PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - It may be hard to imagine, but the makers of new documentary “Becoming Chaz” want people to know that the little Chastity Bono they remember on Sonny and Cher’s 1970s TV show — the one who is now a man named Chaz — is more like you than you think.
In fact, Chaz Bono is just “a regular Joe,” says Randy Barbato, who along with his filmmaking partner Fenton Bailey produced and directed the movie documenting Chastity’s recent sex change and transformation into Chaz.
Their non-fiction film, “Becoming Chaz,” debuted on Sunday night here at the Sundance Film Festival and will air on Oprah Winfrey’s new OWN cable TV network in May.
That Chastity Bono was a transgendered person who changed her sex via surgery and became Chaz is well-known, but until “Becoming Chaz,” the details of the transition were kept out of the public eye.
But Barbato and Fenton, whose documentary work includes widely-acclaimed “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” knew Chaz’s story all too well. They were friends of Chastity for years, and saw her struggle with gender identity. They say Chastity and Chaz are, of course, different. But, in fact, he is the same old she.
“The irony is that, in a way, Chaz is just a regular Joe,” Barbato said. “The reason this film is surprising to people is because of how ordinary Chaz is. It’s about the things we have in common,” Barbato told Reuters.
The pair note that Chaz was in a loving relationship as Chastity and that has continued. And his feelings for his mom are no different than many people’s feeling toward a parent.
“On one hand it’s extraordinary, and there is celebrity. On the other hand, it’s kind of ordinary,” Barbato said.
“Becoming Chaz” begins just before Chaz undergoes surgery to remove breasts and flashes back constantly to a childhood surrounded by fame, including footage as a little golden-haired girl on “The Sonny and Cher Show.”
The doc weaves in an interview with Cher during which she admits to being nervous and uncomfortable with aspects of the sex change, including how it would be perceived in public.
“At some point I am going to have to start to call her ‘him’...I am just not comfortable yet” Cher says in the film, while later, she concludes that she understood his decision, “You’ve got to do what your heart tells you to do.”
The film details Sonny embracing Chaz’s tomboyish ways as child, Chaz’s fleeting singing career as a young woman, early relationships and eventually documents the current love story between Chaz and his girlfriend and the tests the sex change puts on their relationship.
It also documents Chaz’s hormonal changes and emotional reactions to becoming a man, embracing the gender he always wanted while pursuing other medical and surgical treatment.
Bailey and Barbato said it was not they who first wanted to make a movie of such a private matter. It was Chaz’s idea, which seems improbable given Chaz is a fairly private person.
But after the Sundance premiere, Chaz said his story needed to be told. “I wanted to put a focus on this issue that people just don’t understand,” he told the audience. “I wanted to be able to change people’s hearts and minds on this”.
Asked by an audience member if fame or being trapped in a woman’s body was more difficult, he said: “Being a woman was a lot harder than being famous — you can figure out how to work that. But if you’re a guy in a woman’s body, you’re screwed.”
Reporting by Bob Tourtellotte, editing by Christine Kearney