Are You Proud?


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Are You Proud?
"Although it's not comprehensive it packs a lot into its 95 minute running time."

The 50th anniversary of the first steps in legalising sex between men in England and Wales, two years ago, prompted a renewed interest in Britain's LGBT history. From this there have emerged a number of documentary projects, some large, some small, of which Are You Proud? is the latest. It takes the viewer on a tour through that history, starting in the middle of the 20th Century, and although it's not comprehensive it packs a lot into its 95 minute running time.

We begin in a time when homosexuality was all but invisible as far as the average person was concerned - a period neglected by most documentaries on the subject, and the source of some affecting testimony. Sure, there were places where people met and there were coded narratives in films, books and paintings, but the average LGBT person knew nothing of all this. Many settled for marriage even if they knew that they could never have satisfying sexual relationships with their spouses. One of the most touching stories collected here is a man's account of his marriage to a best friend who understood his situation, and whom he loved dearly, though never romantically.

The early years of the Gay Liberation Front are explored in depth and the film does a good job of deconstructing the myths around it, revealing the reality of a group put together by people with very little experience and, to begin with, little idea what they were doing. It's good to see recognition of the way that major historical changes can be brought about by ordinary people simply giving it their best, and this of course reflects the way that the practice of interpreting history is itself changing. The importance of men and women working together at this stage is also plain to see - though each group faced different legal and cultural hurdles - and is touched on again later in reference to the AIDS crisis. Taking in the change in the law in 1967 and reflecting on the Stonewall riots in the US (with not a trace of the revisionism seen in recent years), the film carries us through the moral panic that brought Clause 28 and on through the equal marriage movement towards the present.

It's pleasing to see a film that deal with legal issues like these take due account of the differences in different parts of the UK, something too often overlooked. The film is also impressive in its exploration of the legacy of empire, looking briefly at how Britain exported homophobia around the globe and, in more depth, at its approach to dealing with the consequences of that, particularly in regard to its poor treatment of many LGBT asylum seekers.

Films like this often tend to focus on gay at lesbian history to the exclusion of other sexual and gender minorities. Are You Proud? does a fair job on trans issues (the recent moral panic is missing only due to the age of the film) and notes the way that understanding of the distinction between gender and sexual orientation took time to grow, even within the community itself. It's poor on bisexual issues, however, ignoring this group almost completely, which is unfortunate in light of the specific forms of prejudice and discrimination that bisexual people continue to face.

Clearly made for the international market, the film pays due attention to the impact of the Orlando shootings on LGBT communities in the US (Trump is touched on only briefly, again due to the age of the piece). It's curious that the Soho bombing doesn't get equal attention given its impact in the UK. There are a few curious omissions like this from the film as a whole but what it does, it does well. As long as it's not assumed to cover all the important bases, it's a good starting point for young LGBT people - or straight, cisgender people - who want to improve their understanding of this area of history.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2019
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A documentary bringing together rare archive footage and interviews from across a spectrum of campaigners to celebrate the progress that has been achieved through campaigning for LGBTQ+ rights.
Amazon link

Director: Ashley Joiner

Year: 2019

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2019

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