Donna – Film Review
Director – Jay Bedwani
Writers – Collette Legrande, Mark Nasser, Donna Personna
Stars – Jaylyn Abergas, Pina Busch, Pleasure Bynight
Donna Personna is a trans activist, artist and performer. She was born in 1946 and has seen much change in her lifetime. Whatever about the troubles of modern-day Trans people, to be born in the late 1940s with Gender dysphoria must have been a challenging situation. The documentary follows her in her day-to-day activities, while also discussing her formative years and life in San Francisco.
Donna is from a Mexican family and her father was a Christian Minister. As you would expect, it was quite a conservative upbringing. Her birth name was Gus which she hated as it was the same as an overweight, cigar-smoking neighbour of theirs. Donna later made the break and travelled to San Francisco, and found people living with a similar view of the world. That is where Donna was born!
There is talk of the riot at the Compton Cafeteria, which happened three years before Stonewall in 1966, in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. The riot was a reaction to police harassment of the trans community and Donna was a regular at the cafeteria. Donna is helping a playwright with a script he is working on about the riot. We see Donna along with the playwright discussing the events of the riot.
We also see Donna carrying out more mundane acts. She goes to the Audiologist to get fitted for hearing aids and manages to draw a crowd who hang on her every word. We also see her trips to the local food bank, making us aware that while she has achieved many things, financial security is not one of them. Some of the most impressive moments are of Donna performing at the local drag show. Donna confesses to not being particularly proficient at lip-synching but the most important thing is that she doesn’t care!
The final sequences of the documentary show Donna’s attempts to reconnect with her family. They have never seen Donna as a woman and now she wants them to accept her for who she is. These are touching sequences that give the documentary depth. While it isn’t the most stylish of documentaries, Director Jay Bedwani has found an interesting subject in Donna and she is quite captivating on screen.