Sundance 2023: “It’s Only Life After All” Is a Moving Tribute to the Indigo Girls

Autostraddle is back at Sundance. Drew Burnett Gregory and Shelli Nicole are coming to you daily for the next week with LGBTQ+ movie reviews from one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Follow Drew and Shelli on Twitter for more! 


Before I ever listened to the Indigo Girls, I knew them as a joke.

Growing up in the 90s and 00s, the Indigo Girls were synonymous with the word lesbian. And since it was the 90s and 00s, that was a bad thing.

Alexandria Bombach’s documentary It’s Only Life After All takes a moment to acknowledge this reputation. She shows Amy Ray and Emily Saliers clips from a Saturday Night Live sketch where they were parodied. Ray notes that she wouldn’t mind the joke if at any point in their careers they’d actually been invited on to perform. Then Bombach shows them clips from Ellen DeGeneres herself — moments where Ellen seems to say, yes, I’m gay. But I’m not gay like that.

If there’s one thing this documentary does, it’s show that Ellen was right. They are not gay like her. As a trans woman in my 20s, they may hold similar cultural places in my consciousness, but their differences are vast. And the ways the Indigo Girls were unique — and uniquely themselves — is worthy of this celebration.

Using countless tapes recorded by Ray over the years along with new interviews, Bombach stitches together a portrait of two queer people who were radical for their time and have strived to remain that way to this day.

If you’re a hardcore fan of the duo, you’ll find plenty to enjoy with the fantastic archive footage. And if you’re a casual fan or new to them, the film does a nice job giving an overview of their lives and careers.

The film covers their differing attitudes toward coming out, the way they were affected by sexism as well as homophobia, the communities they built and continue to foster, and their many differences as people and performers. And while their beliefs and place in the queer community was plenty established nearly a decade ago when they stopped playing Michfest, the film goes a step further and spends time on their individual identities. Saliers talks about having sexual attraction to men and how grateful she is for the word queer. Ray talks about having a non-binary gender identity and how young trans people have taught her so much about herself and her still-shifting relationship to her body.

The film also spends a lot of time on their activism, not just to lionize them, but to track how their views of the world have shifted. They’ve always been politically engaged and outspoken, but they acknowledge that initially their causes were very “white lesbian.” After meeting Indigenous activist Winona LaDuke in the early 90s, their environmentalism shifted to be through an Indigenous lens. The film shows how they’ve spent their lives trying to not only educate others but to educate themselves.

There is a burden to celebrity, another burden to being a queer celebrity, and yet another burden to being a queer celebrity thirty years ago. The film doesn’t ignore the impact of this burden — the frustrations, the anger, the jealousies, the alcoholism — but it does show how these two pushed through with music, friendship, and community.

It’s easier to deal with homophobia, sexism, and the many injustices of the world when you’re not alone. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers were never alone. They made themselves possible — they made each other possible. Saliers makes a point to say that while things have improved for some they have not for others. But we can carry on, like Ray and Saliers, with partners, collaborators, and chosen family.

We’re lucky to take their lessons — and their music — into the next fight.


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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is an LA-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. Her writing can be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Thrillist, I Heart Female Directors, and, of course, Autostraddle. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about trans lesbians. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @draw_gregory.

Drew Burnett has written 330 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. I discovered the Indigo Girls as a high-schooler in the 90s and before I was out would say “I like it because it’s feminist, it’s not like I’m a lesbian”…

    Thanks for the review, Drew. Can’t wait to see it.

  2. Thanks for this review of a doc I have been anticipating in a way that makes me hesitant to see reviews first! That’s why I sought out your trustworthy review hands for this one! So psyched AS is at Sundance and I can live vicariously through a queer lens :).

  3. I don’t know why your favorable review of this film and the Indigo Girls touched me as much as it did, but I really value your perspective on media, Drew, and it made me almost emotional.

    I was a big fan growing up in the 90s into the early 00s. Before I could name what drew me to them (not just their harmonies and lyrics, but how they were in themselves, their activism, and just generally what they represented), I felt it.

    When I came out to my parents at 16 my (very Christian but a huge music lover) father’s response literally was “is this because I took you to see the Indigo Girls? I feel like this is my fault” (…not sure he correctly ascertained the direction of that cause/effect!)

    It’s been years since I listened to them much, but last summer I took my six-year-old to see them. It was a huge outdoor venue, they were tiny bugs on a big screen, but we live in a rural area (not queer and generally pretty homogenous) and my heart was so full to be there with her, singing along, surrounded by an intergenerational sea of queers. (She was also thrilled when some hip young lesbians complimented her rainbow leggings, because FASHION.)

  4. Great review! I’m excited to see this. At my Catholic, supposedly “all girls” high school in the 90s, we sang Indigo Girls songs instead of hymns at all the liturgies. That environment was so queer (the faculty included so many ex-nuns dating each other, our sex ed teacher was trans, etc.) that I didn’t think of the music as radical or interesting at the time, but when I went on to more hostile experiences (college) my indigo girls CDs were a huge source of comfort.

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