In 1978, the song I Will Survive not only made Gloria Gaynor a household name, but also turned her into an icon of the entire disco era. In the years since, she’s certainly survived—a lot. After a childhood marked by poverty and sexual abuse, she endured a controlling husband who took over her professional management, a painful accident that left her temporarily paralyzed, and the murder of her sister.
Now 80, her story is being told in a new documentary, Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive, which chronicles her journey to release her first gospel album, renewing a career left stagnant by mismanagement by her ex. In 2020, at the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards, that album, Testimony, won for Best Roots Gospel Album—her second such award.
“With the difficult times we are living through, this film has the right message at the right moment in time. My hope and Gloria’s hope, through this film, is to show the world that no matter what life’s challenges you face—you can not only ‘survive’ but ‘thrive,’” says filmmaker Betsy Schechter.
Not surprisingly, the soundtrack from this movie will make you want to get up and dance. I Will Survive is arguably the most inspiring song of all time. But Gloria’s take on gospel music? It’s the most uplifting thing in the world—and just might turn you into a gospel fan.
Her Second Act
Gloria’s career was largely controlled by her ex-husband Linwood Simon, who she married in 1979, just a year after recording I Will Survive. The marriage disintegrated, and with it, Gloria’s career momentum. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, Gloria says she thought “He’s going to leave me and I’m going to be alone” before realizing “Guess what…you’re already alone—you’ve been alone for years. You made it alone. You can make it alone. You will survive.”
This amazing second act was guided by Gloria herself, with the help of her loyal manager Stephanie Gold, and captured by Schechter. “This is something I wanted to do for years,” Gloria says of her gospel album concept, something that was initially met with skepticism from the music industry that she had ruled in the 1970s. Instead of giving up, she invested in herself and funded the project. Although the details might be different, many moms know how powerful a second professional act can be.
The Filmmaker’s Own Story
Betsy Schechter was introduced to Gloria and Stephanie in 2015 and there was an immediate connection. During the nine years it took to make the film, Betsy weathered having a baby as a single mom, the pandemic, and an unusual filming process unlike any other. She told Deadline: “Normally, I possess the foresight knowing how a film would end, but that was not the case with Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive, which simultaneously felt scary and exhilarating.”
Having self-funded and produced this project during the hardest five years of her life, she wants it to reach moms like her. Says Betsy: “I hope the film entertains, uplifts and inspires all the moms who are doing the most important job of raising children.”
Breaking Age Boundaries
Gloria Gaynor is now 80 years old (72 at the film’s beginning). She looks fabulous, but she’s open about the painful surgery she underwent during filming to maintain the ability to walk, and no one would fault her for retiring and resting. But as she says in the film “Growth is the only sign of life.” And at 80, she’s doing just that. It’s worth noting that aside from her Grammy-winning comeback, she also managed to squeeze in getting her degree in psychology—at age 71.
It Makes a Perfect Galentine’s Movie Night
The film is in theaters for one night only on Galentine’s Day, Feb. 13! Gather your mom friends for a memorable moms’ night out that will get your crew inspired for 2024. Tickets go on sale Dec. 29; buy them at https://www.fathomevents.com/events/gloria-gaynor-i-will-survive/.