Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) is a complex premenstrual disorder that affects roughly 5% of women. It can create severe physical and emotional distress during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, leaving women feeling impulsive, sad, agitated, and extremely self-critical. However, the disorder often goes under-reported and underdiagnosed. Writer and producer Cousin Shy, who suffers from PMDD herself, has set out to spread awareness and destigmatize this often-overlooked condition with her groundbreaking indie film.

Donna and Ally is the inspiring story of two teenage foster girls who embark on an unconventional journey to becoming legends– all while accurately portraying the oft-underestimated PMDD.

For DONNA, the film’s protagonist, punishment for her “behavioral problems” is such a regular occurrence that it eventually becomes an integral part of her identity. A rollercoaster of emotions leads them down a path of self-discovery as they take jobs as exotic dancers and search for a way to become extraordinary before their inevitable prison sentences catch up with them.

But there’s more to Donna’s “werewolf week” than rage, and a surprising series of events finally allows her to take control of her mental health. It’s not until adulthood with the help of ALLY that she tracks her symptoms, examines her mood, and understands that her out-of-control behavior stems from PMDD.  

This powerful representation of PMDD offers viewers education, visibility, and inspiration– showing that living with a disorder doesn’t have to define or control you. A hilarious yet heartfelt movie experience, Donna and Ally encourages critical thinking about female mental health difficulties in an entertaining yet poignant way.

Donna and Ally’s story humorously delves into serious issues, including mass incarceration, foster care, and mental health, while seeking to empower young women with PMDD by demonstrating the power of self-awareness. Donna’s sense of liberation is in recognizing that her episodes are caused by fluctuating levels of serotonin and GABA rather than inherent impulsiveness, despair, and self-criticism helps her develop a more profound sense of acceptance.

A young woman with PMDD demonstrating self-awareness through recognizing the symptoms helps develop a sense of acceptance.

The film provides an engaging and truthful representation of PMDD, introducing methods to help the protagonist, such as vitamins and exercise. However, the flick also shows how their effectiveness is not necessarily permanent. Donna’s journey is ongoing, but the film’s primary message is that understanding the disorder is crucial in taking control back when her symptoms appear. Examining this disorder makes us more cognizant of its psychological and physical implications and demystifies the stigma that comes with it. In doing so, we also free women from believing they are doomed to a life of instability and chaos.

Cleverly weaving its kinky comedic execution together with much-needed awareness, this Indiegogo-supported film offers an opportunity for viewers to learn about Black female mental health difficulties in an entertaining yet poignant way. Donna provides an accessible reference point for women, especially those in underserved communities, to explore a relatable character with a disorder that they can now understand on a deeper level.

As Cousin Shy says, “things are less scary when you examine them,” and that’s the film’s message. There is no false resolution to Donna’s PMDD. Instead, the plot is designed to start a conversation around this disorder and elevate it to the national stage.

The film’s director is Cousin Shy’s good friend, Connor Mahony, a dedicated filmmaker with the same sense of humor. With a run time of approximately 105 minutes, Donna and Ally features Cousin Shy as Donna, and the talented Qing Qi – an acclaimed local SF Bay Area artist and actress – in the role of Ally.

Donna and Ally is set to premiere at film festivals in the fall of 2023, with a potential theatrical release to follow and streaming soon after. Stay tuned!