A fitting tribute for World AIDS Day

Dr Sally Marlow reports from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience LGBT film night.

On 30th November the Diversity and Inclusion team at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience held an LGBT film night. As Richard Barnard of the Institute explained, the idea came about after reading Matthew Todd’s Straight Jacket, in which he observes that LGBT+ portrayals on movies are generally negative and stigmatising – the gay man is portrayed as a paedophile, or a serial killer; the gay woman as a beautiful object whose sexuality is to excite straight men; the trans person as emotionally unstable.  For this event the curator, Jean-Philippe Calvin, had put together seven short dramas to counteract that negativity.

The night opened with Closets, where intergenerational progress and lack thereof were explored when two boys who live in the same house 30 years apart meet in a wardrobe in their bedroom. The film depicts differing parental attitudes to coming out, which are known to be key in vulnerability for mental health problems.  

Then Alaska is a Drag contrasted life in a fish gutting factory in small town Alaska, with dreams of fabulousness and glitter on a stage. The storyline examines intersectionality, with its African American main character surrounded by a sea of white peers hostile to both his imagination and his sense of self. 

We were then treated to James Dean, a sometimes hilarious Scottish short, in which Alex inches towards telling their parents “I’m a tranny”.

In contrast the beautifully shot Dawn was serious and meditative, playing on the long tradition of two strangers meeting, and challenging our preconceptions. 

An incredibly sweet teenage love story followed: the Brazilian I don’t want to go back alone, in which a blind boy and a sighted school-friend slowly fall in love with each other.

My favourite film of the night was the French It’s not a cowboy movie (not freely available in the UK, but trailer here), in which the action alternated between two boys and two girls, both in the loos at school, discussing having seen Brokeback Mountain the night before. The ambiguity over the sexuality of the actors, and their reaction to the film, was played out in the safe but comedic settings of urinals and cheap cubicles. At the end they enter the real world again to make jokes about gayness – a sad and unexpected twist.

The last film was Trevor, introduced by Ellen DeGeneres (on film I should point out, unfortunately Ellen was not in real life in Camberwell last night). The growing pains of Trevor as he falls in love and is rebuffed, teased and isolated were writ large, with a lightness of touch which made the scene where he swallows pills in an attempt to escape everything incredibly moving. A beautiful little film which made me smile and cry.

We need more films like this, and more LGBT+ films in mainstream movies. Storytelling is how we understand each other and celebrate not only our similarities and human beings, but also our diversity.

- Reviewed by Dr Sally Marlow, National Addiction Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience King’s College London. 

- Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. Read more in our archive.

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