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, also 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.
Senior Prom is screening virtually at AFI Documentary Film Festival on June 23 at 9AM (PT), and available for the subsequent 48 hours.