Butterfly: ‘TV programmes can change the world’ say stars of groundbreaking drama about a trans child

Jess Glass March 5, 2018
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(Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

The stars of an upcoming drama about a young transgender girl talk to PinkNews about making the first major series about trans children.

The series called Butterfly will be showcased in three parts and tells the story of an 11-year-old child who wants to transition with the support of their mum Vicky, played by Anna Friel.

The three-part drama is set to be a major representation of transgender people on British television, as it is the first show of its kind to be broadcast on a major network.

Cast and crew of the upcoming mini-series spoke to PinkNews about the drama, which will be one of the first portrayals of trans children on television outside of documentaries.

Anna Friel on the set of ‘Butterfly’ (Photo: @AnnaFriel / Instagram)

Many of the people involved said that while Butterfly is a story about a trans girl, it is a story about a family that a wide audience can relate to.

“We are telling one family’s story, it’s not an issue piece, it’s a family drama,” said producer Louise Sutton.

Butterfly centres around 11-year-old Maxine as she and her family come to terms with her transition and go through the process of accessing medical support.

Anna Friel stars as Maxine’s supportive yet pressured mother, alongside In The Flesh star Emmett J Scanlan as Maxine’s more reluctant father.

Friel is also a co-producer on the series which will be broadcast in the UK by ITV.

(Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Susie Green, the CEO of Mermaids, a charity which supports trans and gender diverse children and their families, acted as a consultant throughout the making of the series.

She praised the upcoming drama for its accurate portrayal of trans children and for not sensationalising their experiences.

She said: “It’s really telling the story in a human way which isn’t sensationalising anything medical or the social transition, so it can show the human side of it and the reality, not something like a trend or a fad or something fashionable.

“[Writers and producers] constantly talked to families and young people who were going through this process, so this wasn’t just a cisgender person’s idea of what it’s like.

“They very carefully made sure that it involved people with lived experience of this.”

Green continued: “We’re really happy it’s been done in such a sensitive way and that it’s showing the real struggles that families can have, and that they’ve tried their absolute hardest to make it right.”

Susie Green
Susie Green (L) and Justine Greening (Image by Chris Jepson)

As part of the research for the drama, members of the cast and crew of Butterfly met with some of the trans children and their families who have used Mermaids’ services.

Some of these children and families became further involved with the drama and appear on-screen.

Susie Green stressed that while some parts of the process of a child’s transition are omitted or sped up — in reality, there is a long waiting list to access medical treatment — the events of the show are an accurate reflection of many experiences of transgender children.

Related: What treatment do young children receive for gender dysphoria and is it irreversible?

“You’ve got to give some artistic licence for drama but all the things in the show have happened to people,” Green said.

Maxine will be played by child actor Callum Booth-Ford, who is cisgender.

Production staff said that while the role of Maxine was open to both trans and cis actors, it wasn’t compulsory for a trans child actress to play the role, due to concerns about the actress’ well-being and future privacy as an adult.

(Photo: @AnnaFriel / Instagram)

Actor Emmett J Scanlan, who plays Maxine’s father, called his role in Butterfly ‘the most important thing he has done in his career’ and praised the drama for its potential to teach the audience about trans children.

He said: “It’s a bold move by ITV and Red [Production Company] and Mermaids to come together to do something like this.

“I feel really proud to be part of this and to have invested my time in something that I feel is the most important thing I’ve done in my career so far.”

The former Hollyoaks actor then highlighted how important it was to represent trans children accurately, as many people may be unaware or misinformed.

Scanlan said: “We’re now in 2018, we need to be talking about this. We have to acknowledge it and accept it.

“[Transgender children] aren’t a new phenomenon, it’s only now we can’t ignore it. It’s taken until 2018 to do a TV series about it, it’s a very relevant subject and the timing is perfect for it.”

Emmett J Scanlan and Anna Friel on the set of Butterfly (Photo: @scandalous_13 / Instagram)

He continued: “I would ask those people out there to tune in and watch Butterfly with an open mind, hopefully it can touch you like it’s touched me and everyone really involved in it.”

Earlier this year model and activist Munroe Bergdorf criticised the mainstream press for recent transphobic coverage, particularly that aimed at transgender children and youth.

The charity Mermaids has also recently been subject to negative coverage in the press.

In January of this year, the Sunday Times admitted that a report they published attacking the charity was untrue.

Many of the cast and crew of Butterfly were aware of the potential for backlash against the drama.

“I think even if there is a negative reaction, I would hope people would stick with it. They will go on the journey with the family and will be rooting for Maxine,” co-producer Louise Sutton said.

“I’m sure there will be initial outrage but if people stick with it and watch it and involve themselves in it, they can connect.

“Even if one person changes their mind, even if we don’t change anybody’s mind — which I don’t think will happen — even if somebody watching from the other side can connect and say ‘that’s my story’ and feel that they’re not alone, then we’ve done our job.”

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Sutton went on to stress the importance of representing trans people on a mainstream platform.

According to a GLAAD report in 2017, out of 260 LGBT+ characters on TV, only 11 are transgender and three of those are on the same show – Transparent.

Sutton said: “I hope we can touch people’s lives, and I hope we can help people live their true expressions in some small way. It’s just a tv programme, but in some ways tv programmes can change the world.

“The more you see of anything and anybody, and their way of life the more normal it becomes and why shouldn’t trans people be represented on television, it’s crazy that they aren’t.

“Everybody deserves a right to see themselves on television.”

Last year actress Laverne Cox spoke out about trans representation in media and stressed that an increase of trans representation would help to combat transphobic attitudes.

Butterfly director Anthony Bryne added that he hoped that the human nature of the drama would help a wider audience sympathise with trans issues and Maxine herself.

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 23: Hundreds protest a Trump administration announcement this week that rescinds an Obama-era order allowing transgender students to use school bathrooms matching their gender identities, at the Stonewall Inn on February 23, 2017 in New York City. Activists and members of the transgender community gathered outside the historic LGTB bar to denounce the new policy. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Bryne said: “There’s obviously going to be a huge amount of people who will be against it morally, but the drama isn’t in your face, it’s basically presenting a series of questions and circumstances.

“It’s not about gender issues on a lot of levels, it’s about the people. If you can connect emotionally with the characters then you can understand.”

“You really want to change people’s understanding, if you can shift the focus even one degree then it’s done everything it needs to do,” he added.

Butterfly is set to air on ITV later this year.

Related topics: Anna Friel, drama, entertainment, ITV, Television, Trans, transgender children

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