Karli Norton, communication senior, made a documentary about Owen Le Brun for a media production course final. He is a junior at West De Pere high school, who came out as transgender in winter 2014.
“My high school sweetheart was Owen’s older brother, so I knew Owen when he identified as female,” Norton said.
In spring 2013, Le Brun identified as a gay female. His later identification as transgender helped inspire Norton’s final project.
“After I came out as transgender, which was about a year and a half after I told her, she approached me with the idea of a documentary,” Le Brun said. “I had done a few projects before the documentary. For the most part, I’m very comfortable about sharing my story and educating people.”
Norton’s experience with a master class at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point also played a role inspiring her final project.
“The woman teaching the class made a movie about a boy who came out as gay,” Norton said. “I thought that would be really cool to cover as a topic, and not that it’s completely taken care of, but I think gay rights are becoming more accessible. The next thing to do was trans.”
Le Brun and Norton emphasized the importance of incorporating transgender characters into media.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel, as filmmakers, we have more of an openness to us,” Norton said. “We’re up for challenges. I think a lot of people in the media are. It’s cool to incorporate controversy and stand up for what you believe in. Making a film is the best way I could get this story across about someone I care about and something I care about.”
The feedback Le Brun and Norton received has been largely positive.
“I haven’t gotten any negative feedback,” Le Brun said. “Pretty much my entire family and friends, even some of my teachers at school have seen it, and they’re all very proud of me.”
The documentary has over 1,000 views on Norton’s Facebook page and over 800 on Le Brun’s.
“I think the few people that I know who would have had negative commentary kept it to themselves,” Norton said. “I’m thankful they did, especially for Owen.”
Alex Ingersoll, assistant professor of media studies, gave students a ten-minute limit for final projects. Norton’s project slightly exceeded the limit.
“There’s just so much more I wanted to talk about,” Norton said. “I would have liked to interview his parents, his girlfriend and maybe get a shot at his school or of people at his school. He was telling me how things at school like the bathrooms are different or how the locker room he uses is different and how the teachers respond to it.”
Norton hopes to explore similar themes in future projects. She wants to inspire movement for the transgender community through media.
“I think the most important thing I could say is that everyone deserves the right to be happy and be who they want to be,” Norton said. “People who don’t understand will never understand. You just have to realize you’re not them, and I’m not criticizing you for what makes you happy, so please don’t criticize anyone else for what makes them happy.”
Le Brun emphasized similar views.
“I think it’s important transgender people are shared in media, so there’s a basic knowledge and respect about their human rights,” Le Brun said. “They deserve them as much as anyone else.”
Arts & Entertainment Editor