The trailer for Donna Summer: Love to Love You, a new documentary about the late disco legend, focuses on the identity crisis she felt, juggling stardom, motherhood, and just who she wanted to be. “My approach to singing, I approach it as an actress,” she says in an archival interview. “I don’t approach it as a singer. … I’m not trying to be me.” Later in the clip, an interviewee (likely one of Summer’s daughters) says she would learn about Summer’s life through newspaper clippings hidden around the house. The film, which premieres May 20 on HBO Max, also includes home videos of Summer with her children.
Summer’s daughter Brooklyn Dudano co-directed the film with Roger Ross Williams, who won an Oscar in 2010 for his short documentary, Music by Prudence. Some of the people who were closest to Summer in her lifetime participated in the documentary. These include Summer’s three daughters — Sudano, Mimi Dohler, and Amanda Sudano Ramirez — her husband, Bruce Sudano, and her siblings — Dara Bernard, Mary Ellen Bernard, and Ric Gaines. Summer’s first husband, Helmuth Sommer, manager, Susan Munao, band member, Bob Conti, and producer Giorgio Moroder also spoke to the filmmakers.
Beginning in the mid-Seventies, Summer achieved worldwide fame with a string of smash hits, including “Love to Love You,” “I Feel Love,” “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough).” Throughout her career, Summer struggled with her public image. “There were times when I hated the … sex-goddess image,” she once said. She developed a dependency on pills, attempted suicide, and became a born-again Christian. Toward the end of her career, she disliked being described as a “disco singer.” Her hope, Rolling Stone reported after her death due to lung cancer in 2012, was that people would see all the facets of her talent beyond disco.