Netflix’s horror-comedy “Little Evil” is a quiet breakthrough for gender identity and politics

Gender politics take a backseat to this kid.
Gender politics take a backseat to this kid.
Image: Netflix
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Netflix has done it again with its latest original movie, “Little Evil.”

Not only is the on-demand video service, which released the film on Sept. 1, continuing to position itself as a threat to regular cable TV and film studios by producing original content, it’s also building on its habit of championing social justice with its programming.

Netflix has been doing this for a while. Its TV adaptation of Justin Simien’s 2014 film, “Dear White People,” a fictional story about racism on college campuses, brought race politics to the fore just as the Black Lives Matters movement was picking up speed.

In 2013, “Orange is the New Black” addressed socio-economic problems, human rights, gender, and sexuality through the lens of female prisons. In her breakout role as Sophia Burset, Laverne Cox became the first transgender woman to be nominated for an Emmy and to grace the cover of Time magazine. The show also set an example for Hollywood to give transgender roles to transgender actors. Netflix followed this with ”Sense 8,” by trans creators the Wachowski sisters, featuring a transgender lead role played by a trans actor. The streaming service’s homage to cheesy 80s horror films, “Stranger Things,” then challenged child gender stereotypes with female characters subverting the visual and plotline tropes.

Now Eli Craig, director of “Little Evil,” is using his latest film to subtly promote an understanding and acceptance of gender fluidity.

The film’s main character, Gary, played by Adam Scott of “Parks and Recreation”, marries Samantha, the woman of his dreams, played by Evangeline Lilly, only to discover that his step-child could be the anti-Christ. It’s a fantastical leading story with a satirical eye, examining the role of father and the struggles of a step-parent without trivializing or unconsciously sliding into the lazy trope of “men being useless parents.”

The nuances of gender creep in silently with the character of Al, Gary’s work friend and closest ally, who encourages him to wrangles his paternal troubles by attending a support group.

Al, played by Bridget Everett, is also a step-dad who happens to be transgender. But his gender identity and sexuality are not discussed. He is not introduced as a “transgender friend,” nor is that confirmed, nor do we find out the complexities of his backstory. All we know is that he self-identifies using male pronouns. Gender is not the be all end all of his character. His wit, humor, and empathy for Gary’s plight come first.

Al not being the focal point is in itself a breakthrough in mainstream TV and film. Al is just Al, not Al the butt of jokes, or something more subversive.