SXSW Review: Mama Bears

Year: 2022

Runtime: 90 minutes

Director: Daresha Kyi

By Joan Amenn

It’s been widely reported that 42% of young people in the LGBTQ community considered suicide in the US in 2020 (link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/dawnstaceyennis/2021/05/19/terrible-time-for-trans-youth-new-survey-spotlights-suicide-spike—and-hope/?sh=2f5146c3716e). This is particularly horrifying in light of new laws that have become progressively more threatening to not only this vulnerable group but their parents as well. Director Daresha Kyi takes a brave and intimate look at the organization known as “Mama Bears’ whose members are former evangelical Christians who now champion their children’s civil rights. It is both a heartbreaking and uplifting portrait of families who have had their lives thrown into turmoil on a personal and increasingly, on a legislative level.

Kyi focuses on three families with the first being Kim Shappley and her daughter Kai. As a mother and former minister of an evangelical church, Kim admits to denying Kai’s affirmations that she did indeed identify as a girl. Her grief and guilt over her past actions are echoed in other members of the ‘Mama Bears” who all offer their support to each other in a new world that has isolated them from the religious communities they once felt so secure in.

One of these members is Sara Cunningham whose son Parker coming out as gay initially left her so devastated she had difficulty functioning. Kyi does not shy away from letting these parents air their pain over what they lost, their guilt at what they did to their children in the name of religious doctrine they devoted themselves to and their resolve to be better, more loving advocates going forward.  However, the Mama Bear, who Kyi acknowledges is more of a “cub,” whose story is the most difficult to watch is Tammi Terrell and her mom, Tenita Lewis. As a POC and a member of the LGBTQ community, we see Tammi truly struggle with her own identity and the strain it puts on her relationship with her mother. The love between the two is poignant as well as the dissidence that hangs over their scenes together.

“Mama Bears” has the potential to be a spark that ignites conversation and real change in how LGBTQ kids, and specifically trans youth, are seen by not only their families but their communities as well. Certainly, it has already caught the eyes of the SXSW festival judges who have nominated it for the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature. Daresha Kyi has given us a beautiful film that shows that love, especially a mother’s love, can move mountains.

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