REVIEW: Cured (BFI Flare 2021)
Whilst today the LGBTQ+ community and its allies are still fighting for a range of rights and freedoms, one that is receiving particular attention at this present moment is the campaign for a ban on conversion therapy. Similarly, during the 60s and 70s, there was also a range of injustices to overcome. However, one of the main fights was to have homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders produced by the American Psychiatric Association or APA. In this publication, homosexuality was at the top of a list of mental disorders and as a result many queer people experienced horrendous homophobia and harmful abuse in an attempt to “cure” them. This is the subject of directors Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon’s new feature-length documentary, Cured, which tells the story of the queer resistance and its essential leaders that fought against this discriminatory classification.
The film does well to provide context for audiences into how gay people were treated in this period, showcasing how they experienced hate from all of the bodies that are meant to protect the vulnerable in society, namely the healthcare service, the church and the police force. Gay people were seen as sick, sinful and criminal and many risked being exposed to dangerous medical procedures in order to “cure” them from their so called mental illness, which of course was nothing more than their sexual orientation. The film details the range of procedures that gay people endured, including but not limited to shock therapy, castration and lobotomies. Many viewers will find this distressing, and understandably so, but it’s important that this damaging part of queer history is spoken about and learnt from. The film does well to address it, and to make clear that these methods were extremely dangerous and caused immeasurable harm to those who were forced to undergo them.
So, if it wasn’t already obvious enough, the film makes sure that it explicitly details the reasoning why this classification of homosexuality as a mental illness needed to be changed. From this point on, the film introduces key individuals and groups who were instrumental in fighting for this, as well as the specific moments and events that proved essential in battling against the classification. In doing this, Cured pays tribute to the amazing queer activists who fought for many of the rights and freedoms that the LGBTQ+ community enjoy today. It also helps to educate the younger generations of this very community. as well as those from outside it, on this important queer history that is so often neglected by today’s society.
The film progresses through the timeline of events that leads to the APAs final decision on whether or not to remove homosexuality as a mental illness in a sensible, structured and informative manner. Whilst this may feel a little uninspired for some viewers, the film is constantly engaging thanks to the spotlight it shines on the varying characters and personalities of this movement, helping to connect audiences to the overall story. People like Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings and John Fryer all contributed to this fight for freedom, with considerable effort and are just some of the names profiled here. And despite the fact that their names will be known to many already, the film will also serve as an excellent tool in educating those viewers who are learning about these people for the first time.
Furthermore, at only 80 minutes long this is an incredibly accessible documentary, yet it never feels like it isn’t detailed enough. It expertly strikes the delicate balance of providing an abundance of factual information about its subject, complimented with touching and interesting personal testimony from those relevant to the discussion. A wide range of voices are consulted for this documentary and it does well to uplift their stories however its more specific focus on a smaller number of these voices is an effective decision in helping the film retain its direction and for allowing audiences to easily follow its narrative.
Ultimately, Cured ensures that it remembers those from inside and out of the LGBTQ+ community who were harmed as a result of the attempts to “cure” queer people during this period in history. It condemns the abuse that was inflicted upon them and educates audiences on the trauma that this has caused. It details the struggles of those queer activists who fought against it and celebrates how far this community has come, whilst still acknowledging that there’s always more work to be done. So with this in mind and due to the current campaign to ban conversion therapy still being debated, it also remains an incredibly timely film, providing an essential history lesson for queer and straight people alike.