Review | ‘XY Chelsea’ lets audiences know the real Chelsea Manning

XY Chelsea | Revelation Film Fest | July 5th, 12th & 13th | ★ ★ ★ ½ 

XY Chelsea is a documentary about the former US Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning who was sentenced to 35 years in prison treason after leaking 750,000 classified documents to WikiLeaks. Directed by Tim Travers Hawkins, the title is taken from Chelsea’s Twitter handle.

Coming out in the middle of the court marshal as transgender didn’t prevent them from going to an all-male prison and spending a considerable amount of time in solitary confinement. The documentary starts in 2017 when Hawkins caught up with Chelsea, being released from prison after President Obama commuted the 35 year prison sentence that was given in 2013.

The 31 year-old talks briefly about alcoholic parents and being homeless before enlisting in the army, thinking it would bring meaning to their life. Chelsea talks about the reasons for becoming a whistleblower. Confronted with an endless stream of destruction and death in Iraq, they felt there had to be greater transparency.

The widely seen video recordings released via WikiLeaks show civilians being shot down as ‘enemy combatants’ and Manning asks the question – “If you had classified information available to you and you saw awful things, what would you do?”

Still idealistic but stating that they’re not a hero on release from prison, Chelsea naively attempts some activism before being attacked by social media after a questionable decision to attend a far right function. Hawkins is up close and personal and the camera reveals Chelsea’s vulnerability but we don’t learn much more than has been covered by the media already.

As an addendum – Chelsea Manning has been imprisoned again for refusing to testify to a grand jury against Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who released Manning’s documents and video recordings after The New York Times and the Washington Post refused to pick up the story in 2010.

XY Chelsea screens as part of the Revelation Perth International Film Festival at Luna Leederville on Friday 5 and Friday 13 July and Luna SX Saturday 12 July. Tickets are available now from or or at the cinemas.

Lezly Herbert