13 years after the POV broadcast premiere of Georgie Girl, POV asked filmmaker Annie Goldson what’s happened since the cameras stopped rolling.
About how long after the release of the film did Georgina remain active in government? What did she accomplish in office before leaving? How has Georgina been since the end of her political career?
Annie Goldson: Georgina remained an elected Labour MP until 2005, quitting after facing tensions within her electorate, which has a right-leaning rural base. These arose over an issue that was very divisive within Aotearoa NZ called the seabed and foreshore bill – which raised issues around Indigenous rights to our coasts. Georgina did remain as a Labour List MP though (which is part of our electoral system, MMP), galvanized into staying after witnessing an anti-gay rights rally by the conservative Destiny Church. She finally resigned in 2008, and admitted being tired of the negative bantering that characterizes our Governmental debates. Georgina was instrumental in promoting feminist and gay rights throughout her time in Government as well as providing a crucial role model for transgender internationally.
After she retired from politics, life was not easy for her financially. Things took a difficult turn in 2013 when she was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease and she currently requires daily dialysis while she waits for a kidney transplant. We held a crowd-sourced fundraiser for her giving contributors a free streaming of Georgie Girl. Despite her health problems, Georgina did enter politics again briefly in 2014, standing for Mana, a progressive party in the Te Tai Tonga Māori electorate. Mana entered into a brief and unsuccessful alliance with the Internet Party, which was founded and funded by tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom.
Have the rights and visibility of trans people in New Zealand progressed since Georgie Girl? As the conversation about trans lives and rights amplifies in the United States, has there been any similar movement in New Zealand?
Annie Goldson: Aotearoa is a relatively secular and socially liberal country. The right-wing National Party succeeded Helen Clark’s Labour Government in 2008, and remains headed by the popular “pro-business” Prime Minister John Key. National has a strong neo-liberal economic stance, but is mostly accepting of gay and transgender rights. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1986, civil union legislation passed in 2005 and same-sex marriage has been in effect since 2013. However, there are of course many issues that the LGBT face on a daily basis, and discrimination and economic hardship for many in the trans community still exists.
Since the film, have there been any notable policy changes or cultural changes in regards to prejudice against the Māori people?
Annie Goldson: The dialogue between Māori and Pākehā is ongoing. Critical to the conversation is the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, which was signed in 1840, an agreement between the British crown and over 500 Māori chiefs. The subsequent period of colonization devastated many iwi (tribes) but a pan-Māori renaissance in the 1970s led to a revisiting of the Treaty and the recognition that the Māori and English versions of the document had fundamental differences, particularly over ownership and control of resources. The Waitangi Tribunal was established in 1975 to address breaches of the Treaty and its spirit, intention or principles. More than 2,000 claims have been lodged. A number of major settlements have been reached returning significant sites to iwi and providing restitution for the wrongs of the past. Many Māori are concerned about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade agreement that PM John Key enthusiastically endorses, as they believe it will allow corporations to override their rights as pledged within the Treaty.
You’ve completed several projects since Georgie Girl, exploring a broad range of topics, from second wave feminism to the life of a renowned classical English composer to the Cambodian genocide. What do you look for in a project? How has making Georgie Girl shaped you as a filmmaker?
Annie Goldson: My principle is that ideas are everywhere but you need to recognize them on a number of fronts: first, they need to be able to be expressed as a documentary so need an argument or a narrative (or both) at their heart; second, ideas need to be timely and result in a film that audiences will be interested in and third, a realization of an idea needs to be achievable financially which usually means fundable. I think I have made five feature documentaries since Georgie Girl so every two or three years. As you point out, these have been on a range of topics but mostly involving human rights issues of some kind (incidentally all of them are streamable on my site www.op.co.nz). Every film contains its own lessons and changes you, given that as a filmmaker, you granted entry to the world of your subjects. Georgie Girl has been one of my most popular films, because I think Georgina is charismatic and funny, and that her story arc is very much one about overcoming adversity.
Are you working on any new projects now?
Annie Goldson: I’m currently directing and co-producing a huge and controversial project that explores the life and times of the tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, founder of the early cloud file service MegaUpload who was arrested in high-profile raid in Auckland in January 2012, at the behest of the FBI. For the past four years, he has been battling in our courts, staving off an extradition hearing. If sent to the US, a country he has never been to, he could face a very long jail sentence for criminal copyright as well as a range of other charges including racketeering and money laundering. As well as having a colourful narrative and a fascinating central character in Dotcom, the film will address issues that are centrally important to our digital lives: filesharing and how we consume media and information; privacy and surveillance; and sovereignty. It is being produced by Alex Behse – we are currently calling it Caught in the Web and are in the process of developing an associated online project which we are currently linking to at my website www.op.co.nz.
Film Update, 2003
POV: How has your life changed, if at all, since the completion of the film?
Georgina Beyer: It’s changed remarkably. I’m now getting an international perspective on how people have responded. It is reflective, I think, of part of our New Zealand character, “Well, we can do anything, and have a go, despite our size and relative importance in the world.”
POV: You are both a politician and a gay icon. So to speak, you’ve gone from a drag queen to meeting the queen. Now, as a political veteran, do you ever pinch yourself in disbelief?
Beyer: The most notable occasion was probably the most recent one, where I met the Queen on her 50th Jubilee. When she came to New Zealand I was there when she landed, at the staircase at the bottom of the plane, and people were aghast that I was there. The remarkable thing about that was that the Queen knows exactly who she’s going to be meeting, in an official lineup greeting her on her first landing in a country. If she didn’t want to have me there I wouldn’t have been there. While in London one time, I ended up doing quite a bit of BBC-sort of interviews, and I was just gobsmacked at the curiosity and interest in me, being newly elected to Parliament in New Zealand. And I find it a wonderful opportunity to converse with people who represent places and countries where people like me would never enjoy in their lifetime the kind of rights I manage to enjoy. Now that I find myself in this position, I have certain moral responsibilities to communities that are inspired by my story, that want to know how they can improve aspects in their own countries.
POV: How does the fact that you represent a traditionally conservative electorate influence your work on gay, lesbian, and transgender issues?
Beyer: I don’t have the freedom I might like to have to totally focus on gay, lesbian, and transgender issues. The people who elected me put me here, and so my first priority is to service them as their Member of Parliament. Also, because I have a personal interest, and because I’m in a place to be helpful, I do my bit with my other out gay colleagues. And we’ve got some major advances coming on. But in all honesty, my political priority has to be to the electorate first. I try to put an effort into all other areas that demand my time and my effort. And my patience. I’ve had to share the patience around.
POV: As a member of the Labour Party’s Rainbow Caucus, what would you say are the most important goals that you wish to achieve before the general election of 2005?
Beyer: That we get success for the civil union legislation that’s coming up. We have substantive rights already, it’s now making sure that they weren’t just tokens, that they actually mean something, in wider implications, and in social legislation particularly.
POV: You recently worked the crowd at the LGBT Pride Parade with Sir Ian McKellan, who starred in The Lord Of the Rings, another little film that’s putting New Zealand on the map. What did you chat about?
Beyer: My goodness, you’ve done your research. What did I chat about with Ian McKellen? Oh look, he is a darling, darling man. And he enjoyed his time here in New Zealand, and he had quite a length of it, when he was deeply involved with Lord of the Rings. His visits are not now so frequent, but he enjoyed his time here. A number of stars in the film who are here seem to enjoy the relaxed nature of New Zealand. There’s a certain amount of informality that they can enjoy that they don’t seem to get elsewhere and still feel safe. Anyhow, I was being beautifully, wonderfully hosted. It was the most fantastic party. Then Ian, he was so generous in his welcome, and he remembered me of course, and the familiarity was wonderful. And that fabulous city hall there was just — this is little old me, Georgie Girl, from New Zealand, Wellington, and here I am in this fantastic arena — it was just the most humbling experience.
POV: You received a GOFTA Best Actress nomination in 1987. Do you have any intentions to act again?
Beyer: Yes, yes, I do. And I did so recently. I did a performance of a local production of The Vagina Monologues. It was a short piece, sort of a cameo appearance, I suppose. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have to say that some aspects of Parliament are very dramatic, and very like theater, and so you can sort of do it there. When I’m out of politics and Parliament, I wouldn’t mind exploring again the performing arts. The GOFTA Award nomination was important for me because I was nominated as a woman. So for me, personally, that was a wonderful acknowledgment from the industry.
POV: You’ve been complimented by the New Zealand Listener for being “a walking advertisement for transparency.” Now that your life story will be shown on national television in the States, is there any advice you would like to share with politicians here?
Beyer: My goodness, me. I had not heard that quote. I don’t know whether to be offended or complimented by it.
POV: I think it was a compliment.
Beyer: Yes, yes. The reality is, and this is only commonsense, really, is that I have had an unusual life. A misfit, one might think. If I were not a transsexual, anything I might have done would not be considered particularly remarkable. But I am a transsexual, [and] proud of it to the hilt, because that is what I am. In order to stand for public office, given my history, I want to do it from a clean slate. People want to know just who the hell they are considering to put into a position of responsibility. That’s only fair. And it relieves me of a whole lot of unscrupulous media that wanted to uncover scandal after scandal as they delved into my past. I put it out there before them. And of course I knew that it was all true. And people are satisfied with that. They seem to want to support an underdog who’s a good, true, honest person, with a certain amount of cheekiness about them. I guess I just slipped into the belief that people have a right to know who it is that they are electing. So my suggestion is that if you’ve got any skeletons in the closet, you can save yourself an awful lot of grief if you lay it all on the table before you enter into the world of politics.