The film Love to Love You, Donna Summer, out Friday, explains how both the disco legend and her daughter experienced sexual abuse as children
Mimi Sommer has taken control of her past and is ready to share her story with the world.
In light of Love to Love You, Donna Summer‘s premiere on Friday, Mimi — the eldest daughter of the late Disco Queen Donna Summer — opens up to PEOPLE about why she decided to tell her story of being sexually abused as a child in the film, how she’s found healing since and her relationship with her mother.
“I feel like I’m pretty open, but I’ve had to work through a lot of stuff in my life,” Mimi tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I have four kids of my own, and I want to make sure that I’m not passing on things from my own trauma or things from my own story.”
The documentary reveals that Mimi was sexually abused by someone related to her family’s housekeeper when she was a young girl — drawing parallels to Summer’s experience of being sexually abused by her childhood pastor.
“We never really got closure from it,” she says.
“I don’t know that she was ever super comfortable talking about. That was probably one of her biggest nightmares, was something like that happening to one of her kids,” she adds. “So I think that might have been a very difficult thing for her to have to really hash out with me in some ways.”
“I didn’t hold it against her in any way. Because I understood. I was older when she found out, and so I understood at that point that the healing process for her took a lot longer,” she says. “And for me, I was very aware of it from a much earlier age so I was able to gauge it, realize what it was, and start working on it. There’s a shame element that comes with that, so learning how to realize that this wasn’t me, it wasn’t my fault.”
She adds, “So even though we didn’t really get into the nitty-gritty of it and really kind of work through all of that, I still understood where she came from. I understood because I lived it in a sense. So I think I have a lot of grace for her in that way.”
Summer gave birth to Mimi after moving to Germany and meeting Austrian actor Helmuth Summer. Because she welcomed her so early on in her career, the documentary shows that Mimi was largely taken care of by her grandparents. When asked how she felt being away from her mom for months at a time, she remembers missing her.
“I’m sure like any child, a child who has military parents or has a celebrity parent or a politician as a parent, somebody who’s gone a lot; you’re a child, you want your parent. So I was blessed because I had amazing grandparents who raised me, and so they really did stand in the gap for her.”
“I understood, and I felt really sad for her in a lot of ways,” she adds. “I think that was a struggle sometimes, to share her with everyone.”
Something that helped her during that time, was listening to “Mimi’s Song,” a song Summer released in 1978 for her daughter to listen to before bed when she was on the road.
“Every time I heard it, it made me feel seen and made me feel remembered and made me felt like, ‘Oh, this is how she feels about me.’ Even though she might be miles away, thousands of miles away, and I can’t be with her, this is how she feels about me when she’s away.”
In her later years, however, Mimi says that the singer was actively involved: “When she was home, when she would come back to Nashville, the first thing that she did was call us. ‘All right, who’s picking up cozy meals? Who’s picking up dinner? Let’s get dinner. Go to the grocery store. We’re going to make food.'”
She adds, “My last memories with her was — we talked all the time. She would call me up every week and check-in. We had a mom-daughter relationship. We didn’t really fight or argue too much. I was blessed to have the time that I had with her.”
Her last day, she says, was “vulnerable”: “I think she just realized I got no face to show other than the one I’ve got,” Mimi reflects. “She just let all the walls down, and so we really got to just be with her in all of her vulnerabilities and weaknesses and her funniness.”
Love to Love You, Donna Summer, which was co-directed by Summer’s daughter Brooklyn Sudano and Roger Ross Williams takes “an in-depth look at the icon as she creates music that takes her from the avant-garde music scene in Germany, to the glitter and bright lights of dance clubs in New York, to worldwide acclaim, her voice and artistry becoming the defining soundtrack of an era,” per a release.
“A deeply personal portrait of Summer on and off the stage, the film features a wealth of photographs and never-before-seen home video footage — often shot by Summer herself — and provides a rich window into the surprising range of her artistry, from songwriting to painting, while exploring the highs and lows of a life lived on the global stage,” the description continues.
Love to Love You, Donna Summer is out now on HBO and HBO Max.
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