Changing the Game: Michael Barnett & Alex Schmider

Michael Barnett and Alex Schmider spoke with Solzy at the Movies about Changing the Game, the transgender sports documentary.

The film is now available on Hulu. I first saw Changing the Game two years ago during the Tribeca Film Festival. A lot has and hasn’t happened when it comes to transgender rights. All across the nation, Republican state legislatures are using their platform to treat transgender people as if they aren’t even human. We’re here and we exist! This is the importance of films like Disclosure and Changing the Game.

Hulu might not have the same level of viewership that comes with Netflix but don’t let that stop you from watching. Watch the film and then tell your friends and family to watch the film. Trans rights are human rights!

After two long years following the Tribeca premiere, Changing the Game is finally becoming available to wider audiences through Hulu. Is it relieving that the film is finally going to reach wider audiences?

Michael Barnett: Yeah, I have incredibly complex and mixed feelings about the timing of this film as a filmmaker. We made the film. We were really pleased with how the film was received and were really worried that the film would sort of struggle to find the home it has found. Obviously, all those anxieties of filmmakers especially when you’re making an independently financed film and now as time has passed, that the timing of the release of this film seems like a bit of destiny somehow. I say that not in a good way. I say it as it being incredibly unfortunate that the timing of the film makes the film so necessary right now. But I am obviously very grateful that we have something to combat the current narrative to put into the world to hopefully try and move the needle in a different direction and in maybe small ways, I hope.

How important was it for you to make Changing the Game?

Michael Barnett: Oh, wow. I mean, the film for me, I mean, it’s, I don’t know, it’s shifted my DNA so I think it has provided a tectonic shift for me and that’s very personally. I hope it’s meaningful to a lot more people as we have a much larger audience. I don’t know, Alex, that’s an interesting question. I don’t think we’ve ever had that question.

Alex Schmider: No, I don’t think we have. Michael came to the subject in a very personal way, which I hope he’ll share. But for me, I think it was important to get involved when I did because when Michael and Clare, my co-producer, approached me about getting involved, I realized that I had a lot of preconceived notions, even as a trans man myself, about what it means for trans people to be included in sport. I did a lot of self-interrogation about why I was feeling the way that I did and ultimately, remembering that we all live in this culture, that we are fed and consume the same media narratives that are often not focusing where they maybe best would be.

When I met Michael and Clare, I just know that I’m a storyteller and I always want to create and put stories out into the world that do good and do service and make the people proud of what stories are being put out there. When I met these two incredible filmmakers, I wanted to go on this journey to make myself better as a storyteller and as a person in the world. The process that we’ve gone through together in returning these young people’s stories to them and knowing that we did justice and did them proud, is probably—I don’t quite have words. For people finally getting able to meet and see and get to know Mack, Sarah, Terry, and Andraya, as the heroes in their stories, which is the way they always should have been seen.

How did you decide on the original athletes that we see in Changing the Game?

Michael Barnett: Yeah, we filmed with more kids than appear in the finished film and we had some really tough conversations. Also, when we started this process, we came to Mack’s story first. It was a budding news story. It wasn’t quite anywhere near where it continues to be even though he’s left high school years ago now. We reached out obviously to Alex, we reached out to Chris Mosier, and to be honest, it wasn’t like we had hundreds and hundreds of kids to choose from. It was a very small selection of kids who would even speak with us. It wasn’t like we had a massive casting call of, Hey, what trans kids want to be in a movie? It was sort of like, there are very few that are public and want to share their story. As we began filming, we thought that Andraya, Sarah Rose, and Mack’s story not only were they compelling, not only what was going on in a state policy was that complex or compelling but also the fact that they had the strength and resiliency to not only endure but to grow, I think, throughout this process made them our choices.

Alex Schmider: I just wanted to add to that. As filmmakers, we were extremely sensitive to how a film like this would affect their lives. We made really tough decisions about who to include and who not to include based on how we felt and foresaw the film either bringing positivity to their life or doing the opposite. For Mack, Andraya and Sarah—Mack and Andraya’s stories were already taken from them and put out into the world without their consent or their buy-in or their voice actually guiding the narrative. For us, it was about returning their stories to them. For Sarah, we knew that having a larger platform would enable her to continue her policy advocacy work. We’re very intentional not only in thinking about the stories contained in the film but how the film itself would affect their lives for better. That was a big intention in the filmmaking process and we also wanted to show the diversity of experience and identities and ways that young people come to activism. You’ll see that Mack, Andraya, Terry, and Sarah are very different young people. They have very different ways of wanting to be an advocate or an activist. It was important for us to showcase the different possibilities of what it looks like to be yourself and to advocate for equality and it doesn’t always look the same. That doesn’t make it wrong just in the way that living your life authentically to you is never wrong.

Michael Barnett: We don’t talk a lot about the sort of policy or particularly when it comes to when Alex and I are talking about the film but there’s quite a bit of it in the movie. It’s subtle but it is in the film. It’s strange because when we shot the film, I think the variation in that policy and the complexity in that policy, and how the sort of Grand Canyon that exists between the policy in Texas or Connecticut or New Hampshire. By the way, that’s what it’s like in every single state, right. I think now—it’s a very good time to be reminded of the complexities of that policy and how every single family and kids have to navigate that and how much of a struggle that is to navigate how complex every state is in order to just play. I think it’s also one of the reasons I think when we look at the differences not only between these kids’ stories but the differences in that policy. It’s very frustrating to say the least.

So much has and hasn’t happened since the premiere including a swath of bills directly attacking transgender athletes. How has the film changed since its original premiere?

Michael Barnett: Well, it’s better. We really kind of went through the film over the last couple of months. What we want to do with the film—I think when we made it, Mack’s story and Andraya’s story seemed very present but those stories are actually evergreen stories. We wanted to make sure they were treated as such. We really just gave this film a little bit of a timeless pass, if you will, in the hopes that if this fight continues for longer than it should, people can return to this film and the film isn’t a time capsule, it’s an ongoing evergreen narrative. While all that being said, we also—as filmmakers, who doesn’t love an opportunity a year later to go back in and open up your film and sort of make some much needed edits that you didn’t get to because you’re on a deadline in order to premiere. To just take the film and slowly think about it and make every single little nuance subtle change to just, really make it sing and harmonize was a gift.

Alex Schmider: Speaking of seeing and harmonizing, we also added an original song to the end called “Chasing dreams,” which features Shea Diamond. It’s by Old Man Saxon and Tyler Strickland, our composer, was a part of bringing that to life. Ultimately, it’s a power anthem that we hope anyone watching the film can resonate with. It’s about being resilient. It’s about the strength in knowing who you are despite any opposition, despite the obstacles. Also, knowing that we’re premiering in June on Hulu, we wanted to give something to trans youth to feel powerful listening to and knowing that they are enough just as they are and there will be tough times but they will get through those and they have every bit of resilience and strength in them to do so.

What do you think will happen in states like Tennessee and Arkansas where the laws are draconian in nature?

Michael Barnett: Well, let’s hope that leads to a federal Equality Act. I mean, that’s the hope, right? I don’t know, Alex.

Alex Schmider: As an eternal optimist and idealist, my hope is that more people will recognize their responsibility of showing up for this community in places where we need it most. That is in places that trans youth are having their health care withdrawn from having their ability to participate and be kids and play sports withdrawn from them. I think the hope, in addition to the Equality Act, is that people recognize that these attacks on the trans community affect everyone. They are not just about our community. They affect everyone for who deserves to live their lives as themselves and be fulfilled and safe. We’ve already seen it start happening. There are coalitions and communities building around us knowing that what this is about is really not about trans youth. It is about using an already vulnerable community to forward political agendas and a lot of people are seeing through that and they’re showing up for humanity, which is what we need.

Are you hoping that the film has the same kind of impact as Disclosure did last year?

Alex Schmider: I know this film will have impact in the way that we made it to have because when we have screened it in big cities and small towns, red states, blue states, purple states, young people, older people, the overwhelming response is that they’re reminded that these are just kids being themselves and wanting to play with their friends in sports. We have seen 180 degree turns of hearts and minds. That is changing the cultural understanding of who these young people are, which will impact these kinds of legislation having a harder time passing. I’m very confident that our film will have the impact we hope it will make because also, rarely do we get to see these kinds of stories told from the perspectives of the people who are at the center. We know from Mack, Andraya, Terry, and Sarah that we did them proud and we did them right in returning their stories to them.

What do you want people to take away from watching Changing the Game?

Michael Barnett: The journey that I’ve gone on with this movie leaves me with a a really simple but necessary takeaway. I hope the film is a beacon for families. I hope it’s a beacon for trans youth. I hope the takeaway is that love and support go a long way.

Alex Schmider: And that they exist. We don’t see nearly enough stories of families of love and support and communities of care. And yet, you see in the film that even in the places where you least expect it, there is love and support.

Changing the Game is now available on Hulu.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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