Allies to the LGBTQ+ community are as important now as they have ever been. Whilst the rights for this community has massively improved, there are still many to be fought for. In over seventy countries it is still illegal to be gay, many members of the community routinely experience physical, verbal and mental abuse and gay conversion therapy is still legal in many countries including the UK.
The LGBTQ+ community is thankful for the help of allies and cinema has given us some amazing examples to look to and learn from. These examples are very real representations of the types of allies that have, and continue to, come to our aid when we need them most. However, in cinema, these allies are often overshadowed in order to keep the spotlight on the main LGBTQ+ characters. Whilst it is vitally important for the community to have this leading representation, they are still thankful for the kindness of allies on both smaller personal levels and larger, more far-reaching issues. So let’s take some time to appreciate and celebrate queer cinema’s amazing unsung allies.
The Mining Communities (Pride, 2014)
An example of a real-life group of allies that has been famously depicted on our cinema screens can be seen in Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus. The film retells the true story of London based support group LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) and their efforts to raise money for the families and communities affected by the miners’ strike of 1984-85. They outstretched their hands to the mining community who they saw victimised by the same forces that they were bullied by: the Thatcher administration, the tabloids, and police brutality. This hand was accepted by many of the communities and in Pride, the village community of Onllwyn is the focus.
However, even when LGSM were attempting to help they were still discriminated against and opposed by some. However, many of the residents of Onllwyn stood up for them, recognised their support and took a stand eventually encouraging others to do the same. This is a vital example of how changes in prejudices can occur and how we have to allow for this to progress our community relations.
The mining communities came out in force for the LGBTQ+ community in the 1985 Gay Pride celebrations and were instrumental in voting to have gay rights enshrined in the Labour Party Manifesto. The miners’ groups also showed their support for the LGBTQ+ community in the 1988 protests against Section 28, a despicable amendment that prohibited the positive promotion or teaching of homosexuality acceptance.
Political Allies (Milk, 2008)
Gus Van Sant’s Milk depicts the political career of California city supervisor Harvey Milk, portrayed in an Oscar-winning turn by Sean Penn. In one scene in the film, whilst discussing political plans for the improvement of queer civil rights, Milk exclaims “we need allies”. The film shows how Milk successfully lobbies for a city-wide ordinance that stopped the discrimination of gay individuals in work and housing scenarios.
The main focus of the film looks at the vote on Proposition 6. If passed, this proposition would have allowed public schools to fire any queer teachers and even any employee who supported them. The film shows how Milk used his political power to gain allies and eventually defeat this disgraceful proposition, an impossible feat if not for the support and allyship from those outside the LGBTQ+ community.
However, although what these allies have done for the queer community is thoroughly appreciated, it’s what should be expected. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about supporting someone’s human rights, people everywhere should advocate for this. However, there are allies who really do deserve a special thank you, those who support us without having first received something from us or those who continue to hold us up even after they’ve personally been hurt by the actions of someone from the queer community.
Mary (And Then We Danced, 2019)
Levan Akin‘s And Then We Danced follows dancer Merab, a young man training at the National Georgian Ensemble with his dance partner and girlfriend Mary. It’s not clear how long the couple has been dating, but Mary is ready to take their relationship to the next level physically. In one scene she obtains birth control so their relationship can become sexual. However, everything changes when a replacement dancer, Irakli, arrives at the ensemble. Merab and Irakli quickly connect and begin to develop feelings for each other, ultimately leading Merab to be unfaithful to Mary. Merab falls for Irakli hard, neglecting his relationship on and off the dance floor with Mary almost entirely.
When Irakli has to return to his hometown Merab’s stability begins to falter, longing for Irakli’s return. His usually disciplined approach to dancing becomes lacklustre and he tries to find meaning in the underground Georgian gay nightlife. In one scene Merab pushes himself too hard in dance rehearsals going on to injure himself. Mary, despite her suspicions about Merab and Irakli, helps him with his injury. There are numerous examples of Mary’s stoicism as she continuously supports her former lover, deciding to neglect her own heartbreak to tend to Merab’s; supporting him despite the betrayal that he imposed upon her.
Upon the film’s release in Georgia, it was met with much opposition with several homophobic groups protesting over screenings. Police intervention was required and those wishing to see the film had to risk harassment and abuse from the protestors. The events surrounding the film’s release help show why the LGBTQ+ fight for equality is far from over, but why we’re also so thankful for those kind and forgiving souls such as Mary.
Abby Susso (Love, Simon, 2018)
Abby, portrayed by Alexandra Shipp, is a wonderful example of how someone should react to a friend coming out. In Love, Simon, the titular lead character played by Nick Robinson decides that Abby, his close friend of six months will be the first peer he comes out to in person. She reacts calmly and assures Simon of her love for him. After this, she encourages Simon to talk about boys with her, something that Simon has never had the chance to do with a friend before. In doing so Abby reinforces the fact that Simon’s sexuality is normal, is nothing to be ashamed of, and is a part of Simon that should not be hidden, but instead embraced and vocalised.
As encouraging as all of this is, this is what should be expected of any friend/ally. Where Abby goes above and beyond is in her forgiveness of Simon for the way he treats her throughout the film. During the narrative, Simon is being blackmailed by Martin, one of his fellow students who discovers his concealed sexuality. He threatens to reveal Simon’s secret unless he helps him to get with Abby, thus forcing Simon to manipulate the feelings of his closest friends.
One must understand that whilst Simon’s actions are unacceptable, it is a direct result of his fear of his sexuality being exposed due to the homophobic attitudes held by most of modern society. Understandably, when his friends discover the truth Simon suffers a period of isolation. However, after a short time of friction Simon’s friends forgive him and support him as he ventures to find a happy ending for his own love life in the final stages of the film.
Despite the immense hurt that Simon has caused Abby, she remains loyal to him despite only knowing him six months as she understands the complexities of Simon’s situation and how the challenges of accepting his queer sexuality motivated his actions. To be able to see this through her own personal pain shows the strength of her allyship and why she is so deserving of praise.
Queer cinema is essential for the representation of LGBTQ+ groups and individuals all around the world as well as educating audiences of all sexualities. However, there are so many different aspects of these queer stories to appreciate and the interaction with allies is one of the most vital.
Queer cinema can teach viewers how to be good allies and also help educate everyone in the fights for rights that are still ongoing. So to all the cinematic allies, thank you, but more importantly to our real-life friends and allies, especially when you forgive us for the pain we often cause you, we value your support deeply and thank you for standing with us.
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