‘Mama Bears’ Documentary Shares Heartwarming Stories of Acceptance, and Gives Us the Hope That is So Needed These Days

Spread across the country but connected through private Facebook groups, over 30,000 conservative, Christian mothers call themselves “mama bears” because of how ferociously they fight for the civil rights of their children and the entire LGBTQ+ community.

Mama Bears, a new documentary by award-winning director Daresha Kyi, premiered at the SXSW 2022 Film Festival. “It’s a powerful film, full of humanity and heart, but sadly many of the people who need to see it most won’t,” wrote The Advocate in its film review.

The movie follows Sara Cunningham and Kimberly Shappley, two “mama bears”—conservative, Christian mothers whose profound love for their LGBTQ+ children has turned them into fierce advocates for the entire queer community—and Tammi Terrell Morris, a young African American lesbian whose struggle for self-acceptance perfectly exemplifies why the mama bears are so vitally important.

“I believe I was chosen to tell this story not only because I am a versatile storyteller with numerous awards for my narrative and documentary films and television programs, but because I am a true believer in the all-encompassing power of love,” said the director, who is self-described as a ‘queer, politically progressive African American woman.’ “In fact, I consider myself a ‘Warrior of Love’ who believes it is my responsibility to do everything within my power to shift the balance in our world away from death, destruction, and hatred and toward stronger, deeper love.”

For Kimberly, everything changed the day she overheard her four-year-old son— who she had been punishing for insisting that he was a girl since the age of three— praying to die. The Texas resident shook to her core and changed her heart. After enrolling in nursing school and learning about gender dysphoria—and that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide—she realized she might lose her precious child if she didn’t change course. It’s been a long, painful journey, but now her transgender daughter Kai is thriving and Kimberly has emerged as a fierce, award-winning advocate for the LGBTQ community.

The first time Sara, an Oklahoma resident, went to Pride, she wore a handwritten button offering “free mom hugs” to anyone who wanted or needed a mother’s love. Hearing so many tales of familial rejection broke her heart and galvanized her into action. The next Pride she carried a “Free Mom Hugs” banner, and when Trump was elected, she took her banner on the road in what has become an annual ten-city tour. Recently, Sara’s Facebook post—where she offered to serve as a “stand-in” mom at the weddings of same-sex couples whose biological parents refused to attend—went viral and catapulted the Free Mom Hugs movement into the national spotlight. Sara has inspired moms (and dads) all over the country to “stand in” at LGBTQ weddings.

As a mom in the early stages of the journey toward acceptance, Tenita, the third hero of the documentary, is a fascinating study of a mama in flux, one moment stating that marriage should only be between men and women and God didn’t create homosexuals, to minutes later, saying God made Tammi perfect just the way she is. For her part, Tammi’s struggle to accept her sexuality has taken many fascinating (and sometimes devastating) twists and turns, including marrying a man in order to “be worthy of heaven”, and perfectly exemplifies why the mama bears movement is so vitally important to the LGBTQ+ community.