Director: Jay Bedwani
Talent: Donna Personna
Release Date: July 15
This slice-of-life documentary follows trans elder Donna Personna as she goes about her life. We see her perform lip-syncing on stage and help co-write a play about the Compton Cafeteria riot – a pivotal moment for trans rights. But the poignant crux of this short film is Donna’s efforts to reconnect with her family, who have yet to be acquainted with her as a female.
Spending time with this roguish, prepossessing woman, you’d never expect her to shy away from revealing her innermost self to anyone. And yet, we soon find out that she came from a hard-line Baptist family, and her father was a preacher. The meat of this narrative is Donna’s meeting with her ultra religious sister Gloria – who Donna used to live through “vicariously” by getting Gloria to model for her. Upon meeting Donna for the first time, Gloria seems to be pushing through her discomfort in an attempt to reach some sort of acceptance. Up to now she’s known Donna as ‘Gus’. Donna accommodates herself to whatever love her siblings can provide. Getting on in age, she just wants to be at peace with herself and let her loved ones see her as she really is.
In terms of dramatic heft, these quiet results may seem a little slight. Indeed, upon hearing that Donna’s brother was made uncomfortable by a photo of Donna, director Jay Bedwani exasperatedly tries to elicit some anguish from her. But peaceable Donna won’t be railroaded, insisting that she knows her brother loves her deep down. Bedwani tries to wring more drama out of his subject than she’s willing to give. Donna’s innate goodness precludes him from a dramatic payoff.
But it’s the low-key nature of this doc that warmed me to it. At a time when online discourse around trans issues can seem particularly hawkish, it’s edifying to be reminded of the noble, brave human beings at the centre of these matters, quietly striving for acceptance and self-determination.
This workmanlike documentary is ultimately heartwarming thanks to the dignity and magnanimousness of Donna, who is a Diva only on the stage. She is admirably accepting of those that are only tentatively accepting of her, an effective approach to mutual understanding. We could all learn from her.
Words: Rory Kiberd