Teen movies about self-discovery and navigating high school, friends, romance, and sexuality are nothing new. More and more there is more diversity among these films, as well, such as last year’s Love, Simon and Alex Strangelove.
Giant Little Ones is a new film in this genre, but one that stands above the rest. It is authentic in its exploration of both sexuality and gender identity amongst teenagers. It develops as a story that is all at once harsh and tender, but ultimately, most importantly, empathetic.
Written and directed by Keith Behrman, the film follows two best friends — Franky and Ballas — and the night that changes the course of their relationship.
It explores themes of sexual assault and consent, bullying, coming out, and grappling with identity, both within yourself and others. One of Franky’s biggest arcs in the film is coming to terms with his dad leaving his mom after his dad came out as gay.
GSN spoke to Taylor Hickson who plays Natasha in the film. Natasha is Ballas’ younger sister and Franky’s confidante who carries her own trauma.
Discovering the freedom to love
Hickson says she was drawn to this film because it felt ‘different’.
‘It’s so hard to make art different these days,’ she explains.
This movie to her is about ‘love without labels’, although not just love itself, but the experience of love. It explores numerous types of love — between parent and child, between friends, or romantic love.
‘People are stuck in old ideas and traditions of what they think love should be, so we’re trying to bring to light that it has nothing to do with who you love,’ Hickson says.
She wants LGBTI youth to see this film and find freedom.
‘I hope this can help them feel ok and human,’ she says thoughtfully. ‘They’re allowed to explore and experiment and be themselves.’
Hickson knows it’s easier said than done, because it starts with learning to love yourself.
‘That’s a really, really hard thing to do, especially for a teenager,’ she concedes. She has nothing but empathy for LGBTI youth struggling with this as she admits it was a big part of her own journey.
Sexual assault and ‘trapped mindsets’
Consent and sexual assault is a big theme in the movie. Refreshingly, it is never shown or exploited, but its aftermath is felt throughout the film and depicted with patience and compassion.
The movie deliberately does not show what happens between Franky and Ballas — or if there was consent. Viewers also learn that Natasha is dealing with her own trauma from sexual assault.
For Hickson, this was an important topic to engage with on film.
‘One thing I’ve noticed a lot is that people, women especially, are afraid to use the words “rape” or “sexual assault”. There’s this mentality that rape happens to other people, but not them. It’s a trapped mindset,’ she says.
It also happens to LGBTI youth, she adds, as the movie potentially explores. And in the time of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, it feels more relevant than ever.
In one of the film’s most poignant scenes, Natasha and Franky discuss consent and having to heal before having sex, if ever.
Hickson reveals she empathized a lot with this scene because it was so personal for her.
‘I was at a point where something happened to me and I carried it into my next relationship,’ she says. ‘And I had to be honest with myself that in order to have healthy relationships, I had to deal with it first, and to do that I had to give myself time.
‘To have that understanding and playing Natasha at her young age was profound. Thinking back, I was only 17 or 18 when that happened for me.’
Breaking out of gender stereotypes
Hickson sees the potential for Hollywood, and people consuming media, to reject society’s stereotypical gender expectations, like pitting women against each other and toxic masculinity.
‘Women have to support each other and lift each other up. Now more than ever, we have to celebrate and encourage each other,’ she says firmly.
It can be especially egregious on social media: ‘One thing that has to be learned is self-awareness. If you’re seeing something that’s triggering or makes you feel bad, you need to unfollow. It kills your own self-image.’
She also wants men and roles for me to reject toxic masculinity.
‘There’s a guardedness around masculinity. I want men to feel like they can emote and be vulnerable. That’s why I’m so excited to see a trend of new roles where men have the ability to be vulnerable.’
Giant Little Ones is out now.