BFI Flare: Cured (2021)

Bennett Singer, Patrick Sammon

Running Time: 80 Minutes

In the opening moments, a warning flashes on-screen informing viewers of the graphic images this film contains, showing past treatments doctors used believing it would "cure" homosexuality. This appropriately sets the tone, as directors Bennett Singer and Patrick Sammon capture the story of how homosexuality was medically defined as a sickness, and the fight to change that. Through archive footage and interviews, life is given to this little-known tale that's an important piece of queer history.

By defining homosexuality as a sexual deviance, the richest and most influential psychiatrists ensured a group of people would be seen as second-class citizens. Such a stigma left people fearful of being their true selves, with one heartbreaking recollection regarding a children's teacher who felt he needed to be "cured" as he didn't want to lose the job he adored. Horrifying recollections detail the lengths taken to escape being ostracised, including the barbaric treatment endured for the sake of being "cured". There's also the awful ways of proving they were straight, with a reverend sharing how she was forcibly married at age 14.

Leading the fight to change this was the Gay Liberation Movement, whose passion and fury burns through. These activists took action by disrupting psychiatric meetings, and encouraging a dialogue being started by both sides. This small action caused ripple effects, as psychiatrists began to see the queer community as real, living beings. Not all changed their minds though, with Dr Charles Socarides being framed as the main proponent for these bigoted attitudes, and showing the terrifying result it had on his family. He's a by-product of Conservatism dominated America in the 50s, which allowed hard-headed dismissals to be the appropriate response in this dialogue. By the 70s, a more sympathetic ear managed to take prominence, allowing for more sympathy to shine through.

One of the most powerful stores told regards Dr John Fryer, who wanted to speak at a key conference about the effects homophobia had even on psychiatrists. After previously being fired for his sexuality, John didn't want to risk his current job, so agreed to speak under some conditions. Attending in a disguise, under a pseudonym, and with his voice modified, John felt comfortable enough to speak on the injustices faced, and the speech is one of the most affecting moments within this documentary.

A wise inclusion are the rays of happiness during these turbulent times, as tales are recounted of meeting life-partners, while footage shows people enjoying being their true selves, however momentary. These are much needed respites from the powerful retelling of history, capturing a condensed look at a long battle which continues all the way through the credits. As "The Other Side of the Rainbow" plays by TUCKER, it's emotional to see how far things have come since then, and how these tireless efforts paid off.