First Day — a new Hulu series about a 12-year-old transgender girl, Hannah (Evie Macdonald), beginning middle school — was inspired by a “very close family member” of creator Julie Kalceff.
This family member had a 6-year-old who was transitioning, and her mother “was wanting to support her and to do the right thing by her but wasn't quite sure what that was,” Kalceff said.
“I thought, wouldn't it be great if there was a children's television episode so that this girl could see someone like her on TV, and this family could know that they weren't alone," she recalled.
So, Kalceff created a short film about this subject in an initiative with Australia’s ABC network that was timed to the 2017 International Day of the Girl. This film inspired a 2020 miniseries, which also starred Bradford. Kalceff wrote and directed each episode. It aired on ABC Me earlier this year before premiering to international audiences on Hulu.
And thus, First Day was born. The four-episode miniseries follows Hannah as she navigates coming out about her gender identity to school officials and friends alike — while contending with a few bullies along the way. In big and small ways, the show is a groundbreaking portrait of a girl who loves tae kwon do and playing video games with her brother, and just happens to be transgender.
Hannah’s journey resonates with Macdonald, who is trans herself. “Even just like some of the difficulties that Hannah had facing at school and everything, I have been through the exact same thing when I came to high school,” said Macdonald, who like Hannah also encountered a girl from primary school (Australia's equivalent to elementary school) who had known her before her transition. Down under, high school is the U.S. equivalent of middle school.
“I understood what Hannah's feeling of first seeing her would be like, and how [she feared that] she's going to tell everyone,” Macdonald said. Other aspects — like not being allowed to attend a sleepover if the other girls did not know she’s trans — were also shared rites of passage.
Macdonald’s own coming-out experience was “long,” but she was open with her parents “from day one," she attested. (In First Day, Hannah is already out to her parents, who support her unconditionally.) “It was a bit confusing for them and even confusing for me at the same time, because, well, I felt like I was alone. And I don't want anyone to feel alone,” Macdonald said.
“That's what's so great about First Day. You watch that [and can] be like, ‘Oh, my God, I'm not alone,’” Macdonald said. She had that experience in her own life when she first saw I Am Jazz, the TLC reality show following trans teen Jazz Jennings. That experience was “really big because I watching her and I was like, ‘Thank God, I'm not the only one,’” she said. "It was mind-boggling."
When creating the series, Kalceff and her producer, Kirsty Stark, wanted the story to be as authentic as possible. And as cisgender women, they had some concerns about authenticity. “We were aware that this wasn't necessarily our story to tell," she said. "But the further we got into it, the more we realized a 12-year-old transgender girl can't tell the story. She doesn't have the resources, and she doesn't have the support to be able to tell the story on her own.”
“We wouldn't have made the series without a trans actor in the lead," she declared. "We both believe it's extremely important to have authentic casting. And so our job when we found Evie was then to empower her and give her the support she needed to tell the story."
Additionally, Kalceff consulted with members of the trans community and with GLAAD, the LGBTQ+ media group, to create “as authentic a story as possible.” GLAAD also helped the production cast another trans actor, Jake Childs, whose character is on their own journey of self-discovery in the series.
Happily, when the show premiered in Australia, the reaction was “overwhelmingly positive,” Kalceff said. “I don't think you can watch that series, really, and have a negative response to Evie's performance or to the character of Hannah."
A part of its appeal was that the experience of the "first day" is a rite of passage that everyone shares. “It's about a 12-year-old girl starting a new school. And I think everyone can relate to that. We try to make it as universal as possible,” she said.
The reception was different in the United Kingdom, where conservatives drummed up controversy about the series before it aired on the BBC. "I don't live in the U.K. But from what I've seen online, it's extremely difficult for transgender people over there, especially for trans kids," Kalceff said. "And so even before it went to air, there was a lot of talk on Twitter about how the BBC shouldn't be showing a show like this and how it's brainwashing and all these things."
When critics finally reviewed First Day, however, the controversy dissipated. As in Australia, the story's of Hannah's struggle to fit in shone through. Now that the series is on Hulu, Macdonald hopes it will reach an even bigger audience in order to change hearts and minds about trans people.
"I want people to look at First Day and to see that Hannah is like everyone else," Macdonald said, adding, "If somebody as mean as [the bully character] Isabella could get past it and actually be a nice person, then I think everyone can."
In addition to making trans kids feel represented, Kalceff wanted First Day to "start conversations for people," particularly for cisgender people who may not be informed about trans issues.
"I think screen stories have the power to allow us to verbalize things that we might not have been able to before," she said. "If we see someone who's going through an experience similar to ours, it allows us to start talking about it and to say ... 'Remember that show when we saw that show about Hannah?'"
"For cisgender audiences ... [this] might be their first encounter with a transgender person, so it might be a way of them realizing that there are experiences outside of their own," she said. "The world is a big place. And there are lots of there's a diversity of experience out there. And hopefully ... when they do meet a transgender person down the track, they're more open to that."
This diversity is sorely needed in a TV landscape that still largely excludes trans people. In fact, Macdonald made history in Australia by becoming the first trans actor to play a lead role in a scripted TV series — and remember, this was in 2020. “I really do feel like that is just the beginning,” Macdonald said. “And for me to be the first is really special. But what that says to me is that there's going to be more of this. And that is what I hope.”
Thankfully, this is just the beginning of Hannah's story. Although the pandemic initially disrupted production, Kalceff, Macdonald, and the First Day team are gearing up for season 2.
“We feel like we’ve only scratched the surface," Kalceff said. "A transgender person coming out to their friends is one aspect of their life, but it doesn't stop there. And so we'd love to just dive deeper into her story and explore more of Hannah’s experiences."
First Day is now available to stream on Hulu. Watch the trailer below.