Hey Siri, play “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer!

That statement alone elicits a dopamine rush that just feels inexplicably right. The late legend that is Donna Summer was, after all, the “Queen of Disco.” Summer was able to fill a dance floor and your worry-stricken mind with melodic beats and soaring, flawless vocals that came from years of experimenting with German musical counterculture and American pop sensibilities.

But Summer is more than the queen of disco, as far as her music goes, she’s the queen of life, the queen of euphoria, the queen of love. She brought passion to each and every performance, eliciting an emotion from each syllable. Her work laid the foundation for what became electronic music, but you could argue that it had an even greater impact, because not only did we feel the beat, we felt her. That is the aim of her daughter, actress Brooklyn Sudano, who hopes to bring an understand- ing of her mother beyond the jams and the artistry with her documentary Love to Love You, Donna Summer. Codirected by Oscar award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, the project is an intimate glimpse of Summer as not just an artist, but a person, the shades behind the queen.

Donna Summer | Photographed by Francesco Scavullo (Courtesy of Universal Music Archives)

And unlike any other documentary, it isn’t just about Donna Summer, it’s by Donna Summer, featuring a variety of unearthed photographs and home footage shot by the singer herself, providing a deeper glimpse into her own perspective of life outside of the spotlight, learning to love both on stage and off. “A big part of her personality was that she was extremely funny,” Sudano says. “And in these unfiltered moments, you see her humor, but also just her raw talent.”

“You’ll see her just sitting on the piano or singing acapella and you just hear that voice and you realize, she didn’t need anything else to portray that character or that emotion, and that speaks volumes in itself.”

It’s to Summer’s credit that despite how much audiences grew to love her and her chart-topping hits, she was able to keep her true self hidden to the public eye. But at the same time, she still remained a prominent figure in popular culture from the ’70s to the ’90s, arguably beyond, through her warmth and her zest. “My mother made everything a moment, like if she was making pasta, she was tasting the flavors and for her it was about creating. It was like making dinner as a piece of art,” Sudano remembers.

The project serves as a look at the intensity and inner workings of Summer’s life as a lover of art in the truest sense, as a woman of faith who grew up singing in church, a hard worker who was charting number ones in the middle of the Disco Sucks movement of the late ’70s, and as a real person who tried to feel the love she was surrounded by and certainly could give back. The act of balancing the life of a globally renowned artist with the life of the woman who just wanted her family to have a “normal life.”

As Sudano adds, “I think my mom left a legacy of love and that love isn’t always easy. It doesn’t always come in the package that we expect it to. Sometimes loving somebody is having a hard conversation, and sometimes she had a hard time knowing how to receive love. And that was what my mom’s music was about, it was about joy and love and heal- ing. Her legacy was about love.”

Sudano hopes that her mom can receive the outpouring of love she’s getting now, over a decade since her passing, through her documentary. And we love to love you, Donna, because behind every one of your pulsing beats, there’s a beating heart.

Love to Love You, Donna Summer is now streaming on HBO Max.

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