West Hollywood poet Laureate, RENT Poet founder and author of “The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter”, Brian Sonia- Wallace, reviews the new PBS mini-documentary Senior Prom.
Senior Prom is directed by Luisa Conlin, a award-winning queer documentary filmmaker, journalist and cinematographer who’s worked with The New York Times, VICELAND, VICE, PBS and NETFLIX and produced by Jessica Chermayeff an award-winning director, producer and founding partner of the all queer, female-led production company Cousins.
“Senior Prom is a new PBS mini-documentary which follows a group of LGBTQ+ seniors to their residential LGBT Center senior living prom event (see the play on words in the title?).
“The film starts with interviews with the seniors about their experiences of prom in High School — some went and passed, some stayed away. Documentary footage of interviews with the seniors are intercut with a vintage 80’s TV screen and High School PSA style footage about proms.
“From here we meet the seniors at the Gay and Lesbian village and learn that the Senior Prom happens every year — it’s a big deal event for the seniors. When we get there, everyone is dressed to the nines, and the camera lingers on moments of dancing, of laughter, of expressive outfits and the look of people lost in the music.
“We get into the story of Nancy Valverde, a butch lesbian from East LA who was arrested over and over since she was 17 for “masquerading” in men’s clothing. “Now you can wear anything you want,” she says.
“Other seniors talk about the experience of release that comes with the dancing itself — the erotic component, the freedom from worry of judgement, the closet that dancing still feels like bursting out of.
“We meet a woman who came out at 50, a gay priest who started his own church to welcome gay folks.
“‘Raise your hand if you believe in love!’ an emcee intones over footage of slow dancing. Andrea Segal remembers her 36-year relationship and talks about coping with grief. People emerge from the prom at the end of the night, bubbling.
“And that’s it. It’s a lovely moment of celebration, a triumph at how far the gay rights movement has come in our lifetimes, a feel-good 14 minutes with some senior hip action. This film isn’t here to tackle the patriarchy or gay up the classic rituals, it’s just a very wholesome look at how meaningful it can be to included in classic Americana, to feel part of the cannon of a society’s rituals, however silly, however late in life.”
Carolina Gamero, who is directly involved with the project states, “As you know, LGBTQ+ elders have often been excluded from taking part in so many of the experiences that define “coming of age” in America, from openly dating, to wearing gender-affirming clothing, to attending school dances with a chosen same-sex partner. Senior Prom, now available across PBS digital platforms, highlights the importance of amplifying Los Angeles’ queer inter-generational voices, and what younger generations can learn from queer elders and their legacies of resistance.”
As our country celebrates Pride month and transitions into recovery from the pandemic – a crisis that disproportionately impacted aging populations – this documentary film couldn’t be more timely.
A screening of Senior Prom will be held at the AFI Documentary Film Festival in Los Angeles on June 23 at 9AM (PT) and will be available for the subsequent 48 hours.