The Neon offering free screening of LGBTQ+ acceptance film

“Mama Bears,” a documentary about acceptance in the LGBTQ+ community, is coming to The Neon in downtown Dayton at noon Saturday, March 11.

The film, directed and produced by Dayton native Daresha Kyi, follows two conservative Christian mothers as they navigate relationships with their queer child and the LGBTQ+ community.

Sara Cunningham and Kimberly Shappley, the two “mama bears” featured in the film, are just a small part of the over 30,000 conservative Christian mothers nationwide “whose profound love for their LGBTQ+ children has turned them into fierce advocates for the entire queer community,” according to the filmmakers. Joined by a Facebook group, these mothers are spreading love to advocate ferociously for their kids.

“‘Mama Bears’ is the story of women who have allowed nearly every aspect of their lives to be completely reshaped by love,” filmmakers said in a release. “Although they may have grown up as fundamentalist Christians, these two mama bears are willing to risk losing friends, family and faith communities to keep their children safe—even if it challenges their belief systems and rips their worlds apart.”

The documentary also chronicles Tammi Terrell Morris, a young lesbian, as she struggles to accept herself, which puts the impact and importance of the mama bears into context, according to the filmmakers.

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Kyi, a graduate of The Miami Valley School, is an Emmy-award winning director featured twice before at The Neon. The theatre showed her 2017 film “Chavela,” which she co-directed and co-produced, and “Wig,” a 2009 short film she acted in. She has been working on “Mama Bears” for five years and said she’s excited to bring it home to Dayton and the rest of Ohio.

“It’s really important to me that this film be shown throughout Ohio to move the needle on the conversation of inclusion and acceptance and love,” Kyi said. “I want people to see what unconditional love really looks like.”

When Kyi reached out to The Neon to let the theatre know she’d be screening her film in the area, the independent theatre immediately jumped on the opportunity to book it, according to The Neon manager Jonathan McNeal.

The theatre was originally planning to charge $10 per ticket but McNeal reached out to Hope Collective Church, which holds Sunday worship at The Neon. Plans changed when the pastor decided the screening could serve a bigger purpose.

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“Instead of just being excited, the pastor asked if they could buy every single seat so the event could be free for the community,” McNeal said. “And that’s what will happen. It’s a win for everyone – The Neon, Daresha and the community.”

Part of screening this film is being paid forward to show “Mama Bears” at other churches around the country, according to Kyi. She said it’s important to her that this film makes it into LGBTQ+ spaces and inclusive churches like Hope Collective. However she also wants to reach spaces that are struggling to become accepting and affirming.

“My job as a storyteller is to put the story out there (and) do the best job I can to tell the story of the people who are willing to share their story with me,” Kyi said. “And I’m honored to say the people who are in the film believe in it.”

Doors will open for the screening at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday. Seats will be first come, first served. For more information, visit

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