“I am neither a girl nor a boy. I’m neither of the two, I’m a little of both”: in a world that insists on putting people in boxes, that decided there were only two genders, the heroine of the series “About Sasha” (Chair tendre) feels invisible.
Sasha (played by Angèle Metzger) is 17 and has just discovered that she was born intersex. She has decided to live as a girl from now on, after being raised as a boy. In her childhood, she went through hell having to undergo numerous forced operations, including a hysterectomy, to conform to the gender assigned by doctors.
To allow her to start a new life under her new identity, the whole family moves away from Paris. In her new school, Sasha wants no one to know her secret.
Presented to buyers at Unifrance Rendez-vous in Biarritz this week by France Télévisions Distribution, the moving and powerful French series “About Sasha,” created, written and codirected (with Jérémy Mainguy) by Yaël Langmann, is one of the rare shows to feature an intersex person as the main character. The show was named Best Series at the Séries Mania festival last March.
“I was made aware of intersexuality at an early age,” Langmann tells Variety. “The word didn’t even exist back then. When I was at high school, there was a student whose background was similar to Sasha’s: he was assigned a boy at birth, but during a medical exam, he learned that what he had been told since childhood was false. I was deeply moved to witness how this news completely destabilized him. I was also revolted to see all that he already had, and still would have, to endure. The idea for the script came from there.”
Convincing the producers was not easy, the director recalls. “When I started writing the series in 2012, no one wanted to hear about it. I received only strong rejections, until I met my producers at France TV Slash in March 2020, who understood my project. And times had also changed a bit,” Langmann says.
But Langmann never wanted to stick to a trend. This is reflected in her choice to blend the time periods in the series: the clothes are reminiscent of the 80s or 90s, even if the protagonists have cell phones and are alive today. “We wanted it to be timeless so it could appeal to many.” Few things have changed in the last decades. “The operations are not yet prohibited. Parents of intersex children are still told they are ‘sick.’ But an intersex person is born in full health and can live happily! When a child is operated on the genitals, a series of surgical complications usually follow. They also have to take medication all their lives to compensate for the removed gonads.”
For her first feature, Langmann wanted to make sure that she was telling the story right and called on Loé Petit, president and founder of the Intersex Activist Collective (Collectif Intersexe Activiste), to work as a consultant. In the series, Loé (played by Lysandre Nury) is a counsellor for Sasha. “The important thing for me was not to betray the intersex community,” Langmann says. “To prepare the project, I also read a lot of books and articles about intersexuality. I met with doctors, intersex people and parents of intersex children.”
The series doesn’t aim to explain, nor to make an impossible inventory of the condition of intersex people, she states. “We wanted to provoke emotion in order to nourish reflection, to bring a resonance to people whose situations and life paths are very real. It is urgent to consider their existence, to think about their place in our society so that no child born today or in the future will have the feeling of being alone in their case anymore.”
The question immediately arose: Should the actor playing Sasha be intersex? “Our casting director Catherine Charrier told us about Angèle Metzger from day one and I really liked her. But we continued our research with the help of Loé Petit. We looked for and auditioned girls, boys, persons in transition, and of course intersex persons. In the end, we were all unanimous: Angèle Metzger was the right person.”
By coincidence, the young actress was finishing her master’s degree in philosophy and her thesis, entitled “The Metamorphosis of the Sexes,” dealt with intersexuality. A theme for which she had already studied a lot. “I was interested in sex as the only thing that people say can’t be doubted,” Metzger tells Variety. “Our society considers there are only two. By digging on the subject, it fascinated me to which point the binarity of the sexes can be a fiction too. On a personal level, it interested me too because I was often called androgynous. Which challenged me at first, because I didn’t see myself that way.”
The actor had her share of doubts for the role of Sasha: “As I’m not an intersex person, I was afraid of not being legitimate. If the Intersex Activists Collective had not validated me, I would not have accepted the part.”
Metzger delivers a breathtaking performance. She leads “Sasha” in this 10-part coming-of-age series through all the twists and turns of her search for identity, but also through those of adolescence and first loves, without ever getting lost in pathos. Her character is fresh, and rich in nuance. The series is deeply moving without ever overdoing it. The story is strong and addictive, instructive but never boring.
“About Sasha” also draws its strength from the quality of Metzger’s acting partners. First of all, the exceptional Saül Benchetrit, playing Pauline, Sasha’s vivacious and mischievous little sister and ally. Seen as the young Sophie Marceau in “I Love America,” the newcomer impressed everyone on set: “When she sent us her demo, she was only 14 years old! She came to the auditions with a huge intelligence and strong intuition. She is explosive and very quiet at the same time. We knew in a minute she was the one for the role,” Langmann says. Daphné Bürki and Grégoire Colin are perfect as Sasha’s completely overwhelmed parents. Paola Locatelli, a.k.a. Anna, Sasha’s new classmate, shines. As does the rest of their friends played by Marin Judas, Léna Garrel, Régis N’Kissi and Andréa Furet.
“During the castings, I didn’t have the actors’ last names,” says Langmann. “We were every time immediately unanimous for those who were selected. It was only afterwards that I knew that Saül was the daughter of Anna Mouglalis and Samuel Benchetrit, that Lena was the daughter of Philippe Garrel and sister of Louis Garrel, and that Paola had almost 2 million followers on Instagram… I wasn’t going to discriminate against them for that! So, we ended up with a very original cast!”
For Metzger, daughter of actor Stéphane Metzger, there will be a before and an after Sasha. “Actors always say you have to separate your life from your characters, but there, I jumped in with both feet and I did not protect myself too much. Sasha accompanied me throughout this year and changed me. To get under her skin, I had to ask myself questions about gender. I needed to go through that process to feel legitimate. And I’m happy I did because it was important that I went through that part of me that I hadn’t explored too much. After filming, I went for a very long time towards my part of masculinity and now I feel like I really want to re-explore my femininity.”
“About Sasha” will be launched on Sept. 23 on Slash.tv. and France 5.
Coming-of-Age Series ‘About Sasha’ Puts Intersex Character Center Stage