Review: Mama Gloria

Written and directed by Luchina Fisher, Chicago’s Black transgender icon Gloria Allen blazed a trail for trans people like few others before her. At a time when Black transgender women face escalating violence and make up the majority of transgender people murdered each year, Gloria’s story is an inspiring portrait of aging seldom seen. Born in October 1945, Gloria came of age amid the legendary drag balls on Chicago’s South Side.

Even right from the very beginning, you can feel the positive, supportive and courageous energy that Gloria glows with. She’s an inspiring woman that takes her experience and uses it to help the next generation of transgender people; being a wonderful, generous role model. Gloria has such a charming presence making her so easy to watch, you could listen to her for a lot longer than the film’s 76-minutes. The way that they tell her story takes a lot of different turns, starting out with her work in the community, moving into talking to people from her past about her transition and experience to discussing her own personal life. It’s a fascinating mixture that paints a rich tapestry of how well rounded, resilient and just plain incredible, Gloria is.

The direction pairs with that atmosphere perfectly, for the most part it feels very on the streets and in the heart of this story. It goes further when it uses incredible photos of the drag balls from the 60s with all their beautiful, fierce looking queens, it’s not often you get to see drag from that time so it’s a fantastic inclusion. The filmmakers also included more personal moments for Gloria, not only her terrifying tale of domestic abuse but her increasing health concerns, it’s both heart-breaking and inspiring to see such a bright, sparkling woman struggling but remaining cheerful in spite of it.

It’s pretty common at this point to come across the phrase ‘this is the film we need right now’ or along those lines but genuinely, this is an important film that conveys an easy way for people to understand the trans community and to see such a terrific role model. It acknowledges that there’s still a fight ahead but shows the importance of continuing to push forward against the prejudice and hatred. This is such a vulnerable section of society, it’s vital to give a voice to stories such as Gloria’s and to do so in such a positive, supportive way as this film does, is even more important.

Mama Gloria is a wonderful, inspiring film about an impressive woman who has fought to be who she is and uses that fight to impart her wisdom and kindness on the younger generations of transgender people. Luchina Fisher saw the importance of telling trans people that they can live long, happy lives and Gloria is the perfect example, especially in how much of a difference it made that she had a supportive family presence in her life. This is a special film, with an important message, told by a marvellous woman.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare 2021 –
Available to watch via BFI Player from 17th March to 28th March

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