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The fight for queer rights is as urgent as ever and film continues to be a vital medium through which to document the LGBTQ+ protests of the past, and push for greater rights in the present. In the week when London Pride would normally take place (the Parade is cancelled due to Covid-19), and the Barbican Cinema programme would usually be celebrating queer cinema from around the world, Curator Alex Davidson has selected five films, all available to view online, showing queer protest at its very best.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, 2017 || David France

The documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (USA, 2017) pays tribute to the Black trans-woman who played a key role in the Stonewall riots and explores the suspicious circumstances surrounding her untimely death. The film includes archival interviews with Johnson, and new interviews with Johnson’s family, friends and fellow activists.

Before Stonewall, 1984 || Greta Schiller & Robert Rosenberg

The riots that followed the arrests at New York City’s Stonewall Inn in 1969 are widely considered to be a major development in the history of gay and lesbian rights in America. Greta Schiller and Robert Rosenberg’s documentary Before Stonewall (USA, 1984) investigates national cultural perceptions of homosexuality before the event, looking back on previous decades, particularly in regard to conflicts with police and censorship. In addition to interviews with activists and scholars, the film includes the reflections of renowned writer Allen Ginsberg.

Pride, 2014 || Matthew Warchus

The struggle for gay rights in 1980s England is deftly portrayed in Pride (UK/ France, 2014), directed by Matthew Warchus. A moving culture-clash comedy about the gay activists who joined the 1984 miners’ strike in solidarity, the tale seamlessly blends humour and the power of protest. The alliance was unlike any seen before although ultimately unsuccessful. The British historical comedy-drama is written by Stephen Beresford and based on a true story.

Breaking Free, 2015 || Sridhar Rangayan

Breaking Free (India, 2015) is directed by Sridhar Rangayan and produced by Solaris Pictures. In this documentary, filmmaker and gay activist Rangayan embarks on a personal journey to expose the human rights violations faced by the LGBTQ community in India due to a draconian law, Section 377, introduced during the colonial era, interrogating the homophobic social values of a patriarchal society. The film was selected to be part of the Indian Panorama (non-Fiction) and screened at International Film Festival of India in 2015. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

120 BPM (Beats Per Minute), 2018 || Robin Campillo

The urgency of protest is also central to Robin Campillo’s 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute) (France, 2018), which pulses with the thrill of dissent and passion, as Parisian activists combat political inaction towards the AIDS crisis.

Feature image: Marsha P. Johnson, The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, 2017, David France (via Pinterest)

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