Tonight, Showtime will debut XY Chelsea, an eye-opening documentary chronicling the trials of Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who leaked some 750,000 documents to WikiLeaks. The documents, many of which were classified, exposed a series of war crimes committed by U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and shed light on a culture of government secrecy.
For her whistleblowing, Manning was found to be in violation of the Espionage Act (among other crimes), and sentenced to 35 years in prison. After serving close to seven years behind bars, wherein Manning underwent what she called an “overdue gender transition,” endured the harsh confines of solitary (attempting to end her life twice), and protested via hunger strike, she had her sentence commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017—only to be thrown back in prison this year for refusing to testify against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Directed by Tim Travers Hawkins, XY Chelsea traces Manning’s rich and complex life, from her roots in Oklahoma to her formative years spent in Wales, the birthplace of her mother, Susan—a tormented woman who raised Chelsea until she was 17.
In this exclusive clip from XY Chelsea, Manning opens up about how difficult it was to have her mother visit her in prison, offering “it was just too much.” The camera then focuses on her mother at her home in Wales, gazing at photos of young Chelsea (then known as “Bradley”), while struggling to come to terms with her transition.
“He was good,” she says, misgendering her before apologizing for the slip-up. “Oh, I’m so sorry sweetheart. Chelsea. I’m getting used to it now—slowly. It’s tough. Tough. He was always my baby. He was always my…Bradley.”
She later tears up recalling the last time she saw Chelsea—a number of years ago while visiting her at Quantico in Virginia, while she was being held in de facto solitary confinement: “I couldn’t touch, couldn’t hug [her]. It was like…I’m sorry. But I do… do love you. And if I could hug… hug… hug you, I’d give you the big—biggest hug you’d ever had.”
“I met Susan, Chelsea’s mother, at her home in the Welsh town of Haverfordwest the day before the interview, and spent time with her before returning to film the following day,” Hawkins tells The Daily Beast. “I think it is one of the most powerful moments in the film. You can feel profound love and tenderness, but also heartbreaking estrangement.”
You can watch the clip here: