Streaming sites are flooded with documentaries about any subject under the sun, it can be hard to find one that is worth the time. Or, for that matter, one that actually presents factual information in a way that is both easy to understand but also impactful enough to last in your mind. Netflix’s 2020 Disclosure is not only an example of this, but one of the best documentaries I have watched in a long time.
Set up in a short clip and interview format, a well-blended mix of celebrities and specialists grace the screen to offer their expertise in various ways. One particularly unique, and encouraging, thing to note is that almost every person who worked on this project is a member of the trans community. The director, Sam Feder, himself mentioned that this was a priority when hiring on both sides of the camera.
What makes this documentary so special is it’s perspective, the film takes an approach that is not often done (or at least not often done well). At its most stripped down, this is a documentary about the trans community and the struggles they continue to encounter in today’s world. This year, on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre the Department of Human and Health Services was pushed back to interpreting sex discrimination guidelines in a way that is harmful to the livelihood of those within the transgender community, which is that sex is determined solely by biological factors. Yet, a few days later the Supreme Court ruled that federal civil rights laws were extended to workers within the LGBTQ+ community. A failure and a victory, it paints a picture of the tumultuous ebb and flow that those who don’t fit a certain mold face every day.
Without stopping there, what is most interesting about Disclosure is how it paints this picture for the viewer. Framed through film and media, members of the trans community tell their stories in relation to the screen. Whether it be their own personal experiences or research they have done in the field, each story connects to a certain moment in film history starting in the silent era with D.W. Griffith’s 1914 Judith of Bethulia. Continuing to modern day examples, the discussion is based around intersectional representation in media for the trans community. Those in every stage of transitioning come forward to discuss a very personal and vulnerable piece of themselves, something they need not ‘disclose’ for any reason, in order to spark a flame in the minds of those who take the time to watch this documentary… something I very highly recommend.
The real hook in this documentary is not that they chose to tackle a deeply debated social issue (because this is a huge issue that is disproportionally effecting a marginalized group in a deadly way), and not only that the creation of it will open the eyes of so many who would have never thrown it a second glance. The hook is that it shows the viewer how there can be positive found within the negative. Representation on screen is an incredibly powerful weapon to yield, and one that is often used in the wrong way. However, while these examples from history are often upsetting and extremely out of touch, they also offer a frame of reference for those within that community. For every example in the film explaining how damaging representation like this is, highlighting the ways we must to move forward in the future, there are people telling stories of their first experience with a trans character on screen. How this was the first time they connected the dots of their own inner turmoil, it validates that often times media is the only example kids have in figuring out who they really are.
The best thing this doc does is connect its message to film/media history. It’s something we can all connect to, in one way or another. In doing so it also explains that while representation of anything outside the ‘typical’ nuclear family has always been rough at best, representation is still vitally important. How we approach representation is what needs changing, adapting and learning from history is where there is room to grow. Disclosure is a well-sourced, unique, and necessary take on transgender rights that leaves you wishing there were more than 107 minutes, and fully understanding of why the term disclosure is so significant.