It’s impossible not to sob nor shed a tear in Chris Bolan’s A Secret Love, Netflix’s latest documentary about two lesbians who kept their relationship a secret since the 1940s.
During their younger years, female baseball players Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel had to seal their rooms tighter just so no one will see them together in love. It was the dawn of ‘50s up to the ‘60s when homosexuality was a concept to feel ashamed of. We’ve all heard and read it in textbooks, homophobia was extremely prevalent at the time. It is a crime to be gay and you will be imprisoned if you’re caught being open with it.
It was also a time wherein very private house parties became the only venue gays and lesbians can gather together and be free about their identity. As for Terry and Pat, living through the tough times is a period where they are forced to be publicly referred to as “very close friends.” When Terry had to introduce Pat to her family, they presented themselves as cousins. This has been the issue for more than seven decades.
When Bolan started to document Terry and Pat for A Secret Love, the two are possibly in their 80s and/ or 90s. For the first time, they have just revealed their actual relationship to their family. And although the secret can feel heavy because of the time it was kept, the family didn’t hesitate to accept the situation.
Looking through their love story at a larger lens, Terry and Pat’s nearing-a-century old narrative of togetherness can make great material for a feature film. It’s grand, adventurous, with hiding as their sole enemy. Bolan could even make this into an eight episode-one hour each Netflix miniseries and still retain a lot of its emotional weight.
But despite this, the director opts for something short and straightforward. Watching A Secret Love was like peeking through another family’s picture book, browsing through the different milestones and memories. In most portions, the documentary follows Terry and Pat at an older age, contented over their situation with marriage as the only thing that’s missing.
And they do get married at the end. In probably one of the most beautiful moments in any documentary, this 2020, Terry and Pat shared their vows at an elderly shelter. The marriage officiant even joked that by being legally official, they would never call themselves cousins again.
Without sharing more details, A Secret Love was something special. While no clean-cut documentary such as this would greatly represent the gravity of Terry and Pat’s love story, still it was a story that deserves to be out there.