Thursday, March 18, 2021

CURED - BFI Flare 2021

The brilliantly constructed and vitally important documentary CURED epitomises everything I love about this genre of film. In its concise and beautifully organised 80 minute run-time - through newly unearthed historic footage and interviews with many of the major players -  I learned about a subject I had never even considered before, and felt its resonance to our contemporary lives.

Directors Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon tell the story of the fight to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The activists were arguing the point that homosexuality is not a disease that has to be cured, but simply a sexual orientation among many that should not be used to restrict one's rights to equal protection under the law, or to deny people basic common decency and dignity in every-day life.

It is not a struggle I had considered before, and as much as I vaguely knew about the misuse of psychiatric confinement, shock treatment and conversion therapy it was deeply shocking to see the reality of it: homosexuality defined in a list of deviancies next to pedophilia; photographs of immense wards filled with lesbians as if they are long-term sick; and most movingly an interview with a man actually subjected to shock therapy.  The idea that this kind of idiocy - like something out of a dystopian horror film like CLOCKWORK ORANGE - was actually being practiced only shortly before my lifetime made me shudder. 

But among the horrors we have the most wonderful people to meet and admire. From Barbara Gittings - an activist who seems so vital and smart on the archive footage - to the first gay psychiatrist who had the guts to address the APA, though masked, his voice cracking with emotion. We get an interview with the first psychiatrist who dared to question the dodgy data upon which contemporary treatments were founded, at the risk of damaging his own career. And we meet the son of one of conversion therapy's loudest advocates, not knowing his kid was gay. There's a wonderful catharsis when we learn of the removal of homosexuality from the DSM in 1973 and when we meet the current APA CEO who is gay and is sponsoring this film's exhibition in schools.

But - sadly - there's so much resonance to the ongoing civil liberties fights around the world - whether the fact that conversion therapy is still legal in the USA - to the rise in homophobic legislation in Eastern Europe and Russia.  And make it wider - think of all the ways in which civil liberties are incomplete for women, people of colour, people of low caste, people of oppressed religions.  The language is usually the same - one of dehumanisation. We describe those people we want to other as different, animal, mad, diseased, and so deserving or ring-fencing, treating as less than human. 

What I took from the film is that it takes individual acts of bravery to inspire others and resonate and slowly make changes. We can't all be Barbara Gittings but we can all look at how we can help.

CURED has a running time of 80 minutes and is not yet rated.

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