Interview: YouTuber Bertie Gilbert on his trans short film ‘Blue Sushi’

PinkNews logo surrounded by illustrated images including a rainbow, unicorn, PN sign and pride flag.

PinkNews caught up with the director and filmmaker of Blue Sushi, a short film about a trans man who comes out whilst performing in a band.

Blue Sushi is a short film about a singer in a rock band who comes out as a trans man. It follows the band as their manager attempts to use his trans status to generate publicity, and tries to take control of his transition.

The initial concept was the idea of 18 year old Bertie Gilbert, well known as a prolific YouTuber and for his role in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. He says: “I’ve always loved the idea of someone’s identity being manipulated and packaged. This character has only just come out. It’s a horrible conflict to have another character then rush him for PR and retweets.”

Films featuring trans people are becoming more common, but often face criticisms of inaccuracy, and insensitivity. Gilbert, along with fellow filmmaker Sammy Paul, wanted to make sure their film got it right.

Gilbert explains: “We decided before we ever typed anything down, we wanted to become really familiar with this subject matter and with these people.

“I think we went to a lot of lengths just to make sure we weren’t getting anything wrong.”

Paul says: “We spoke to a number of trans people, pitching initial idea, showing them entire scripts, showing them plot devices – and talking to them about what stages they found they come out. A lot of it was informed through those conversations.

“As writers we don’t know what that’s like. A lot of the ideas, particularly the monologues, and the deeper sentiments were very much drawn from the people we spoke to.”

They knew from the outset it was vital they cast a trans actor in the main role. Paul says: “We actually cast before we’d fully written it.

“We had a very rough idea of a plot synopsis, but we weren’t really sure exactly where we wanted it to go. We auditioned trans men and trans women, and non-binary actors, and a whole range of people.

“What was really important for us was that we worked with the actor themselves to make sure that they felt comfortable and familiar with the character.”

The role eventually went to Poppy Harrold, a non-binary actor. They said: “The character himself is an authentic kind of guy, and I found it probably the first role I’ve ever played where I’ve really identified with the character.”

The casting resulted in a wonderful example of art imitating life. Poppy had not come out to many people initially – including their mum.

“I told myself that if I got the part I would end up coming out. When I told my mum that I’d auditioned for it, she looked it all up, she researched everything.

“I heard her making a joke the next day, saying how she must be see-through, cos now she’s a ‘trans parent’. So I said, ‘I’m assuming you know now,’ and she was like ‘yeah, it’s cool’.

“It was a strange way to come out. Very theatrical. “

For Harrold, it was the first major piece of acting they had done. They were one of the youngest and most inexperienced members of the cast, but the filmmakers both said they were “bloody impressed” with Harrold’s performance.

The film attracted positive attention from the very early stages. Gilbert explains: “Usually with a film you have a trailer or a screenshot, then people get excited. But early on we were tweeting that we want trans actors for this role.

“The moment that notion was introduced people have been excited, because for some reason that’s quite a rare thing to happen in the media!”

Once the trailer came out, Paul says they saw people were talking not just about the film, but about trans issues in general. He says: “Because we’ve already got a bit of an audience, I’ve noticed people hopefully being a little more educated by it. Stuff that now to us seems so basic, but you’ve got to learn these things.

“In the comments there was someone just asking ‘So is female-to-male a trans man then?’ Then others very respectfully explaining it to them. It’s nice to be passing on some of that positivity, and awareness.”

Gilbert agrees: “For us to be the source of that education is incredible.”

Watch a trailer for the film below: