Federally Funded San Francisco Filmmaker Does Trans Teen Documentary for PBS

Terence P. Jeffrey | June 7, 2017 | 5:11pm EDT
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Bennett and a friend after undergoing "top surgery" in the ITVS documentary "Real Boy" that will air on PBS's Independent Lens on June 19. (Screen Capture)

(CNSNews.com) - The Independent Television Service (ITVS)--a federally funded film-making company, whose existence is mandated by federal law and which received more than $86 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting over the last five fiscal years on record—has produced a pro-sex-change documentary entitled “Real Boy.”

The Public Broadcasting Service will broadcast the documentary on June 19.

PBS itself has received more than $235 million from CPB over the last five fiscal years on record (2011 through 2015), according to CPB’s 990 forms.

The ITVS documentary “Real Boy” tells the story of how a young woman--whose now-divorced parents named her Rachael--becomes Bennett, and then undergoes what PBS calls “gender reassignment surgery.”

One of the promotional clips for "Real Boy" that was posted on a PBS website was entitled "Real Boy--'A Boy with the Wrong Body Parts.'" (Screen Capture)

“This is how I am going to explain it: I am literally a boy with the wrong body parts,” are the first words spoken by Bennett in a promotional clip for the documentary that was posted online at a PBS website. The clip was entitled: “Real Boy—‘A Boy With the Wrong Body Parts’”

“A moving and intimate story of a family in transition, Real Boy follows the journey of trans teen Bennett as he navigates adolescence, sobriety, and the physical and emotional ramifications of his changing gender identity,” says an ITVS press release.

In addition to the federal funding it receives through CPB, ITVS also gets funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2003 through 2016, it received $1,485,000 in NEA grants to "support the selection, acquisition, and packaging of films for the public television series ‘Independent Lens,'" according to data published by the NEA. “Independent Lens” is the weekly PBS program, featuring ITVS documentaries, that will broadcast “Real Boy.”

“When Bennett began to share his true identity as a male,” says ITVS’s press release, “he felt happier inside but faced resistance from his family.”

“Through the process,” says the release, “his mother Suzy makes her own transformation—travelling a difficult road toward accepting that the daughter she raised as Rachael is now her son Bennett.”

One scene in the film shows Bennett in a bathroom, injecting testosterone, while Skyping with a friend, who is doing the same.

“Our testosterone shots are on the same day, Monday, and, so, we’re Skyping our injections,” Bennett explains, narrating the scene.

In this federally funded documentary that will air on PBS, Bennett injects testosterone in a bathroom while Skyping with a friend who is also injecting testosterone. (Screen Capture)

The screen shows her holding up a syringe with her shirt raised above her abdomen, revealing the tattoos on her left side where she is preparing to inject herself.

“Do I have a beard yet?” she asks her Skyping friend.

“Did you tell your co-worker I’m single?” Bennett asks the friend.

“She’s not single, though,” says the friend.

“Oh dammit,” says Bennett.

The scene cuts to an interview with Bennett.

“We booked our top surgeries for the same day, December 27th of this year, which is in like five months,” Bennett tells the camera. “And his mom is paying for our airfare and our hotel and is going to come and take care of us, which is insane, because my mom wouldn’t.”

Another segment depicts this young persons’ dedication to getting surgery.

“I am saving for my top surgery myself,” says Bennett.

“Top surgery,” she says, “is something worth fighting for. It is something worth sweating for. It is something worth grinding my teeth at work all day for.”

A clip from the documentary initially posted at www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/real-boy/ and also at http://www.pbs.org/video/3000892088/ carried the headline: “Real Boy—Bennett’s Gender Reassignment Surgery.”

A clip from the documentary posted on the PBS website carried the title "Real Boy--Bennett's Gender Reassignment Surgery." (Screen Capture)

“In this excerpt from the Independent Lens film Real Boy, Bennett enters the hospital for his gender surgery and is both touched and surprised that his mom Suzy came to be with him for support, despite her own reservations,” says the summary of the clip on the PBS website. “She then gets supportive advice from another mom whose son made the same transition, and who reassures Suzy that Bennett will find the right person for him.”

At one point in the documentary, the PBS logo flashes on the screen as part of a graphic that reads: “Dating when you are trans: More at pbs.org/independentlens.”

During the documentary, the PBS logo flashes on the screen as part of a graph that reads: “Dating when you are trans: More at pbs.org/independentlens.” (Screen Capture)

The Public Telecommunications Act of 1988 included language mandating that CPB “provide adequate funds for an independent production service” that would back “the production of public television programs by independent producers and independent production entities.” The act said CPB “shall ensure that the funds provided to such independent production service shall be used exclusively in pursuit of the Corporation’s obligation to expand the diversity and innovativeness of programming available to public broadcasting.”

The San Francisco-based ITVS was the CPB-funded service created from this mandate. PBS airs ITVS programs on the weekly series “Independent Lens,” where “Real Boy” will appear on June 19. PBS, according to CPB’s annual report, has also aired ITVS documentaries on “P.O.V.” “Frontline,’ and “American Experience.”

CPB received $3.643 billion in federal funding in the eight fiscal years from 2009 through 2016, according to Monthly Treasury Statements.

Under a unique funding system, Congress approves funding for CPB two fiscal years in advance. The fiscal 2017 funding bill the Republican-majority Congress approved last month included $445 million in funding for CPB for fiscal 2019.

President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal calls for eliminating federal funding for CPB and shutting down the NEA.

According to its 990 forms, CPB gave ITVS $17,168,468 for television programming in fiscal 2015 and $2,100,000 for “system support.” In the five fiscal years from fiscal 2011 through 2015, it gave ITVS $86,680,358.

A press kit for “Real Boy” posted on the film’s website includes guidance for reporters excerpted from the “GLAAD Media Reference Guide”—to provide “some basic tips for writing fair and accurate stories about transgender people.”

“One’s biology,” the tips say, “does not ‘trump’ one’s gender identity, and oversimplifications like ‘born a man’ seem to invalidate the current, authentic gender of the person you’re speaking about.”

The GLAAD guidance included in the “Real Boy” press kit also says: “When being transgender is just one of the many facts that make someone unique, we will move closer to acceptance.”

Citing this guidance, CNSNews.com asked ITVS by email: “Is it fair to say that one purpose of the ‘Real Boy’ documentary is to advance the cause of moving transgenderism ‘closer to acceptance’ in America?”

ITVS responded: “ITVS had no participation, funding or otherwise, in the press kit referencing ‘closer to acceptance.’”

CNSNews.com asked: “Does the film not seek to move transgenderism ‘closer to acceptance’ in America?”

ITVS responded again: “ITVS had no participation, funding or otherwise, in the press kit referencing ‘closer to acceptance.’

CNSNews.com asked: “Why should American taxpayers be required to pay for the production and broadcasting of ‘Real Boy’?”

ITVS responded: “Americans broadly support public broadcasting's mission to help inform civil discourse essential to American society.”

CNSNews.com asked: “Why should Congress maintain a law that requires taxpayers to fund a private documentary producer like ITVS?”

ITVS responded: “ITVS supports independent producers from all corners of our country who tell stories about Americans​ representing a range of complex topics. The organization serves as a public pathway for producers and characters untethered to a single public television station, television series, geographic area or set of interests.”

“Our standards require these storytellers to practice transparency in expressing individual points of view,” said ITVS. “All ITVS-funded programs meet PBS’s rigorous editorial guidelines for non-fiction content.”

CNSNews.com also asked PBS by email: “Is the broadcasting of ‘Real Boy’ by PBS and the way the documentary is presented on the PBS website aimed at advancing acceptance of transgenderism in American society?”

“PBS is committed to providing programming that represents a variety of viewpoints and perspectives,” a PBS spokesperson responded. “One way we do that is through series such as ‘Independent Lens’ which offers award-winning documentary films by independent filmmakers. ‘Independent Lens’ encourages engagement and informed dialogue around complex issues.”

“‘Real Boy,’” said the PBS spokesperson, “provides a window into the community of transgender youth from the point of view of both the youth and the parent struggling with her child's decision and provides an entry point for dialogue on this topic. The filmmaker’s goal was to make a film that showed the reality of one transgender teen and his family.”

CNSNews.com also asked PBS about the graphic in the documentary that says: “Dating when you are trans: More at pbs.org/independentlens.” “What is this graphic referring people to and what does PBS intend to tell people on its website about transgender dating?” CNSNews.com asked.

The PBS spokesperson responded: “Independent Lens/ITVS would have to answer that.”

CNSNews.com followed up with ITVS, asking its spokesperson about the “dating-when-you-are-trans” graphic: “What is this graphic referring people to and what does Independent Lens intend to tell people on this PBS website about transgender dating?”

ITVS responded: “Independent Lens is working on a blog post that will be a Q&A format talking with transgender individuals. It will be posted closer to broadcast.”

CNSNews.com also asked PBS: “Why should American taxpayers be forced to pay for the broadcasting of Real Boy?”

The PBS spokesperson responded: “This film represents just one title among the many hours of high-quality programming offered by PBS stations each year spanning genres including news and public affairs, science, history, drama, arts and children’s content. I would refer you to recent statements we’ve made about the importance of federal funding, as well as research that shows strong support across the political spectrum for federal funding for public media.”

CNSNews.com also asked Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over funding for CPB, whether taxpayers should have been forced to pay for the production and broadcasting of “Real Boy,” and whether Congress should maintain the law that requires taxpayers to fund a private documentary producer like ITVS.

“The Public Telecommunications Act of 1988 requires a limited amount of CPB funding go to an ‘independent production service,’ which is ITVS,” Cole responded. “The purpose of this requirement is to foster local, small, independent filmmakers who would not be able to get stories on national television through national networks. 

“CPB does not have editorial control over the independent film topics, as that would be infringing on the exercise of free speech,” said Cole. “While I certainly do not agree with every opinion expressed or topic explored in the documentaries that have been funded through ITVS, I do believe we have to follow the law.  

“While I personally do not agree with the decision to air ‘Real Boy,’ I also believe that local public television station managers should continue to exercise their own discretion in determining the most appropriate content for their particular viewing audiences,” said Cole.

CNSNews.com asked Sen. Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over CPB funding the same questions it asked Rep. Cole. Blunt did not respond.

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