ABC ME’s ground-breaking First Day owes it all to Evie

If not for the strength of 12 year old Evie Macdonald to tell the story of a trans girl, First Day could never have existed.

“From the very beginning Kirsty and I spoke about how important it was for us to cast a trans girl in the lead,” says producer Julie Kalceff.

“If we couldn’t find the right person, then we couldn’t make the short film, we couldn’t make the first episode.”

But when Kalceff and co-producer Kirsty Stark found 12 year old Evie Macdonald they knew they had the makings of First Day.

Originally commissioned as a short by ABC for International Day of the Girl in 2017, the story of a young trans girl discovering her authentic self.

A 4 part series was produced on 2020, winning accolades from International Emmy Kids Awards, MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Awards, Prix Jeunesse International Children’s Television Festival, Banff World Media Festival Rockie Awards, Rose d’Or Awards and more.

“We spoke a lot about the fact that we’re both CIS gendered,” says openly gay Julie Kalceff.

“We were very aware that we’re not trans people, so this wasn’t our story to tell”

“We were very aware that we’re not trans people, so this wasn’t our story to tell. So it was really important for us to find the right actor, and then empower her to tell her story. Not many 12 year olds are able to do make a TV show so it became our job to then empower Evie to tell that story.”

Kalceff had previously produced 5 seasons of lesbian web series Starting From Now before she struck on the idea for First Day.

“A close family member was transitioning when she was six. So I could see how happy she was, living as her authentic self. But I could also see how lonely she was and how much her mum struggled with not knowing what to do, to support her. She didn’t have anyone to talk to. So I kind of put the two and two together and thought ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a children’s TV episode about trans girls?’ She could watch it and feel less alone, feel like part of the community.”

After the short was produced Kalceff and Stark proposed a series to ABC, spending 18 months to get it off the ground.

“So the first season, was really about Hannah starting school and presenting for the first time as a trans girl- in primary school, she’d been presenting as male. This was her chance to start a new school, and to present her authentic self. It was about her navigating the world … including when the bully from her primary school shows up and knows and knows who she is,” she continues.

“Once you come out, you come out every day”

“At the end of season one, we had lots of people reach out and say, ‘How come there’s only four episodes?’

“Some people thought she’s out now, people accepted her, that’s the end of the story. But my feeling, especially as a member of the LGBT community, is that’s not the end of the story. Once you come out, you come out every day and that’s just the start.

“So Season Two was about her navigating the world as an out trans girl, and how people respond to her.

“She’s got the same issues as all kids her age, dating, getting on with friends and all those sorts of things. But there’s this added layer, because she’s transgender, of things that she has to deal with.”

Episodes in Season 2 see Hannah dealing with pointed references to her identity, which still make her feel accepted than her classmates.

“She gets comments like that on a daily basis”

“I spoke a lot to Evie about the sorts of things that she has to put up with at school. She gets comments like that on a daily basis so we thought it was really important to look at those microaggressions. Even if people don’t think they’re saying the wrong thing… those comments are hurtful and you need to think about what you’re saying,” she says.

The series also features Joanne Hunt as Hannah’s mother, Anthony Brandon Wong (S1) as the school principal and Brenna Harding (Puberty Blues, A Place to Call Home), whose same-sex parents famously appeared in a high profile Play School episode, as teacher Ms. Fraser.

“It was great to get Brenna. I’ve been a long admirer of her work. The fact that she grew up in the spotlight having been on Play School as a young child, it just felt like a great fit, because she’d be a good role model for Evie to have someone who could understand what she was going through.”

In addition to addressing themes of identity in a Children’s timeslot, First Day marks another first in Australian television.

“When we filmed First Day it was the first time a trans actor had been in the lead role of the TV series. And then Georgie Stone joined Neighbours,” says Kalceff.

“Both young, both amazing, incredibly articulate young women.

“We’ve also had an amazing amount of messages from people overseas”

“We’ve also had an amazing amount of messages from people overseas, in countries where we actually didn’t even know it was screening. Particularly parents reaching out and saying that they watched with their trans child, and the family were able to watch it together. How it started conversations and it allowed siblings to to ask questions they hadn’t asked before.”

But Kalceff also confirms these are the final episodes of Hannah’s story, partly due to the ages of the cast (Evie Macdonald is now 17) and the need for others to come to the fore.

“Some of our cast members have started university, some are 18 years old. By the time we’d get Season Three off the ground, they’d be way too old,” she concedes.

“But being CIS gendered we feel like it’s time for transgender people to tell to tell a story like this. We’re so grateful to have had this opportunity but we feel like 2 seasons is enough for us to tell the story and it’s time for other stories to be told.”

Thursday March 31 at 5pm on ABC ME.

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