Review: 'Jeannette' a Study in Trauma and Endurance

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday June 14, 2022

'Jeanette'
'Jeanette'  

Jeannette is an Orlando bodybuilder and a survivor of the Pulse nightclub massacre, and also the title of the poignant, 77- minute documentary about her life post-trauma.

Director Maris Curran offers a thoughtful, meditative look at the struggles of those with PTSD in a gun-rabid, homophobic country. Gorgeously toned and tanned puertorriqueña Jeannette says "I'm a survivor, but I wish I wasn't." She's had a tough life — her mami loves her, but doesn't totally accept her daughter as a lesbian. Jeannette trains long and hard in the gym and is a single mom to Anthony, her mixed race teenaged son, and a pair of chihuahuas. She loves to dance to escape and relax, which is what she was doing on June 12, 2016, when a terrorist assassinated 49 people and wounded 53 others in the worst attack since 9/11. "It was a gay club," Jeannette says, "so we were the targets."

After that, it took Jeannette a long time to get back into the gym, and she still struggles with social anxiety, often cancelling plans last minute. "One day you're running from bullets, then you're just back to work," Jeannette says. "All of my safe havens haven't been safe." She already felt like a distanced outsider, because she hid her lesbianism while growing up in a Jehovah's Witness household.

In her youth, Jeannette fought with her mom about her sexuality, but her mom moved in with her daughter post-shooting to try and comfort her. Their family still in Puerto Rico was also devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and Jeannette uses her gym muscles to set up a gas generator and clean up the debris still littering their properties when she visits. Her partner returned to the island permanently to care for her own mother and grandmother, so Jeannette is left alone to continue to grapple with grief and survivor's guilt. "I had to let her go," Jeannette says.

Back in Florida, Jeannette created a boot camp workout for fellow Pulse survivors. She's happy to provide a healthy, cathartic outlet for their pent-up pain and fear, but she's often overwhelmed. "I have to take everybody's weight," she notes — not just dumbbells, but the emotional burdens of her compatriots. When her mom tries to soothe her with platitudes, Jeannette confronts her by saying, "I have to be what I didn't have." Jeannette didn't have help with her sexuality or her struggles during adolescence, and now she feels compelled to be that rock for others, despite a lack of role models.

Jeannette also observes that grieving takes time, and shouldn't be rushed. This lovely, sweet and sad slice-of-American-life film follows the same edict, allowing space for quiet reflection, and tears when necessary. But Jeannette the person (as well as the film) advocate for more dynamic releases too, saying "life is like a roller coaster. Scream the whole fucking way through it."

@ Frameline in San Francisco June 17

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at KarinMcKie.com