‘How can you be criminalised, for being born the way you are?’
A tragic and in a more tolerable world, needless question many a queer person has stirred over throughout the years, here reinforced by an elderly gay corporal who ended up marrying a woman, as he looked to deflect inane questioning of his lifestyle and love life.
2019 marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City as the oppression of LGBTQ rights, particularly of those most marginalised in the community such as transgender people and drag queens, reached a breaking point. No eye-roll worthy whitewashing here Roland Emmerich (2015’s misjudged effort Stonewall). This fiercely intelligent documentary from director Ashley Joiner actively encourages us to reflect on the significant progress made and devastating losses accumulated within five precious decades, whilst daring us to question our own perceptions and the lingering issues that are endemic within the LGBTQ+ community not just in the UK, but in the context of the wider world.
Condensing such history into a 90-minute feature is an unenviable task, but the sheer breadth and wealth of subject matter covered by Joiner is truly admirable. Rooting us in the 1960’s underworld where persecution and bigotry was rife. The wretched term ‘Beverley Sisters’ becoming all too familiar as police turned provocateurs to plague and lure the inhabitants of many a London gay bar, into a false sense of security. The documentary’s trajectory being the early infancy of queer people wrongly being condemned to the twilight of the night, with their urge to fight against an imposing threat growing stronger by each passing day, to gradually claw back to their place in the daylight.
Its politics are predictably potent. The familiarity of Welsh miners joining forces with the group LGSM (Lesbians And Gays Support The Miners) who celebrate their own 35th anniversary this year, explored in 2014 film Pride is one of many compelling and heart-breaking threads highlighted, where the introduction of Section 28 which in its basic terms looked to prevent the promotion of homosexuality, was introduced at the height of the HIV and AIDS crisis. The cruel robbing of romance and one’s dignity, in the most devastating of fashion.
Raining glitter and hope either side of this rotten time were the Gay Liberation Front who were a crucial fixture after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 through the Sexual Offences Act, along with the welcome ethos and forming of Stonewall in 1989 who looked to create an equal footing for gay men and women.
As a cisgender white gay man who was fortunate enough to walk in this year’s London Pride parade. The freedom and sense of celebration such an event can conjure may be overwhelming, which is lovingly captured in all its wonderful diversity by Joiner, without being overtly flashy in danger of diluting the issues at its core.
Yet it is not difficult to recognise the concerns raised and ultimately accept that within this community. There is great privilege in play in comparison to say how queer people of colour and women are treated, with the level of representation here a refreshing tonic in its balance and depth, but its statistics on anti-LGBT murders (70% people of colour) and asylum seekers (75% denied asylum are LGBTQ) leaving a bitter taste in the mouth.
The over-commercialisation of Pride, with the glossy corporates sometimes being frightfully limited in their stance on LGBTQ+ rights, perhaps holding ties with third parties that do more harm than good. At the potential cost of other activist groups looking to tackle homelessness for example. Being alienated and not having their voices heard, that whilst they may not be blessed with such riches, their value simply cannot be underestimated or cast aside. Triggering the creation of UK Black Pride also in London and Trans Pride in Brighton which shouldn’t be considered sources of division, recognising that whilst we are shared in our struggle for basic human right, there are undoubtedly matters that carry greater cultural significance and demand to be at the centre of any conversation.
There is a frank honesty and transparency about Ashley Joiner’s documentary that illuminates the screen like any rainbow in the sky. An immaculate delve into our past as much as it is a rousing ‘call to arms’ about eradicating the internal conflict and channelling efforts towards the poisonous powers that be who threaten our futures.
‘Are You Proud?’ is likely to inspire and rightly provoke much inquisition from all who set eyes on it.
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