Updated: Jul 22, 2021
"Donna: Stronger Than Pretty is based around the true story of Director Jaret Martino's mother (who is sadly not with us anymore) and her experience of escaping domestic abuse. This is an incredibly important subject at the moment due to Covid and the lock-downs, domestic violence is on the rise.
Donna’s love story with Nick begins so sweetly. He charms her with all the right words and all the right actions that make it seem so easy and so possible to be happy. Nick’s words and actions change and become so abusive on every level that he makes it nearly impossible for Donna or their children to love him, or like him. As he makes one bad decision after another, Donna is forced to question her own bad decisions and why and how she both sacrifices her dreams and enables Nick’s bad behaviour." Excerpt from Press Release
Many of us know of someone who has experienced domestic abuse at some stage in their life, or have heard about someone.Many have been through this most insidious emotional roller coaster of life or watched a loved one go through.
This film, captured the lives, experiences and stories of so many women, in Donna, who have valiantly struggled, fought and come out triumphant. Triumphant doesn’t necessarily mean with bells and whistles. To me it simply means, to be able to make incredibly difficult choices and find the courage to walk away. These are the ones we call strong and whom we celebrate, like Donna. Then there are those who don’t make it, whose souls die in an environment that eventually pervades each living cell and their every waking moment like a disease, until they know longer have or know they have the will to run, to leave, to escape. Yet this too takes courage doesn’t it? Courage to stay in a situation where you just don’t have the strength to walk away, courage to watch your soul die, whilst always wishing for different, for better.
This story gave us an insight into the dynamics of love, being in love, thinking we are in love and then like a deck of cards how a love that is so beautiful could turn into a vial of something so poisonous and even may I say even insidious. What struck me about Donna was her silent resilience, her incredible balancing act and juggling of life through constant tiredness and stress. Even in those moments when she felt she had no-where to go, no-where to run and with the world saying ‘stay with him, he’s a provider, he’s the children’s father. Put up, Shut Up because I’ve done it’ she bit back. Her resilience was driven by holding onto her dreams, and to provide and make safe an environment for her children. Even when her dreams started to fade, being a single mother with three children in tow, she constantly galvanised to keep going, to find a solution and to never give in. She had a few friends who stood by her through thick and thin. Friends who encouraged her not to put up with, but who also offered support where she knew they would stand by her no matter what. Sometimes, you just need one person to believe in you, to give you the faith to fight.
This was a mother’s instinctual mode to protect her children and to provide for them. To buffer a lot of their pain, to try to make their world as ‘normal’ as possible. At one time she was working three jobs.
Donna had seen what broken relationships did, in terms of her own upbringing, and that was reflected again in the marriage of her mother and father-in-law and in her own marriage. The drinking, the dictatorship, the slapping, the disrespect, the tears, the hiding, the suppressing of emotions, the affairs. The battle between her love of a man she no longer recognised, the battle to believe he would change and the nightmare would end, the battle between taking the children away from their father and the battle between knowing that if she didn't she could well end up dead but also the shame and guilt of knowing that her children were in a toxic environment, watching, observing, witnessing.
It was interesting to see how her situation gave her the opportunity to grow closer to her parents, especially her mother. Her parents too had a volatile relationship. Yet through Donna's situation they both started to heal, they both recognised how destructive their relationship had been, and they came together to support and defend their daughter, but also through her and her situation they grew to respect each other more.
There was a part in the film where after her husband had beaten her and she was sitting at the table of her mother-in-law bruised and battered with a bandaged nose…Donna's mother-in-law asked her to give her son another chance because ‘he loved his family, he provided for them, he loved his children, and how was she (Donna) going to survive as a single mother’. This was one of those poignant moments in the film where I saw Donna’s resolute determination to change the pattern, to get off the hamster’s wheel and do whatever it took to hold onto her sanity and dignity. Some people never recognise they are victims, like Donna's mother-in-law who too got slapped and verbally abused by her husband and who would always bail her son out no matter what. But this too is to be understood, because sometimes your mind has no place to go, because your self-worth has been trod on until you accept and learn to exist.
Other poignant moments were when she went to change the name on the birth certificate of one of her children, and got into a conversation with some other women in the queue. Each one of those women were going through incredibly challenging times and yet there was the energy of solidarity, of fight, of determination in that room on that day – and the words of wisdom imparted to Donna, was also part of the impetus to keep rising, to keep walking, head tall no matter what. At times, it’s this sense of community, of female comradeship that keeps women going, in that human recognition that we are all in a similar boat and we need a supporting hand or word to keep the fires burning. Maybe Donna never fully recognised what she symbolised to other women who watched her struggle, her pain, who saw her bruised and battered and yet like Dr Maya Angelou said in one of her poems “And still I Rise” and that is what Donna constantly did. At the end of the film when the real Donna was being interviewed she described her life as being incredibly painful and difficult, yet her message was still clear and resolute. Do not allow anyone to take away your dreams. Do not allow anyone to make you feel lesser than. And to think when she was on her own with her three children, working two jobs she was also studying and finally graduated as a teacher.
Donna: Stronger than Pretty was filmed by her son. I feel this was a cathartic and healing process for him to voice how he was impacted by his life situation but it was also an honouring of a woman who he watched go to hell and back and yet, she left a legacy, for other women, and for children who have and are still going through these experiences. Hopefully, they too will look to heal, to transform those experiences and to either tell the tales of their journey as part of their healing process, or reach out and help others in some way. This is a film about human pain on many levels, even with the abuser, but also the impact these situations have on the children as well.
Ladies if this story is you, I would say you are all Stronger than Pretty. Your self worth is your holy grail, your children are your legacy. All worth fighting for.
I have a motto that says: It’s not easy but it certainly is possible.
The film had a simplicity about it, maybe because the message was so powerful and emotionally heart rendering. For Jaret Martino, the son of Donna to have captured so well an experience that most people bury, for him to be able to bring to life and to light a subject matter that has been exacerbated by the lockdown, yet with threads of messages of hope and healing that we can all get through this time together. But we must be prepared to face our demons, and recognise our basic human worth and to know that if we choose to, we can resolve situations, we can get through. But we have to be brave enough to want to make that choice.
This film was made from what began as a deep need to make sense out of some deep-rooted pain. I started my company Jaret Martino Productions in 2013 with a commitment to sharing women’s empowerment messages and doing what I could to help change statistics for female crew."
Jaret Martino is the Director and the inspiration behind it, was his mother Donna. The film features a cast of incredible actresses including Catharine Daddario (Alexandra Daddario’s sister), Kate Amundsen, Brittany Molnar all of whom are also available for interview.
Link to Office for National Statistics information about Domestic Abuse during Covid: https://bit.ly/3qNVWVH.