional transphobia from teachers and the principal.

Shasha's mother, Karine, explains that when Sasha was very young — around the age of two — she began to express a wish to grow up to be a girl. When, at age four, Sasha had not changed her mind about that, Karine began to realize that her child was not a little boy, but very much the little girl she was trying to explain herself as being.

Karine's journey is not unfamiliar to anyone who has read books and articles, or watched other films, on the subject. Fearing that she somehow "made" her child trans — by wanting a boy during pregnancy? By eating the wrong foods? — Karine has her insecurities magnified by school administrators who don't understand and don't want to deal with the reality of a transgender student. The school's staff attempt to place blame on Karine, assuming that she is somehow "pushing" Sasha into seeing herself as a girl — a thoroughly feeble and unsound belief not unlike the pseudoscientific theory of "sudden-onset gender dysphoria" that's swept certain parts of the United States, a convenient excuse to dismiss the fact that gender is as much (or more) a matter of what's between a person's ears as it is a matter of what their body might be like.

The problem with such magical thinking on the part of supposedly responsible adults, of course, is that it's the kids who get hurt by it. Sasha is a cheerful, resilient soul, not seeming to harbor anger or grudges, but as she and Karine meet with a child psychologist —a precondition from Sasha's school before they'll do anything other than deny and blame — the sheer act of articulating what she has to deal with becomes overwhelming. Mother and daughter both grow tearful as Karine explains that the adults model the conduct the children adopt toward Sasha, and Sasha quietly recounts how her teachers are "not nice" to her.

We never see any of the school officials on screen; neither the principal, a Mr. Dèjat, nor any of the other staff or teachers manage to make it to a meeting with Karine, the child psychologist Karine and Sasha are working with, and a number of other parents.

But watching Karine make attempt after attempt to get Mr. Dèjat on the phone, and hearing her and her husband debate the problems the school has thrown in their path —including the bizarre stipulation that if Sasha starts third grade as a girl, she won't be allowed to show up to school dressed as such until ten days after the new school year has begun — it's hard to escape a sense that there's little in the way of good faith being shown toward the family.

Karine frets, as many parents must, that Sasha's life will be hard, and that Sasha will even find herself in physical danger from those who have appointed themselves the role of guardians of gender expression. But Sasha couldn't have better allies than the ones she has in her family: Her dad simply accepts her as "My child, period," while her older sister and brother make no bones about where they stand. "I want to be her wingwoman," the elder sister declares, while brother Vassili scoffs at the school's antics, telling Karine, "Don't take it from idiots." These are people finding their way through a situation they were not prepared for and didn't even realize might exist, and yet they're taking their cues from Sasha, who remains calm and steadfast.

Even a discussion about puberty blockers —a subject fraught with legislative hysteria in certain Red States here in America — proceeds without undue drama. "Nothing is permanent" about the use of puberty blockers, Karine correctly notes (in stark contrast to the claims of "experimentation" and "ruin" that America's transphobic social conservatives repeat ad nauseum) and, in the unlikely event that Sasha will decide as a teenager that she wishes to live as a boy, she will be free —and perfectly able —to do so without harm.

Tender in its heart, forthright and unflinching, and deeply empathetic, this portrait of a transgender little girl and her loving family is a vivid portrait of what family values —authentic and uncompromising —actually look like.

"Little Girl" - Available to Own on DVD & Blu-ray January 18

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.