Director Luchina Fisher tells DIVA about their uplifting documentary celebrating the life of Gloria Allen


Luchina Fisher’s endearing documentary portrait shows how fighter, organiser and survivor Gloria Allen has become a local hero to younger Chicagoan trans women. We caught up with the director to find out more ahead of its premiere at BFI Flare.

Describe your film in three words.

A mother’s love.

What inspired you to make the film?

I was struck by the love and support that Gloria received from her mother and grandmother in the 40s, 50s and 60s, long before the word transgender even existed. Equally amazing was the thriving Black queer community that Gloria grew up with on the South Side of Chicago. To be able to bring Gloria’s story and that time period to life on the big screen was incredibly inspiring to me. I want everyone to know this history.

What does screening at BFI Flare mean to you?

Having my international premiere at BFI Flare is a dream! It’s the largest LGBTQ+ film festival in Europe, so the world knows about it and critics and press pay attention to it. Since the announcement of the lineup, I have already gotten requests from other festivals and distributors wanting to screen Mama Gloria. Personally, it means so much to me because I studied film and television at the University of Bristol. It’s where I directed my first film, an advert about Jordans cereal which came in second place in Kodak’s UK Student Film competition. It feels special to return to the UK with my feature film directorial debut.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this story?

I truly hope the film humanises the transgender experience for viewers who don’t personally know someone who is trans — that they will see the commonalities in theirs and Gloria’s experiences. She is someone with hopes and dreams, who has loved and is loved, who is contributing to the world and trying to make it better for the next generation. I want all audiences to see that trans visibility didn’t just begin in the last five years, that people like Gloria have lived openly for decades and paved the way for today’s generation. And most of all, I hope everyone comes away with a story of hope and resilience at a time when Black transgender women in America and many parts of the world face escalating violence and discrimination.

Why is it important that queer films and documentaries are showcased every year at an event like this? 

These films are like a soul infusion for the LGBTQ+ community. To see all of the community represented over two weeks and dozens of films is hugely important for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s equally important for allies and folks outside the community to see the breadth of experiences that these films show. The British Film Institute brings weight and gravitas in providing a platform for these films.

BFI Flare is completely online this year, giving everyone across the UK the opportunity to watch the amazing line-up of films available. How important is accessibility with regards to representation on screen?

This is the silver lining of the pandemic, that everyone across the UK will be able to see Mama Gloria and these other incredible films right from their own homes. They don’t have to pay the cost of getting to London to see the films in person. And that makes them accessible for everyone, regardless of income, ability, status or other potential barriers.

What are your words of advice for any aspiring queer filmmakers/actors?

Be your own green light. Don’t wait for the industry to come to you. Create the film you long to see and put it out into the world, starting with your own community and the people who know and love you, and expanding from there.

How has the pandemic impacted you creatively?

I feel fortunate that we already had so much of the film in the can when the world shut down. It allowed my editor and I to say: okay, this is what we have, let’s finish this and get the film out there. At the same time, I had time to develop and advance new projects and new connections. When we had the racial reckoning in America following George Floyd’s murder and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people of colour, I received so many inquires from the industry about directing and producing opportunities. So it’s been quite interesting finding myself busier than ever in the midst of the pandemic. I am currently producing two episodes of a documentary series for the History channel.

Who is your LGBTIQ+ screen hero?

First of all, I’m going to say my daughter Gia, who transitioned just before her 13th birthday and has become a national advocate for LGBTQ youth. In 2019, she starred in the season two finale of Pose, her first acting role but hopefully not her last. For the scene, she acted alongside Mj Rodriguez and Billy Porter and was directed by Janet Mock. Those three people are not only incredibly talented, they are also gracious and lovely. And they are heroes to me!

Other than buying tickets for BFI Flare, how can people best support independent queer media?

Look for indie projects like mine on Seed & Spark, Kickstarter and other crowdsourcing platforms and contribute financially if you can or just spread the word about the project to your network. If you’re at an educational institution, request the film for your library or classroom. Same with community groups — many of these films are great for group screenings and for illuminating the advocacy work of organisations. There are many streaming platforms out there with queer content, much of it independently made. Subscribe and let filmmakers know if the film meant something to you.

Mama Gloria plays as part of the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival, 17-28 March.

Only reading DIVA online? You’re missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It’s pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves. //

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