Ashley Joiner documents the recent history of the British LGBTQ+ rights movement in England. He includes activist groups, oppressive legislation, horrific acts of terrorism, and the celebratory events like Pride. With impressive illustrative archive footage, and a huge number of interviewees from across the movement, Joiner offers a vivid and complex impression of the movement.
The most striking thing about the documentary is it’s balance. For everyone praising and celebrating a movement or event there will be someone criticising it’s shortcomings. The beautiful vigil for victims of the Orlando shooting is contrasted with a warning as to the hypocrisy of only mourning gay people killed in the west is in turn contrasted with an argument that the racial aspect of the shooting (most of the victims where not white) should not be ignored.
Intersectionality becomes an important issue in the discussion of these movements. Upsetting stories of discrimination within groups like the Gay Liberation and attitudes of exclusion that further isolate people demonstrate the difficult atmospheres people find themselves in even in these communities. The extent to which these movements fail to represent their community is explored in great detail. London Pride is portrayed as a true celebration of diversity, but also as an over-commercialised opportunity for people to promote themselves. There are interviews with the organisers of Pride and it’s detractors.
The film doesn’t shy away from tragedy and outrage. The AIDS crisis is horrifically brought to life by heartbreaking testimonials of its survivors. The cruel timing of the Thatcher government introducing Section 28 at the height of the crisis is shown for all it’s impact. So many acts of oppression are documented. An interviewee is close to tears as he describes the practice of families “reclaiming” their dead gay children and burying them with no involvement of the communities that loved them.
Yet this is also a celebration of the victims and the oppressed and all the people who didn’t accept the society that wronged them, and continues to wrong these communities. Poetry, performance and pageantry all form part of the film’s vibrant portrayal of defiance and dignity. With the exception of a brief of Thatcher, there’s not a Cis voice to be heard. This film consists elusively of the voices of those affected. Those who live this.
Whether the film truly captures the nuanced history of the gay rights movement in the UK and the complex feelings LGBTQ+ community members towards the movements that supposedly represent their interests, I am unqualified to say. What I can say with certainty is that this is a very challenging insight into the hopes and fears of a community continually put at risk. It’s a fantastic summary of fifty years of struggle and oppression, victory and bitter defeat. It’s an urgent and emboldened cry of injustice with a valuable message: whilst some of us live in fear, how can any of us be proud?