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Mama Bears Is a Mom Hug of a Movie at a Time When We Need It Most

Mama Bears Is a Mom Hug of a Movie at a Time When We Need It Most

Sara Cunningham offers a Free Mom Hug at Atlanta Pride.
Cameron Mitchell

Conservative Christian moms upend their world and learn the true meaning of unconditional love for their LGBTQ+ children in this inspiring documentary.

Mama Bears, a new documentary by award-winning director Daresha Kyi, is a breath of fresh air at a time when it can feel especially hard for trans kids and their parents to breathe.

In recent months, conservative politicians like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have been pushing to investigate the parents of trans children for allowing them gender-affirming care while "don't say gay" bills are popping up across several states with Florida leading the way. So when Kyi focuses her camera on the conservative Christian mothers of LGBTQ+ children, feelings of trepidation are a natural response. What she captures instead, however, is a balm to cynicism and an uplifting spark of hope for the future.

Mama Bears focuses primarily on three stories, beginning with Kim Shappley and her daughter Kai. Shappley, a lifelong evangelical Christian and daughter of a minister, was rocked to her core when her son began telling her as a toddler that she was a girl. Despite prayer and plenty of punishment, Kai never stopped speaking up about who she was. Eventually, Shappley came around when she realized that to do otherwise would put her daughter's life at risk -- to hell with the cost, which included most of her family and friends.

In Oklahoma, devout Christian Sara Cunningham was devastated when her son Parker came out as gay; she became despondent and wouldn't get out of bed. However, with her discovery of the online Mama Bears support group -- made up of supportive parents to LGBTQ+ children -- everything in her life changed.

Finally, Tammi Terrell shares her story of being the child of a mother whose evangelical beliefs have made it impossible to accept her queer child, despite loving her dearly. Terrell's story highlights the way these beliefs are internalized and how that can deny someone a full and authentic life. Like all the stories, Terrell's is a mix of heartache and hope.

Mama Bears is a story of the transformative power of unconditional love we should all be reminded of, especially in dark times. Still, it's hard not to remember while watching the film that this is who politicians are talking about when they refer to parents of trans children as child abusers. These are the people whose lives and freedom are endangered.

It's a powerful film, full of humanity and heart, but sadly many of the people who need to see it most won't. Those who do are in for a powerful and beautiful experience.

Mama Bears made its world premiere at SXSW. This review is part of our coverage of the SXSW 2022 Film Festival.

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