Luchina Fisher’s GLAAD-nominated 2020 feature documentary, Mama Gloria, was a captivating portrait of Chicago’s septuagenarian Black trans trailblazer and community leader, Gloria Allen, who sadly passed away in June 2022. With her latest documentary short, The Dads, which just received its world premiere at SXSW, the filmmaker turns her attention to the fathers of LGBTQ+ children.
We meet Dennis Shepard, whose gay son Matthew was murdered in 1998 in a homophobic attack, as he takes his first fishing trip in 25 years. In rural Oklahoma, he gathers with five fathers of trans kids: Stephen Chukumba, Frank Gonzales, José Trujillo, Peter Betz, and Wayne Maines. They each introduce themselves to the camera holding a photograph of their child as the film opens, but from that point on The Dads largely takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to capturing the interactions between the men, resulting in something that feels unhurried and unforced.
As a society we’ve been conditioned to accept that men rarely talk about what they’re going through emotionally, especially to one another, so it’s powerful and moving to see these fathers begin to open up about their experiences and their journeys to acceptance, understanding, and pride in their kids being their authentic selves. We see them actively listening to each other and finding strength in sharing their stories and realizing they’re not alone. Stephen, a single parent following his wife’s death, tells the group, “we cannot survive in isolation from one another, finding you all saved my life.” We often hear stories of maternal acceptance and fraternal rejection, so seeing these supportive dads from different social backgrounds, races, and generations come together is impactful, and hopeful.
The mischaracterization, dehumanization, and rejection of their trans children by some, and fears for their kids’ safety just because of who they are, has fundamentally changed their perception of what it means to be an American, where not everyone is afforded the equal treatment promised.
With trans youth—and their parents—becoming increasingly politicized and often demonized in the United States, and beyond, Fisher takes the heat about the “debate” around trans lives, stripping back the sensational headlines and charged rhetoric, to offer a quiet, reflective, and gentle film that presents us with human stories. Editor and cinematographer Eric Miclette gives the men’s words room to breathe, and the audience space to think, as these conversations are juxtaposed with his meditative, beautifully shot footage of the Oklahoma landscape. A state where—according to the ACLU—there are currently 35 anti-LGBTQ+ rights bills advancing as part of a wave of legislation nationwide, much of which targets trans youth.
I’d love to spend more time with these men in a feature length version, but as a short, Fisher offers us a delicate gem of film with the potential to not just aid other parents struggling to accept their LGBTQ children, but to help cultivate a more understanding society.
By James Kleinmann
The Dads received its world premiere at SXSW 2023 and will screen with the feature documentary Lotus Sports Club at the 37th BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival on Sunday, March 19th, Monday, March 20th, and Sunday, March 26th, 2023. Head to the BFI Flare website for more details and to purchase tickets.
The Dads is supported by the Human Rights Campaign, for more about the organization’s work to create protections for LGBTQ+ people, visit HRC.org.