‘Changing the Game’ Review: Fighting for the Right to Play

In 2017, Mack Beggs, then 17, won a state girls’ wrestling championship. Mack, a transgender boy from Dallas, had wanted to wrestle in the boys’ division. But in Texas, state policy mandates that students compete according to their sex assigned at birth rather than gender identity. So his options were to wrestle girls or to not wrestle at all.

Mack is one of three young athletes profiled in the documentary “Changing the Game,” which offers an earnest look at the way transgender teens around the country are fighting for self-actualization in the fraught world of student athletics.

The documentary (streaming on Hulu) illustrates how rules differ from state to state: The skier Sarah Rose Huckman, who lives in New Hampshire, describes a policy that hinges on gender confirmation surgery; whereas at a high school in Connecticut, the runner Andraya Yearwood is able to compete on the team she wants.

Outcry over transgender kids in sports manifests as a conservative talking point and in waves of discriminatory bills from Republican lawmakers. But rather than deconstruct the politics, history or parameters of this furor, “Changing the Game” hews closely to Mack, Sarah and Andraya. We see the ways in which bullying and outsized media attention gnaw at these teens, who face the public eye with astounding courage.

As it follows its subjects, the documentary takes a conventional and controlled approach. The director Michael Barnett intercuts interviews with competition footage, training montages and slow-motion action shots. Throughout, a synth-heavy score insists on a motivational mood.

A frequent right-wing argument is that transgender athletes make sports unfair. The documentary’s best and most challenging through-line shows where this claim falls short — particularly how, for young athletes, building confidence is more important than wins and losses. “Changing the Game” could have gone further, analyzing how fairness in sports is a myth to begin with. But the movie isn’t interested in rewriting the rules; it would rather introduce us to the brave young people who are.

Changing the Game
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. Watch on Hulu.

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