Rating: 3 out of 5.

The intersection of religion and sexuality is more like a crayon-scribble than a seamless coexistence, and SXSW documentary Mama Bears has set out to prove that gay Christians do truly exist. This docu-drama focuses on a few different sets of parents grappling with the gender identity and sexual orientation of their children. Mama Bears will not do anything substantial to sway the minds of those already operating under the old “homosexuality is an abomination” mantra. Most people like that already have their minds made up, and will likely skip this documentary in its entirety. Whatever the target audience may be, I appreciated this film for spreading a message of positivity and unconditional love.

Religion is a sore subject for a huge portion of Americans. For the longest time, it was just common courtesy to leave religion and politics out of casual conversation completely. Many congregations have a severe lack of same-sex couples or marriages, and look down upon LGBT+ people. Helping them to see the truth to keep them from going to hell seems to be the primary motivator, so how can this prompt one to feel safe coming out of the closet? According to some of these Christians, even God’s love has its limits. Mama Bears puts both religion and politics in its crosshairs, meaning it already has the potential to be divisive. I struggle to imagine a world in which anyone would be upset with absorbing a film as wholesome as this one.

Many of the stories shared here affected me on a real, emotional level. While I am not trans myself, I have known many transgender individuals throughout my life. The disgusting reality of conversion camps is nothing new to me, but the insight into trans-specific bullying and favoritism (especially on children) was eye-opening for me. Kids can be so mean, but the teachers shaming the kids for using their bathroom of choice, parents spanking their kids for not submitting to gender-specific behaviors, and friends and family of a parent pushing hard to have that parent “committed” simply for embracing their child’s gender identity is revolting. This quote in particular chilled me: “do you want a dead son, or do you want a living trans daughter?”

The throughline between these stories is how much they were helped by a Facebook group, known as Mama Bears. Consisting of religious, advocate mothers with LGBT+ children, Mama Bears became a safe haven for so many. It was a safe space and support system that fueled the best type of loving, motherly energy. Many beautiful things emerge from this synergetic relationship amongst mothers and their kids, including one mom who learns the new meaning of “chosen family” after her blood relatives basically abandon her, and another story I loved involved a loving mom who attends weddings in place of a blood-relative mom. The concept and subjects sway on the simple side, but I didn’t mind, as I feel these are the types of stories that should be getting exposure. Ultimately, the message about God loving you no matter what helps make Mama Bears a beautiful documentary.

Mama Bears screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

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