Nava Mau Is The Heart And Soul Of ‘Baby Reindeer’

baby reindeer nava mau

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Baby Reindeer is one of the most confronting, intelligent, and jarring TV shows I’ve ever seen. A huge part of what makes it so good is Nava Mau’s performance as Teri.

For those who don’t have a single clue what I’m talking about, Baby Reindeer is a new Netflix limited series. It follows a struggling comedian, Donny (Richard Gadd), who, in a brief moment of kindness, connects with a vulnerable woman, Martha (Jessica Gunning). Martha begins to obsessively fawn over and stalk Donny. But this isn’t the usual psychological thriller. Instead, it’s an exploration of the pervasive mental health impacts of trauma and how it can manifest itself in different ways. It’s also an incredibly powerful portrayal of obsessive behaviour both online and in the real world. The entire cast deserves every award on offer. The monumental performance given by Jessica Gunning is nothing short of breathtaking. But it’s Nava Mau who captured my heart. She plays Teri, who’s based on Richard’s real-life trans partner. 

Nava is an award-winning Mexican trans filmmaker, actress, and community worker. She was in Generation and worked with Laverne Cox on Disclosure. She’s worked as a counsellor for survivors of violence, largely within the LGBTQI+ community. There’s a lot of Nava we see in Teri, who is a therapist. 

Usually, including trans people in these types of psychological thrillers terrifies me. We’ve had so many poor representations in the past. Especially in the early 2000s, when trans people were often reduced to characters (often the victims) in crime shows. Laverne Cox in Orange Is the New Black (2013) was a watershed moment in TV and Hunter Schafer’s character in Euphoria (2019) was a sign of progress. But trans representation remains minimal. So Nava still feels like a breath of fresh air. Teri is a fiercely confident, strong-willed, and compassionate person who’s the guiding moral compass of the show. To be honest, she is a bad bitch in Baby Reindeer. She has the funniest lines and feels like the most authentic character. We talk a lot about trans people playing authentic trans roles, roles that offer a broad scope of who a trans person can be and aren’t defined solely by identity. Teri is a reminder that the trans reality is not one-dimensional. She is introduced to us by Donny who says she is “smart, funny, confident, and strong”. It’s subtle, but introducing a trans character in that way is incredibly powerful. It encourages the audience to appreciate Teri, rather than leaving room for the audience to judge her based on misconceptions.  

In a very nuanced way, Baby Reindeer shows us what can be the reality of dating as a trans person. Unfortunately, that means encountering violence, as demonstrated in one particularly horrifying fight scene. But Baby Reindeer doesn’t relish in showing it. It’s not misplaced violence for trauma porn. Instead, it further humanises Teri and brings another layer of depth to the show. As gut-wrenching as it is, we still need to see this side of the trans reality as much as we do the joy, euphoria, and love. 

Baby Reindeer is filled with the same discomfort and sense of reckoning as I May Destroy You or I Hate Suzie. I found myself yanked around emotionally by the characters, pitying them one moment, then feeling incredibly uncomfortable with their choices. But that’s the whole point of the show. We are all deeply flawed humans. We don’t have simple, linear feelings about people. We’re often set up to despise characters like Martha, but the show also asks us to empathise with her. And while it might normally be easy to root for a character like Donny, Baby Reindeer makes that complicated while also navigating his shame over dating a trans woman, who is attacked by Martha. 

What is probably most striking about Baby Reindeer is how real everything feels. Yes, it is based on the true events of the show’s creator, writer and lead actor Richard Gadd, who adapted it from his one-man show at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019. Richard was stalked by the real life Martha, who sent him 41,071 emails, 350 hours of voice messages, 744 tweets, 46 Facebook messages, and 106 pages of letters — some of which appear in the show verbatim. But what contributes most to the show’s “realness” is the documentary-like performances of the cast. It’s remarkable that Richard is able to not only relive his trauma and the period of his life where he was stalked but to play himself going through all of it. 

In Baby Reindeer, trauma is present in almost every decision survivors make, consciously or not. Some victims find themselves in situations that mimic previous abuse as a way to gain some form of autonomy over something they had no control of previously.

Despite all this pain, Teri shines as the beating heart of the series. Nava herself said it “feels groundbreaking to have a trans woman be one of the main characters” in a series like Baby Reindeer. She also told GAYTIMES that when she read the script, it was the first time she’d read something “that was written by someone who’d actually known and loved a trans woman”. The roles generally offered to trans people, Nava said, tend to treat them like “aliens” — but Teri was “crafted out of reality”. 

It’s upsetting to think that someone like Teri is still so rare in TV shows and movies. But the fact that she’s in such a popular show hopefully represents a positive step forward. At a time when trans people are vilified by transphobic laws, politics, and attitudes, characters like Teri, played by people like Nava, do a great deal of good. Even if it’s just giving other trans people hope that their stories will be shared, that they can be seen on screens that previously denied, or trivialised, their existence. 

Ky is a proud Kamilaroi and Dharug person and Multimedia Reporter at Junkee. Follow them on Instagram or on X.

Image: Netflix