Vlada Knowlton’s very personal 2019 film The Most Dangerous Year, chronicles several political and social battles in the state of Washington. Kicked off by the introduction of the Bathroom Bill in 2016, Knowlton, whose daughter is also one of the subjects of the film, is one of the many parents seeking to preserve their child’s civil rights in the face of discrimination. Testimonials by government officials, transgender children, and allies seek understanding and a safer world for children in this documentary.
The film’s two main themes are understanding and education. Knowlton looks at several families who have joined her in the struggle to protect their children from discrimination. The parents discuss how they have each come to terms in coping and making life easier for their children.
In addition to the family struggle, the political fight takes center stage in this film. Democrats along with some Republicans work to keep SB 6443, otherwise known as the Bathroom Bill, from passing. If passed, transgender children would not be allowed to use the bathroom of their preference, raising arguments of child safety, discrimination, and segregation. Several advocates and politicians speak to understanding the opposing side’s arguments and show the dangers of misinformation in society.
The film runs for approximately ninety minutes, but during that time, the audience is shown several battles that take place over the course of 2016. Whether it’s at a Senate hearing or school board meeting, the advocates arm themselves with personal stories in the hopes of educating their opponents and bringing understanding to the masses.
The most effective testimonials come from the children. The children express themselves in the simplest and most honest ways as they try and understand who they are while trying to make sense of the world around them. One of the main points those who support the Bathroom Bill call for is the safety of children. The children in this film show how both sides are seeking the same goal.
The film also takes a passing look at the way transgendered people have been portrayed in cinema. Often portrayed as severely unhinged (Silence of the Lambs), these negative depictions, Knowlton asserts, have gone a long way towards damaging the perception of transgender society. Given that a lot of the film focuses on the way society does not understand what it means to be transgender, a closer examination of this could have added some balance towards the film’s role in education. And yet the film gives excellent examples of the various fights for Civil Rights that have taken place in the country, drawing parallels between Jim Crow laws and the Bathroom Bill. These examples are effective in showing how antiquated laws have no in a more educated society.
Overall, The Most Dangerous Year, succeeds in showing the danger and continuous struggle for the transgender community. The documenting of several political votes in a singular year shows how fragile and endless the fight for civil rights can be.