Donna arrives in cinemas and on digital July 15th.
Donna Personna was 59 when she embraced who she was born to be. At 60, she made her stage debut at the iconic San Francisco club, Aunt Charlie’s, and at 73, she brought us the stage play of the San Francisco Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in 1966 alongside playwright Mark Nassar and Collette LeGrande. Yet, Donna’s brothers and sisters (thirteen in all) have never met her; they only know her as Gustavo, a shy and retiring man subject to jibes about his femininity from a young age. But that man escaped their Baptist family upbringing in San Jose for San Francisco during the 1960s and never looked back.
As Jay Bedwani’s intimate and joyous documentary opens, it’s clear that Donna has been thinking about the family she left behind all those years ago and the brothers and sisters who abandoned her. Do they still think about her? Do they know she is a Trans activist and local legend? Would they even care? Donna has lived alone for thirty years, but she is far from being melancholic; after all, her story is one of bravery, resilience and hope. It is the story of so many LGBTQ+ people who escaped their homes for a new life of freedom in the city, and it’s the story of a Trans uprising in 1966 in a small cafe that lit a flame of transformation.
READ MORE: HOMEBODY
The result is a heartfelt, honest and uplifting portrait of a woman whose life reflects the journey the LGBTQ+ community has taken over the past fifty years and the journey still needed in trans equality and freedom. It’s a celebration of activism, rebirth and artistic expression, where the ghosts of those who fought for change line the streets, urging us to defend and fight for our trans brothers and sisters. But Donna’s journey is also one of healing and hope as she reunites with one of her sisters in an inspirational journey of reconciliation as the barriers of the past slowly begin to crumble.
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This isn’t the first time Jay Bedwani and Donna Personna have come together to explore the past and the present. In 2013 My Mother, a ten-minute short, saw Gustavo explore their relationship with their mother while also discussing their stage life as Donna Personna. Watching the two documentaries together is fascinating and only enhances the narrative of Bedwani’s feature-length film. Bedwani and Personna have clearly developed a strong relationship of trust that enables this intimate and captivating portrait to shine during a brisk 1hr and 15-minute runtime.
Donna’s story is full of positivity despite her past pain and hurt. Here Bedwani leaves us wanting more as the credits roll, and there must be so much left for Donna to tell. Donna’s story is a complex tapestry of defiance, strength and love, her life a glorious fuck you to all those who try to push her back into the closet. People like Donna surround our LGBTQ+ community, but we all too rarely celebrate their lives in a community so often obsessed with youth, and as Donna comes to a close, it’s clear that must change.
READ MORE: FRAMING AGNES
Donna is a heartfelt, honest and uplifting portrait of a woman whose life reflects the journey the LGBTQ+ community has taken over the past fifty years and the journey still needed in trans equality and freedom.