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Documentary Film  
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Two biographical documentaries, Nancy D. Kates and Bennett Singer's Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2002) and Joan Elizabeth Biren's No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phylis Lyon (2003), contribute to queer history by illuminating the individual's role in sweeping historical change.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2002) relies on archival footage to trace the civil rights movement in the 1960s, and racism and homophobia in the United States. Rustin, the organizing figure behind the 1963 March on Washington, lived with the possibility that exposure of his homosexuality could harm the momentum of the movement. When the homophobia of his allies and enemies generated public scrutiny, Rustin detached himself from the central figures of the movement but remained an outspoken activist on many civil rights issues. A wealth of archival footage of Rustin provides an insightful personal profile within the sweep of history.

No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (2003) covers 50 years in the history of lesbian and gay civil rights. Filmmaker Joan Biren started making the film in 1999, and it premiered on the 50th anniversary of the partnership of Del Martin and Phylis Lyon, activists who were at the forefront of the struggle for glbtq equality. Through documenting their lives, Biren assembles a dynamic history of lesbian rights in the United States and the growth of the glbtq community.

Established documentary filmmakers have also contributed to the recent national debate on topics central to lesbian and gay rights. Arthur Dong's Fundamentals (2002) poses the question "What happens when parents believe that their own kids represent the very element that will lead to the destruction of the human race." Dong attempts to understand the vehement reactions of religious families to their college age-children's homosexuality.

Since 2001 more than 25 documentaries have examined gay marriage from different perspectives. Jim de Sève's Tying the Knot (2003) ambitiously depicts the political and social forces arrayed against gay marriage, as well as the struggles of lesbian and gay couples in different states with different laws and differing public opinion. It reveals the complexity of a national battle often simplified by other documentaries. Abigail Honor's Saints and Sinners (2004) depicts the struggle of a gay male couple to receive the "Holy Sacrament of Marriage" in the Roman Catholic Church.

Canadian filmmaker Alexis Fosse Mackintosh's Let No One Put Asunder (2004) depicts the obstacles to marriage faced by three Canadian same-sex couples in the context of a national political debate in which a major figure from the Conservative Party supported a legislative ban on gay marriage.

Several recent documentaries on AIDS examine its global impact. For example, Rory Kennedy's Pandemic: Facing AIDS (2003) chronicles the devastation wrought by AIDS in countries such as Uganda and Thailand. But Louise H. Jogarth shocked the American gay community with The Gift (2003), about the efforts of some HIV-negative men to be infected with the disease.

Judy Wilder and Laura Barton's The Dildo Diaries (2003) examines the Texas Penal Code (which makes owning six or more dildoes a felony) and its effects on the adult sex toy industry. Through probing and sometimes hilarious interviews with legislators, porn stars, sex shop owners, and others, the film honors the dildo's fight for legitimacy and underscores the danger of anti-sodomy laws, while exposing the absurdity of the actions of the Texas legislature.

Other topics that documentary filmmakers have investigated since 2002 include the history of the women's music movement in Dee Mosbacher's Radical Harmonies (2002); the persecution of gay men and lesbians in the less developed world in Janet Baus and Dan Hunt's Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World (2003); the impact of the "first all-lesbian" punk band in Tracy Flannigan's Rise Above: The Tribe 8 Documentary (2003); and the problems and contentments of rural gay life in Tom Murray's Farm Family: In Search of Gay Life in Rural America (2003).

The stakes are high for queer documentary filmmakers: the preservation of our history. They have responded to political change and shifting public opinion in a manner that represents the various positions of the queer community.

Richard C. Bartone

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arts >> Overview:  AIDS Activism in the Arts

In response to the AIDS epidemic, a number of activist groups, including Gran Fury and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, have used art as a means to raise awareness about the epidemic.

arts >> Overview:  American Television, News

Although glbtq people and issues have been inadequately covered by American television news, there have recently been signs of improvement.

arts >> Overview:  Canadian Television

The portrayal of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer people in English Canadian television programming has been sporadic, but the advent of PrideVision promises to increase the number of shows developed for a glbtq audience.

arts >> Overview:  Film Festivals

The queer film festival circuit came into its own in the early 1990s and has since burgeoned into a major international phenomenon.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay-Straight Alliances

Gay-straight alliances are youth-led, school- or community-based groups designed to assist glbtq students, children from glbtq families, and heterosexual students who want to be allies of their glbtq peers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Rural Life

Rural life offers both challenges and satisfactions for glbtq people.

social sciences >> Achmat, Zackie

South African activist Zackie Achmat has been a pivotal figure in his country's progress in the area of glbtq rights and in its response to AIDS.

social sciences >> ACT UP

Using bold images and confrontational tactics, ACT UP worked to promote awareness of AIDS and challenge the complacency of politicians and government officials in the early years of the epidemic.

arts >> Adam, Margie

A pioneer in the women's music movement, Margie Adam helped create a new political music genre that celebrated lesbian love and the changing lives of women.

arts >> Beyer, Georgina

As the first open transgender person in New Zealand to be elected to the offices of mayor and Member of Parliament, Georgina Beyer has evinced courage, humor, and personal honesty.

arts >> Biren, Joan Elizabeth (JEB)

During the 1970s and 1980s, the photographs of Joan Elizabeth Biren, better known as JEB, defined and set the standard for lesbian feminist image making in the United States.

arts >> Black, Dustin Lance

Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black has quickly established himself as both an accomplished filmmaker and a committed activist.

arts >> Bono, Chaz

The child of a famous show business couple, Chaz Bono has had to cope with family resistance and intense public scrutiny as he came out, first as a lesbian, then as a transgender man.

arts >> Bowery, Leigh

Club host, fashion designer, face about town, and artists' muse, Leigh Bowery transformed his body into a centerpiece of his performance art.

social sciences >> Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America, formed to rehabilitate masculinity in the early twentieth century, has constantly seen itself as under attack or at least challenged by homosexuality or effeminacy, and its official policy excluding homosexuals has recently led to several legal and social challenges.

arts >> Deitch, Donna

Although pioneering film and television director Donna Deitch is best known for Desert Hearts, a classic of lesbian cinema, she has also made other films that probe gay and lesbian relationships

arts >> Dong, Arthur

The documentaries of filmmaker Arthur Dong, including several works that examine the roots of anti-gay attitudes in American culture and society, are distinguished by their humanity and complexity.

social sciences >> Ellis, Ruth

Ruth Ellis became an icon of the glbtq community in Detroit, where she lived for most of her life, and an inspiration to many others.

arts >> Epstein, Rob

Writer, director, and producer Rob Epstein is one of the most accomplished documentary filmmakers of his generation, having worked on a number of landmark gay-themed films.

arts >> Fernie, Lynne

Canadian filmmaker Lynne Fernie has had a varied career in the arts, but is best known as the co-director of the celebrated 1992 documentary Forbidden Love: The Unashamed Stories of Lesbian Lives.

literature >> Ginsberg, Allen

The forthrightly gay Allen Ginsberg is probably the best-known American poet to emerge in the post-World War II period.

arts >> Hammer, Barbara

The most prolific lesbian feminist filmmaker in the history of cinema, Barbara Hammer creates works that are among the most thoughtful celebrations of queer life.

social sciences >> Hay, Harry

Activist Harry Hay, an original member of both the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, is recognized as one of the principal founders of the gay liberation movement in the United States.

social sciences >> Hooker, Evelyn

American psychologist Evelyn Hooker's pioneering studies on male homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s challenged the "sickness" model of homosexuality then prevalent.

arts >> Hudson, Rock

A product of Hollywood's star system, Rock Hudson became an international symbol of heterosexuality, wearing a mask until it was savagely ripped off when he was diagnosed with AIDS.

literature >> Jarman, Derek

In both his films and his writings, Derek Jarman's explicit project was to celebrate gay sexuality and imagine a place for it in English culture.

arts >> Kleiser, Randal

Although best known for his direction of lighter fare such as Grease, Randal Kleiser made his most significant contribution to gay cinema with the 1996 AIDS-themed "It's My Party."

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.

social sciences >> Lyon, Phyllis, (b. 1924) and Del Martin (1921-2008)

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were among the founders of a lesbian liberation movement that developed and enlarged the very definition of lesbianism.

social sciences >> Milk, Harvey

Harvey Milk, among the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States, was assassinated in San Francisco's City Hall, making him the American gay liberation movement's most visible martyr.

literature >> Monette, Paul

In novels, poetry, and a memoir, Paul Monette wrote about gay men striving to fashion personal identities and, later, coping with the loss of a lover to AIDS.

arts >> Nyad, Diana

Long-distance swimmer and respected sports commentator has in more recent years spoken out on issues of glbtq rights.

social sciences >> Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 was the German law prohibiting sex between men; strengthened by the Nazis, it was the statue under which homosexuals were sent to concentration camps.

social sciences >> Polis, Jared

Businessman and philanthropist Jared Polis became one of only three openly gay members in Congress, and the first openly gay man elected to Congress as a freshman, when he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008.

arts >> Praunheim, Rosa von

One of Germany's leading gay activists and chroniclers of queer life, filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim makes films intended to foster self-examination by gay people and to advance gay rights.

arts >> Riggs, Marlon

African-American filmmaker Marlon Riggs celebrated black culture and gay male sexuality, while exposing homophobia and racism.

social sciences >> Rustin, Bayard

One of the key African-American civil rights activists of the twentieth century, Bayard Rustin and his legacy have long been obscured because of embarrassment over his homosexuality and early involvement in the Communist Party.

arts >> Schwarzenbach, Annemarie

Swiss writer and photojournalist Annemarie Schwarzenbach documented social conditions from Afghanistan to Alabama; her fiction reflected the tormented attachments and recurring loneliness that plagued her short lifetime.

social sciences >> Teena, Brandon

Twenty-year-old Brandon Teena was brutally murdered on December 31, 1993 on account of gender non-conformity.

arts >> Weiss, Andrea

Award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker Andrea Weiss has produced innovative work that embodies her commitment both to art and to political action.

arts >> White, James Melville "Mel"

Mel White spent over thirty years serving the Evangelical Christian community; after struggling with his homosexuality for many years, he broke his ties with anti-gay religious leaders and became a glbtq activist.

arts >> Wright, Doug

The works of award-winning playwright, screenwriter, and librettist Doug Wright often focus on the unconventional lives of society\'s outsiders.


Bad Object-Choices, ed. How Do I Look: Queer Film and Video. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991.

Dyer, Richard. Now You See It: Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film. London: Routledge, 1990.

Gever, Martha, John Greyson, and Pratibha Parmar, eds. Queer Looks: Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Film and Video. London: Routledge, 1993.

Holmlund, Chris, and Cynthia Fuchs, eds. Between the Sheets, In the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Juhasz, Alexandra. AIDS TV: Identity, Community, and Alternative Video. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 1995.


    Citation Information
    Author: Bartone, Richard C.  
    Entry Title: Documentary Film  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 5, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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