The Believers

2006 | Black/African American / Documentary / Gender / Music / Parenting/Family / Religion/Spirituality / Representation / Social Issues / Spirituality / Transgender / Women's Studies | 80m | USA
Directors: Todd Holland

Recipient of the Frameline30 Audience Award for Best Documentary, The Believers is an unprecedented feature documentary that shatters assumptions about faith, gender, and religion. Built around the world's first transgender gospel choir, the film portrays the choir's dilemma—how to reconcile their gender identity with the widespread belief that changing one's gender goes against the word of God.

Set against the story of the Transcendence Gospel Choir's founding, the documentary reveals the lives of its members, including Tom, once a radical lesbian feminist; Ashley, choir founder and professional sound engineer; and Bobby, a recovering drug addict and former sex worker.

The film takes us from the Transcendence Gospel Choir's shaky beginnings—a heartwarmingly chaotic, cacophonous group unable to agree on much of anything, arguing over appropriate wardrobe and learning to sing with transitioning voices—through their transformation into the polished, award-winning choir and close-knit family they are today, garnering major performances and winning an Outmusic Award in 2004 for the album Whosoever Believes.

The intimate personal stories shed light on the complexity of balancing social change, family history, religion, and identity. At the heart of their dilemma is a struggle for acceptance within two worlds historically at odds with one another. As one of the> film's subjects eloquently says, “I'm living in a window. I get to see both sides.”

The Believers is a unique story of determination and perseverance and an important look at the intricacy and diversity of spirituality and the LGBTQ community.

Reviews and Awards

Jury Award, Best Transgender Film, Long Island Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

Audience Award, Best Full Length Documentary, Long Island Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

“… director Todd Holland's The Believers offers a rousing, compelling portrait of the most unique performers in contemporary Christian music: San Francisco’s Transcendence Gospel Choir, the world’s first (and, to date, only) professional gospel choir consisting of transgender singers … the true power of The Believers lies in watching this diverse mix of personalities unite into a single force of spiritual musicality— “HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.”—Video Librarian

The Believers provides a unique teaching tool for faith communities to begin to understand the lives and struggles of transgender people from a faith-based perspective.” —The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing

“… at heart an old-fashioned success story—through hard work, adversity, and perseverance, the choir finds itself reaching unexpected heights. While charting the course of the choir, The Believers also delves into the personal histories of some of the choir members, both male-to-female and female-to-male. These provide some of the films most emotional moments, from Ashley’s harrowing tale of escaping from her shotgun-carrying father to Bobbie Jean’s visit to her ambivalent-yet-loving Memphis family. The look on Bobbie Jean’s aunt's face when she realizes that there are also women who become men is priceless.”—Metro Weekly

The Believers was shown at Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ, an historic African-American congregation dating back to the mid 19th century which is being revitalized as a multiracial, multicultural, Open and Affirming ministry. Lincoln Temple worked in partnership which a number of other churches and groups … About 100 people turned out for the screening, including clergy and leaders from many of the partner groups and churches. The audience was very vocal and demonstrative in response to the film and erupted into applause at the conclusion … The comments/discussion from the audience mostly focused on admiration for Transcendence and also for the United Church of Christ and its witness of justice regarding LGBT persons and All God’s Children. I hope that our showing helps to generate more interest in this wonderful film. I think our showing was meaningful to many, based on the audience reaction and emails I have received before the showing and after. One can’t ask for much more than that. Blessings & Shalom” —Deacon Charles Keener, Lincoln Congregational Temple United Church of Christ