Donna – Movie Review

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Around five years ago I was working in an office for a local charity where I began chatting to someone who used to work for BAFTA Cymru and they informed me of the student memberships that the company offers. For the low price of just £35 a year, a member can excess free cinema Monday to Thursday (including tickets to the glamorous everyman cinema in Cardiff bay, more info available at https://rhysreviews.com/2021/08/10/jungle-cruise-screening-experience-review/), revived invited to a plethora of exclusive premiere screenings (most recently we attended the premiere episode of We Hunt Together staring Eva Myles with our thoughts available at https://rhysreviews.com/2022/05/06/we-hunt-together-screening-review/) and receive an invite to the highly decorated BAFTA Cymru awards (which we were lucky enough to attend a few years ago with our review available at https://rhysreviews.com/2019/10/15/bafta-cymru-awards-blog/) This membership is a perfect opportunity for young people who are interested in the TV industry to learn about this career path, network with professionals and likeminded people! It is a fantastic opportunity for those trying to get into the creative industry and for such a low price (when you consider a ticket to Everyman cinema is over £10 a visit) it is a bargain to be a part of!

This year is a very exciting time pride season for us as we are actually embarking on an international pride tour. Our first celebration of all things LGBT+ was Mama G’s family pride event (which you can read our thoughts of on https://rhysreviews.com/2022/06/27/mama-g-family-pride-event-number-two/), we are booked to attend Budapest pride and ending with the highly anticipated return of Cardiff pride! While these events are great, we need to make sure that the celebration of queer people is not simply for pride month and specific events and instead pride should be every day! One event however that we were disappointed to not be able to join was the March for trans visibility earlier this month. For those who were not aware Saturday 9th July saw thousands of people March through the streets of London to help celebrate trans pride which controversially has received very little media coverage. We obviously think that queer representation in media is a way that we can help take pride from simply a few days or a month and instead becomes a key part of everyday life. We need queer people telling stories about every aspect of being LGBT+ such as falling in love, heartbreak, coming out, rejection by family members, the journey to acceptance etc as these stories make well-rounded and real depictions of the experiences of real people.

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We were lucky enough to be invited (via BAFTA Cymru) to attend the European premiere of the documentary “Donna” which took place at Chapter arts centre. We were excited to be back at Chapter as there were rumours during the global lockdowns that Chapter would not be reopening which would have been absolutely devastating for the theatre industry and independent filmmakers! This movie documents the life of the wonderfully iconic Donna Personna who is a fabulous trans woman who tries to rebuild her family after coming out. This extremely character-based documentary carefully follows our lead character Donna as she navigates her new life. The opening scene sees Donna as she is sat having her hearing tested which not only showcased her wit and endurance but also introduces the idea of ageing into the show. What is clever about this movie is that it is an honest and real reflection of the lives of trans people. The documentary-style filming shows the audience key points in the latter parts of Donna’s life without the need for fabricated happy endings or even at times a definite completion! The movie was created by Welsh filmmakers but filmed in San Francisco which means that only key moments were able to be captured. As the movie progresses so does our lead character showing her growth and confidence.

While the show focuses on Donna and her transition, it also highlights queer scenes in the San Francisco. The nightlife scene does contain use of alcohol and sexual depictions which does make this movie suitable for a more mature audience. I have to admit that going into the movie I was not aware of the Compton Cafeteria riots which occurred between members of the police force and key members of the trans community in San Francisco. We learn of a play (based on these events) involving Donna and we get to see the rehearsal process on top of the final performance. This play within a movie is powerfully delivered and obviously is an important moment in the LGBT+ community living in San Francisco so it was great to learn about what happened during this event. During these nightlife scenes, we experience a montage of Donna’s performances which leads to a very hilarious but powerful statement about perseverance. We see our lead character say that she has been lip-syncing for many years but never once have she done it well. This message of doing something you enjoy is really important as people seem to only do things in which they would be successful in. This idea of just having fun is such a great message which I wish more people would acknowledge! These moments also help to introduce a circular narrative of Donna wanting to sing live which is exactly how the actual movie ends.

After the screening had finished we were treated to a question and answer section with the key crew (including director Jay Bedwani and producer Dewi Gregory) involved in creating this film. I must give praise to the host of this section of the event as she was incredibly fun-spirited while at the same time was prepared with research about every one of their guests. The host was aware of previous projects by the creatives in the stage and was able to draw connections perfectly! Jay was also a highlight during this panel as he was hilarious throughout while also providing knowledgeable information throughout. It must be difficult taking part in a Q and A from the audience as you never know what they might ask but Jay seemed extremely comfortable talking about the creation of the show. It is clear that Jay has a passion for telling Donna’s story and they have developed a close friendship with one another. We were told about a series of interactions between the star and the producer as well as the process of involving the wider family during the more emotional scenes.

Overall, Donna is a very powerful documentary that helping shining a light on the more mature members of the LGBT+ community. It is fantastic to see stories of older transgender people as they are often not around to tell their stories or are often ignored. The show itself is a real and honest depiction of the journey of trans people without seeming as of the transition solved all the problems with the incomplete narrative (which we were made aware that since filming the rest of the family has been in contact with Donna.) As this relies so heavily on the character of Donna Personna, we get to see all aspects of their character and personality which means the audience can instantly warm to her. I would rate this movie experience 4 out of 5 stars!

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