This post includes spoilers from the upcoming film Pride, which will be released in select U.S. theaters on September 26.
“Pride” is one of the seven deadly sins, which has always made its usage by the LGBT community a bit ironic. It has never, of course, been the negative connotation of hubris that defines LGBT pride, but a rejection of shame and a celebration of belonging — not only to the LGBT community itself but to society as a whole. It is that sense of pride that is on grand display in the new dramedy film Pride.
In 1984, Margaret Thatcher’s administration announced the closing of 20 coal mines across the United Kingdom, as well as plans to close as many as 70. On top of already tense relations between the unions and Thatcher, this led to walk-outs and strikes that lasted a year, marked by violent conflicts between miners and police officers. Pride tells the very true story of how a group of gay and lesbian activists from London (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, or LGSM) raised money to support striking coal miners in the small Welsh village of Dulais Valley. Many of the characters in the film (though not all) are based on their real-life counterparts, some of whom are only known by reputation and by glimpses found in an amateur documentary once made about the effort.
Because the strike ultimately proved unsuccessful, the film doesn’t linger on the picket lines, allowing Thatcher to serve as the film’s MacGuffin while the plot focuses on the interaction between LGSM and the miners. The true antagonists of the film are instead the members of Dulais Valley who oppose the support of “perverts,” who they believe are operating under selfish motivations to win support for gay rights by simply using the miners as a pedestal. This conflict is not only more interesting, but is surely what allows the film to have as much heart as it does.
Mark Ashton, the young gay activist who helped found LGSM, is brash and makes quick decisions, but is adamant about his support for the miners. In the amateur documentary, the real life Ashton explained, “One community should give solidarity to another. It is really illogical to say, ‘I’m gay and I’m into defending the gay community but I don’t care about anything else.’” His compassion for the miners shines through in the film through actor Ben Schnetzer, who similarly opines about the importance of one group supporting the other. (Ashton died of AIDS complications in 1987 at the age of 26.)
If anything, Pride lays it on a little thick. For example, one of the miners who most eagerly embraced LGSM’s support, Dai Donovan, regularly references an insignia on the union’s flag of two hands clasped in friendship and the ideals of supporting one another regardless of who you are. But rather than feeling too obvious, the film makes the partnership — and the shared feeling of oppression — feel rather sincere. The gay activists joke near the top of the movie that they’ve been beaten a lot less by the police as of late, concluding that it’s because the police are preoccupied trying to quell the strike. Indeed, one of the contributions LGSM makes to the village is a bit of legal counsel to help release strikers who’d been unlawfully detained. These common experiences are exactly what made the partnership succeed both in reality 30 years ago and in the new film now.
Pride also has its share of traditional gay tropes. There’s the young guy coming out for the first time who isn’t accepted by his family, the violent anti-gay hate crimes, and of course, the rise of the AIDS epidemic. One character reconnects with his estranged mother, while another character comes to terms with his own identity. Refreshingly, the film also offers some attention to the partnership between gay men and lesbians, as well as the tension between them, themes that have been similarly true for the United States LGBT movement but seldom portrayed in adapted accounts of its history. All of these subplots within the gay community, however trite they might feel out of context, help convey the sincerity of LGSM’s intentions, because even though its members were facing their own struggles related to their identities, they remained firmly committed to supporting the miners.
This not only defines how the movie derives such warmth, but epitomizes the progress of equality. Indeed, the rapid success of LGBT rights over the last half-century is largely due to the partnerships LGBT people have made with other movements. LGSM’s efforts are poignant, but not unique, as the U.S. LGBT movement has long had very strong relationships with Labor. Racial justice has similarly long been a priority for LGBT rights groups, and over the past decade, LGBT leaders have taken a firm stance on immigration equality, even being arrested for the cause. And this weekend, there will be a contingent of LGBT activists participating in the Peoples Climate March in NYC, representing another growing alliance for a shared cause.
There are two significant reasons why these partnerships have been a defining part of the LGBT movement, both of which are artfully addressed by the conflicts in Pride. Most obvious is the power of synergy. When different groups work together, they can each help each other accomplish goals that neither could accomplish alone. But the second reason speaks to why LGBT people are perhaps more primed to such partnerships. Because sexual orientation and gender identity are not hereditary (however genetic and innate they might be), LGBT people are everywhere, cutting across all races, genders, geographies, and socioeconomic statuses. Thus, on the whole, they are not as commonly situated as an ethnic or working community might be, which means that there is always an intersection to be found between the LGBT community and any other disadvantaged group. All issues are LGBT issues.
That’s what both Pride and pride are all about. Hands clasped in friendship may be hokey, but a rejection of shame and oppression is a value many groups can — and indeed, have — rally around. As the real-life Dai Donovan said at the “Pits and Perverts” benefit concert, which raised £5,650 for the miners, “You have worn our badge, Coal Not Dole, and you know what harassment means, as we do. Now we will pin your badge on us, we will support you. It won’t change overnight, but now 140,000 miners know that there are other causes and other problems. We know about blacks and gays and nuclear disarmament and we will never be the same.”
There is already talk that Pride could become a musical. So long as songs don’t overwhelm the emotional and yet comic subtlety conveyed onscreen in superb performances by the likes of Andrew Scott (Sherlock), Bill Nighy (Love, Actually), and Dominic West (The Wire), the Full Monty-esque themes could easily thrive on the stage for years to come. For now, the film successfully offers two hours of laughs and cheers as it epitomizes the core of LGBT advocacy and, arguably, the advancement of social justice everywhere.