Few of us will forget waking up the morning of June 12, 2016 and learning that the deadliest terrorist attack since September 11, 2001 had taken place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. In a nation where mass shootings regularly dominate the news, this particular event felt more personal than most: As an LGBTQ+ club, the events at Pulse confirmed a breach of one of our community’s most safe and supportive spaces.
In Jeannette, a new documentary directed by acclaimed queer filmmaker Maris Curran, audiences take an intimate look at the healing of one Pulse survivor in the face of collective trauma. Rather than focus on one horrifying night, Jeannette focuses on the reality of moving forward with life after the fact. “I wanted to frame Jeannette’s story this way because there’s not enough focus on the aftermath of these events. There aren’t enough examples of community and how to heal,” Curran explains.
As a lesbian Puerto Rican single mother, Jeanette Feliciano often seems to carry the world on her shoulders. As a competitive bodybuilder, Feliciano’s strength is never in question: From her prowess in the gym to the support she offers other survivors, Feliciano is a powerhouse. She raises her son, Anthony, in a loving and supportive household, she strives for her goal of going pro as a bodybuilder, and she leads others through healing. These depictions of Feliciano’s determination allow the quiet moments of tenderness captured by Curran to feel breathtakingly intimate.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Feliciano’s relationship with her mother, who lives with her and Anthony. The film doesn’t shy away from Feliciano’s struggle to heal from the wounds attributed to her upbringing. As a Jehovah’s Witness, her mother’s religion often creates a barrier between the two. In the film Feliciano says, “Growing up, I didn’t have a wholesome fear of my parents. I had a fear fear. I was scared to talk to my mom about everything. All I felt was rejection.”
The on-screen arguments with her mother initially worried Feliciano, who was raised not to air familial disagreements in public. But to her surprise, Jeannette revealed the beauty of the connection they share. After seeing the final cut, Feliciano turned to Curran and said, “My mother really loves me, doesn’t she?” Filming the documentary gave the two a chance to grow their relationship in an unexpected way.
Complicated conversations like this are a part of why Curran wanted to capture Feliciano’s story in the first place. “I want my work to spark conversations we’d rather not have,” she says. Films like Jeannette are often watched in community, as people sit side by side absorbing the story played out on the screen before them. Curran hopes that the experience of watching something so personal will spark much-needed conversations around difficult topics such as trauma and the messy work of healing. “Healing can’t be done on an island,” she says.
Ultimately, Feliciano’s story confirms that belief. As hard as she works to lead her community to a better place, they work just as hard to envelop her in their endless love and support. As everyday trials—a hurricane in her home of Puerto Rico, an end to her relationship with her girlfriend—blend with the aftermath of a larger collective trauma, Feliciano is surrounded by a strong community of friends, survivors, and family members who only wish to see her thrive. And after witnessing Feliciano’s tenacity, perseverance, and drive through Jeannette, audience members will find it impossible not to wish for the same.