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Mama Bears (2022)
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Film

Mama Bears is a Timely, Powerful Tale of Christian Parents and LGBTQ Kids 

SXSW 2022: Mama Bears Review

For much of the last year, legislatures and candidates in the U.S. have been regularly using LGBTQ people, especially children, as a political cudgel, passing draconian bills and trying to use the lives, dignity, and safety of such people as a wedge issue. It’s been some of the most hateful, culture war bullying I’ve ever seen- and there’s a reasonably good chance it’s going to get some of the worst people on Earth elected. 

Amid all that, the documentary Mama Bears arrives at exactly the right time. The film, a 2022 South by Southwest debuts, tells the story of a group of devoutly Christian mothers of gay, lesbian, and transgender children, who have stood up for their children, while also retaining their Christian beliefs and identity.  

Directed by Daresha Kyi and adapted from an earlier short film, this powerful and infuriating documentary puts a human face on what is too often treated as a culture war abstraction. 

They’re a group, called the titular ‘Mama Bears’ who have become advocates for LGBTQ youth growing up in Christian, often red state environments. The ‘Mama Bears’ group now consists of over 30,000 parents. 

Mama Bears (2022)

Of the three, the most compelling story by far is that of Kimberly Shappley and her young daughter, Kai. Kai was assigned male at birth but has identified as a girl since an extremely young age. She looks like a girl and no one would question that she’s a girl. And no one did until her state began attempting to enforce “bathroom bills,” which would have forced Kai to use the boys’ bathroom. 

Kai lives in Texas, where the governor recently declared that parents who are supportive of their trans children should be investigated by Child Protective Services. 

We’re left happy that this girl is lucky to have a mother who accepts and loves her, which with so many trans children is far from the case. But at the same time, it breaks our heart to know that this child is likely facing a hell brought on by other children, their intolerant parents, and even the elected leaders of her state. 

Mama Bears (2022)

The other two subjects, while sympathetic, are more traditionally coming-out stories. In one case, a mother in Oklahoma comes to terms with her son being gay, while in another case, an adult lesbian named Tammi tries to gain the fitful acceptance of her mother. 

It’s not clear what the distribution plan is for Mama Bears, but it’s a film that should be seen by people who want to understand these issues as something more than an axis of hateful culture war posturing. 

  • Stephen Silver

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Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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