We are living in a golden era of queer film.
Films such as Sauvage, Booksmart and Girl are winning awards and great critical acclaim.
But the stories we are usually told invariably come from Europe and the US, while voices from Asia, Africa and Latin America remain unheard.
‘Cinema was a saviour’
Growing up as a gay kid in the 1980s and 90s in the UK, I was surrounded by negative representations of queer people.
AIDS panic led to anti-gay hysteria splashed across the front pages of Britain’s tabloids.
Thatcher’s government implicated the explicitly homophobic Section 28. It’s a legislation which has sprung back into public consciousness following the recent schools protests in Birmingham, and beyond.
Cinema was a saviour. Seeing positive, even happy representations of queer people in films such as Maurice and Beautiful Thing, amid all the homophobic bile offered hope, was something to aspire to.
Plus, of course, I was lucky to grow up in a country where being queer wasn’t illegal. (Although gay marriage and the equalisation of the age of consent were still a long way off).
The rights situation for LGBTQ+ people worldwide is, to say the least, complicated.
Some areas of the world making progress while others embrace regressive, and in some cases horrifying, attitudes.
A wave of anti-gay purges took place in Chechnya in 2017. The same year same-sex marriage became legal in Australia.
Earlier this year, Brunei, briefly, made homosexuality punishable by death while in June Botswana moved forward, decriminalising same-sex activity.
Today, homosexuality is illegal in more than 70 countries.
‘Rafiki, a Kenyan film temporarily banned in its home country’
Although LGBTQ+ film festivals occasionally showcase films from countries where queer people face oppression, they very seldom receive distribution.
A rare exception is Wanuri Kahiu’s Rafiki, a Kenyan film temporarily banned in its home country, where male homosexuality is illegal, for ‘promoting lesbianism’ which, following its film festival run, did get a number of cinema screenings in the UK. But that is the exception rather than the rule.
I am a film curator at London arts center, The Barbican. This is where my new program Forbidden Colours comes in.
We want to celebrate some of the very best films, often made under extremely difficult circumstances. Made in countries where queer people continue to face societal oppression and human rights abuses.
We are launching Forbidden Colours this July. It is a new film strand at the Barbican, where you can watch rarely seen queer-focused films from countries where LGBTQ+ face oppression, and struggle for equality.
‘Despite winning a queer film award, it has yet to be picked up for UK distribution’
Our opening film, Retablo [above], is a powerful tale of a teenager struggling to come to terms with his father’s sexuality, in an Andes village where traditional values about masculinity dominate.
It’s a beautifully acted drama with superb performances. Despite winning a queer film award at the Berlin Film Festival, it has yet to be picked up for UK distribution.
Our next film, Several Conversations about a Very Tall Girl, couldn’t be more different.
It’s an intimate character study of two lesbians living in Bucharest. One very confident in their sexuality, the other much less certain.
While Romania has made progress in LGBT rights legislation, it remains a socially conservative country, demonstrated by the fact that one of the lovers in the film is anxious about leaving the flat with her girlfriend.
As Forbidden Colours continues, we will showcase more brilliant cinema about queer lives from places where LGBTQ+ people still struggle for equality. Their stories, and the need to see them, are as important as ever.
For further info & ticket availability please go to barbican.org.uk.