stress, stress, stress. Things are going haywire in Charlie’s (Lea Drinda) life right now. A fight with the aunt ends in shouting, a car chase and a scratched hood. The electricity is cut off at home, and then there’s a beating from a guy. The wound inflicted on the main character’s left eyebrow at the end of the second episode of “Becoming Charlie” remains visible for the remainder of the six-part ZDF series. She is a constant reminder that a vulnerable but immensely tough person is at the center here.
Charlie is in his early 20s and still lives with his mother in a prefab building in Offenbach. Money is always tight, the pizza delivery job doesn’t bring in much, but Charlie keeps working, even helping out in Aunt Fabia’s (Katja Bürkle) apartment house to pay off debts. The biggest fight, however, takes place inside Charlie.
It shines through in the rap lyrics that emerge in bed at night: “Don’t check what it is/ Look in the mirror and don’t recognize me.” What Charlie wrestles with is gender identity. Perceived as a woman by those around him, Charlie is not at all comfortable with this role. Loose clothes cover the body. The giant orange delivery man jacket makes a perfect hideaway, a bright contrast to the city’s winter gray.
Charlie’s mother Rowena (Bärbel Schwarz) dislikes this style. Once, when she tries to force feminine clothing on her child, Charlie tearfully says, “I’m not a woman.” To which Rowena screams, “I gave birth to a daughter, whether you like it or not.” That she’s wrong and gender identity is not something that can be decided from the outside, the series shows in a sensitive and compelling way.
The episodes, each lasting around 16 minutes, take the audience on a journey of self-discovery of a young person who is slowly beginning to understand who he is. Helpful impulses come from psychology student Ronja (Sira-Anna Faal), who asks Charlie about his preferred pronouns and later introduces the word “non-binary”.
This term is the key to Charlie’s identity – and to the series, which for the first time ever on German television focuses on a non-binary character, i.e. a person who identifies as neither male nor female. Because the fact that Charlie doesn’t feel like a woman doesn’t mean that man is the right term. Neither term is correct. Just being Charlie, that’s what it’s about. The series makes this coming-of-age process comprehensible even for viewers who have never heard of non-binarity. Because the main character feels the same way, she is searching.
The screenplay for “Becoming Charlie” was written by Lion H. Lau, who is himself non-binary. According to press material, Lau sees the series as a “love letter to my community of previously unseen”. In any case, Lau has achieved the goal of creating a role model. Main actor Lea Drinda plays a big part in this. Known from the Amazon series “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo”, Drinda embodies Charlie in an immediately likeable mixture of insecurity and the will to assert oneself.
“Becoming Charlie” continues a series of recent public service productions with a queer perspective. The ZDF media library recently ran the mini-series “Loving her” about a young lesbian woman in Berlin and “Wir”, which tells of a love between two women that has flared up again after a long time.
The ARD just showed the second season of the gay series “All You Need” and even made a queer series with “KaDeWe” for the Christmas program. That this push for diversity now includes a non-binary character is a welcome development, and Becoming Charlie is set in a very diverse setting.
There are numerous characters with a history of migration, and Aunt Fabia is married to a woman. The handwriting of Kerstin Polte shines through here, who directed the first three “Becoming Charlie” episodes (Greta Benkelmann for the rest) and had already realized “We” with an extremely diverse cast. German TV is starting to look a bit more like German reality. Its Time.