Are You Proud?

 

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Not just another documentary about gay life, but a film with something distinctive to say.

 
Are You Proud
 

A few years ago, a young man named Ashley Joiner realised that he was shockingly ignorant about gay history and the fight for liberation from the 1960s onwards. Being gay himself, he felt that his need to know applied no less to many others in his situation. That realisation led him to make this documentary feature first given a screening at a festival in 2017 as a work in progress and now released in its completed form. He has described Are We Proud? as being a film that is truly reflective of who we are. Arriving on our screens as it does in the year that marks the fiftieth anniversary of the famous Stonewall uprising which played a pivotal role in the demand for gay rights in America, it has to be said that television programmes have been made recently about this particular history. Consequently, it is appropriate to stress the valuable ways in which Are You Proud? differs from those other pieces.

 

In its final version, Joiner's film comes across as a rather odd conjunction of two separate threads. It starts out as the history he envisaged as it touches on key elements in this country: the Wolfenden Report of 1957, the Gay Liberation Front, the first Gay Pride march in London (1972), the backlash against the anti-gay legislation in Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988 and the arrival of contrasted campaigning groups, Stonewall on the one hand and the more provocative protestors of Outrage and Act Up on the other. For the most part Joiner selects as interviewees those still with us who played substantial roles in these events. These are valuable direct contributions not seen in the same way elsewhere.

 

The second thread is the film's emphasis on the London Pride march of 2016 after which it broadens out to reflect the current scene. The criticism that the once political Pride marches have become commercialised is not ignored here, just as down sides in earlier periods are acknowledged (there is, for example, open talk of sexism and racism in the early 1970s within the Gay Liberation Front). The fact that the film offers some history but then jumps to 2016 after which it reverts to the historical narrative prior to returning once again to more recent times makes for a rather strange shaping of the material. But no matter, a reaction prompted also by the inevitable omissions in the history section (no mention, for example, of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement or of Tom Robinson's song 'Glad to be Gay' which was for years a gay anthem).

 

What the film's mix does bring out and what gives Are You Proud? its distinctive character is its emphasis on the extent to which the personal is political. Those criticisms of Pride becoming too commercialised encourage the feeling that the political aspect of gay history in this country has faded over the years. Are You Proud? refutes that notion by stressing the broadening of the issues now in focus. Thus we have the Lesbian and Gay tag extending to becoming LBTQ+ as illustrated by such events as 'Trans Pride Brighton' and 'UK Black Pride'. Similarly, concerns over the treatment of immigrants and refugees, whether or not their sexuality is involved, are growing. Then there is the increased sense of alignment with comparable people in other countries as memorably evoked here by the Soho vigil in 2016 over the Orlando night club killings in America. Joiner makes us realise that today's gay movements remain without question politically aware and politically important too.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Andrew Lumsden, Theodore York Walker Brown, Michael Cashman, Stuart Feather, Lisa Power, Nettie Pollard, Chris Smith, Riyadh Khalaf, George Montague, Gethin Roberts, Sami Gee, Fox Fisher, Peter Tatchell, Isaac Julien, Femi Otitjou, Simon Watney, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Jacob V. Joyce, Jason Jones.

 

Dir Ashley Joiner, Pro Dan Cleland and Christian Gordine, Ph Joseph Dunn and others, Ed Charlie Hawryliw, Music Ruth Bulman and Daniel McBride.

 

Lions Den Films-Peccadillo Pictures.
95 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 26 July 2019. Cert. 15.