Film Review: Are You Proud? ★★★

Are you proud?

It’s a simple question with a lot of long and complicated answers, as highlighted in Ashley Joiner’s fascinating but unfocused documentary on the state of the LGBTQ movement in the United Kingdom.

The film begins with a personal look at the state of queer Britain in the mid 20th century. A former military officer tells his own story of being gay, marrying a woman and living a life in the shadows. “I lived a complete lie. No one ever knew I was gay.”

Today, the United Kingdom has more Pride events that any other European country, the largest being the annual Pride march in London . London Pride is orbited by dozens of regional celebrations and smaller events with a tighter social or political focus, all forming a web of different interest groups and communities. It’s the vibrant and messy tapestry of LGBTQ life.

Are You Proud? has assembled a wide range of archive material and interviews with LGBTQ elders to unfold the history of Pride in Britain and the issues it faces today.

Key moments in British LGBTQ history are explored by the people who were there; the formation of the UK Gay Liberation Front in 1970, the first LGBT demonstration, the first Pride march in London in 1972, the work of LGSM (Lesbians and Gay Support the Miners) in the 1980s, AIDS and Section 28, and the creation of dual organisations OutRage! and Stonewall.

This is broken up with a look at the modern London Pride march, the politics around its purpose, commercialisation and representation, discussions of racism and transphobia among the gay and lesbian community, the current rollback of LGBTQ support around the globe, with side trips to UK Black Pride, Trans Pride Birmingham, Peckham Pride and the Queer Picnic.

It’s these diversions that feel out of place in the mix. There is an extended look at the Soho vigil for the victims of the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida. While the event was a wonderful moment of solidarity, it says little about the topic at hand, especially as the 1999 London Soho bombings are not even mentioned. Delving into intersectional issues muddies the water further as the film begins to spread itself too thin. Chryssy Hunter of Opening Doors London (discussing the issues of the trans community) says, “There are real battles to be fought and that’s not a good thing, but it’s a very focussing thing.” I wish more of that focus was on the screen.

The result is a slightly distracted film that is part historical record and part queer “state of the nation”. It’s littered with prescient and complicated issues that may have been better served by creating separate projects rather than in one interweaving documentary. Are You Proud? will certainly educate, but also leave you with a lot more questions to explore.

By Chad Armstrong

There will be Q&A screenings with director Ashley Joiner and Are You Proud? contributors around the UK from July. Special pre-London Pride screenings take place Tuesday 2nd July at Genesis Cinema, Mile End (in association with Fringe Film Fest) and Wednesday 3rd July at Picturehouse Central.

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