The fascinating documentary XY Chelsea takes an in-depth look at the ex-army intelligence officer and trans activist Chelsea Manning since her release from prison in 2017. This intimate documentary from Tim Travers Hawkins follows Manning as she finds herself becoming a public figure, highlighting the complexity of Manning’s life she had led and the prices she has had to pay for her choices. Even now, with Manning is currently in prison for refusing to testify against Julian Assange, the documentary helps to explain her actions, at least on a human level.
Young and angry, Chelsea dives headfirst into activism in her first year of freedom, rather than healing from the traumatic experiences she had in solitary confinement, which is briefly detailed in the documentary, but is enough to leave you feeling traumatised and emphatic for Manning. It is clear through-out the documentary that Manning was and still is in deep need of support, rather than being thrust into the public eye for further scrutiny of her whistleblowing actions that she had already paid for.
The documentary reveals the emotional turmoil Manning has faced in throughout her life, making the documentary feel more personal. She details her parents alcoholism, her mental health struggles, her military service in Iraq, and being imprisoned in an all-male prison, all whilst transitioning. When pressed on the reason for her actions, Manning explains ‘I couldn’t let those images stay inside the system of inside my head’. Once you are shown the footage that Manning is referring too, it is easy to understand what she means.
Whilst this emphasis on the personal is important to understand why Manning leaked the information, there is no real explanation of the political or ethical consequences of her actions, nor is there an explanation of her relationship with Assange or Adrian Lamo. Whilst these holes are still left to be filled, the emotional impact that the information and footage had on Manning does give some explanation of her actions.
We following Manning for a couple of years, seeing her embark on her very ill-advised run for the US senate. Whilst her intentions were admirable, the campaign derailed after her misjudged attempt to ‘infiltrate’ an alt-right social, leaving many of her followers disappointed. It caused such a massive back-lash that it caused Manning to spiral, becoming even more paranoid and leaving many of those close to her concerned for her health. The documentary is cleverly put together to remind the audience that Manning is simply a human-being that has made mistakes and that there are often good intentions behind people’s seemingly unfavourable actions.
Whether you agree or disagree with Manning’s actions in her past, it is worth seeing this documentary to understand why Manning chose to leak the information that she did. Manning’s story certainly still has more chapters to come, but with her current situation, we are left wondering and worried for her future and mental health.Find your cinema and book tickets