Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, beamed into living rooms across the nation and around the world, is a powerful recognition of how far we’ve come on rights for LGBTIQ+ Australians. But we must never forget that the very first march in 1978 was a proud protest against homophobic, state-sponsored brutality.
Some queer Australians are still doing it tough, and hard-won rights can be lost. In honour of their unbowed spirit, we present these five fascinating films.
Sometimes solidarity comes from the oddest quarters. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was determined to break the miners’ strike of 1984–85, siccing riot police on protestors and seizing union funds.
Recognising that her vicious tactics – backed ferociously by the tabloids – matched those faced by the queer community, activists Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) and Mike Jackson (Joseph Gilgun) rallied support among London’s vocal queer community. Initially wary, they banded together as ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’. Miners in the rural Welsh communities they bussed into were equally wary, but they soon fused forces mightily.
A big-hearted rabble-rouser directed by Matthew Warchus from a screenplay by Stephen Beresford, Pride took home the Queer Palm from the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Featuring superb performances from Their Royal Highnesses Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton, Years and Years lead Russell Tovey, Andrew ‘Hot Priest’ Scott and True History of the Kelly Gang star George MacKay, it’s a ripper.
Screening at 9.30pm, Friday 28 February on SBS World Movies and On Demand
Director Robin Campillo and co-writer Philippe Mangeot know what it means to face down an uncaring and at times outright hostile government, plus big pharma too. As prominent members of fearless HIV/AIDS activist group Act Up Paris, they beat the streets demanding action as countless people were dying during the height of the crisis in the early 1990s.
Set to the heart-skipping pulse of Bronski Beat’s ‘Smalltown Boy’, this beautiful tribute to passionate protest thrums with life despite the heartache. Scooping four awards at Cannes, including the Queer Palm, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois are dreamy as a serodiscordant couple pounding the frontlines together, with Portrait of a Lady on Fire star Adèle Haenel as one of the many lesbian allies who stood up. Divine.
Screening at 9.30pm, Wednesday 26 February on SBS World Movies and On Demand
Love is Strange
No matter the cost, love always wins over hate in the end. And for many Australians who fought for marriage equality, that win was long-sought recognition of lives lived together for decades.
Alfred Molina (Magnolia, Spider-Man 2) and John Lithgow (Bombshell, The Crown) play long-term New York couple George and Ben in Little Men writer/director Ira Sachs’ gently unmooring drama. Taking advantage of changes in state law to get hitched finally, shockingly George is sacked from his Catholic school teaching gig in a worrying foreshadowing of the possible effects of the Religious Freedom bill here.
Leading to homelessness, while friends rally round, they can only be accommodated individually. If that enforced separation stretches believability, the set-up elicits powerhouse performances from Molina and Lithgow, with sweet support from Marisa Tomei, Cheyenne Jackson (American Horror Story), Manny Perez (Luke Cage) and scene-stealer Charlie Tahan (Ozark/Gotham) as the put-out teen who has to share his room with Uncle Ben.
Screening at 9.30pm, Thursday 27 February on SBS World Movies and On Demand
Love is Strange Review
John Lithgow talks Love is Strange and why he and Alfred Molina make a great gay couple
Erik & Erika
Not all the letters in the rainbow alphabet enjoy the same levels of peace and privilege. Rates of violence are much higher for trans people, and the intersex community is often totally overlooked.
With some of the pep of Battle of the Sexes and a dollop of Wes Anderson’s whimsy, Austrian director Reinhold Bilgeri takes a light-hearted but sensitive look at the real-life headline-grabbing story of World Champion skier Erik Schinegger (Markus Freistätter).
Born intersex, he was raised as a girl and competed as such, ultimately leading to an intrusive medical inspection enforced by the International Olympic Committee just before the Grenoble Winter Olympics of 1968.
Given we’re still seeing sports codes’ heavy-handed policing of gender today, the fact the film opens with Erik happily transitioned is life-affirming. Erik & Erika may zip through some of the details and conflate the timeline, but its heart is definitely in the right place.
Screening at 9.30pm, Monday 24 February on SBS World Movies and On Demand
Based on the controversy-generating YA novel of the same name by lesbian writer Ariel Schrag, who also adapted Adam’s screenplay, this one’s a bit of an unusual button-pusher.
Centring on an underage high schooler (Nicholas Alexander, Good Girls), he’s a straight, cisgender guy who gets mistaken for a trans man while spending summer in NYC hanging out with his cool bisexual sister, played by Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Margaret Qualley.
More naïve fool than creepy predator, he nevertheless goes along with this misperception to hook up with cute, university-age Gillian (Bobbi Salvör Menuez, Transparent, I Love Dick), who identifies as lesbian but is open to dating trans men.
While the deception is indeed confronting, your mileage might be influenced by the fact Rhys Ernst directs it. A trans man and a producer on Transparent, he also casts prominent trans actors including Pose star MJ Rodriguez, Meneuz and The L Word: Generation Q’s Leo Sheng.
Posing interesting questions about gender and sexual identity with no easy answers, give it a go and you might be surprised by how things wind up.
Screening at 9.30pm, Tuesday 25 February on SBS World Movies and On Demand.
Follow the author here: @SARussellwords