'XY Chelsea' Holistically Weaves An Intimate Portrait Of Chelsea Manning

Instead of focusing on facts and figures, XY Chelsea showcases an intimate portrait of Chelsea Manning as she is released from jail.

Chelsea Manning

In 2013, Chelsea Manning, a former US army soldier, and a trans woman received a 35-year sentence at an all-male maximum security prison for her role in disclosing 750,000 documents to WikiLeaks – the largest leak of classified material in American history. On January 172017, President Barack Obama commuted her sentence in an unprecedented and controversial move.

XY Chelsea started out as an experimental digital art piece about prisoners who were unfilmable due to the restrictions of their captivity.


Tim Hawkins Travers first connected with Chelsea while she was in prison. He wrote her letters asking her to take part in the piece to which she agreed sending him her prison diaries.

When Chelsea’s sentence was commuted, Tim was filming with her support team and there was a sense of disbelief. Chelsea was never meant to actually be in the film and so an intimate portrait of an individual emerged.

XY Chelsea follows Manning as she leaves prison after seven years inside, and begins a new life, whilst at the same time having to deal with the far-reaching consequences of her past, the unintended celebrity that is thrust upon her as one of the world’s most notorious whistle-blowers, and transitioning to become the woman she has always known herself to be.

Hawkins mission for this film “was then, and has remained, a character-driven film in which the personal and political are woven and collide in the most spectacular contemporary style.”

This weaving of worlds is successfully depicted on screen and is a considered approach in telling Manning’s complex story.

It’s not a story about being trans, or the military or Wikileaks, it is a sensual portrait exploring the human qualities and experience of Chelsea.

Hawkins explains that he didn’t want the film to examine transition as a ‘before’ and ‘after’ story, it was about getting to know Chelsea as she explores the world she has been locked away from for seven years.

Earlier this year, Chelsea was arrested after refusing to testify in front of a grand jury.

Tim said the best thing the public can do is write to her.

XY Chelsea is showing at the IFI now, book tickets here.

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