Film Review: GAY CHORUS DEEP SOUTH (written and directed by David Charles Rodrigues)

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by Barry Creyton on October 29, 2019

in Film

HITTING THE RIGHT NOTES

In 30 of the United States, LGBTQ people risk losing employment simply because of who they are. In Mississippi and North Carolina, laws have been passed to strip them of basic human rights.

In this seriously divided nation, hatred is endorsed by the present administration. Far from encouraging love of one’s neighbor as oneself, Christianity has been distorted to encourage opposition to anything which disagrees with a rigid, puritanical view that equality, particularly of sexual orientation, must be stamped out — either by law or by violence.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the southern states. On my first visit to Charleston, South Carolina, I was inadvertently witness to a KKK march — allowed by law, but ironically protected from protest by black police officers. In Atlanta, Georgia, just three years ago, a production of the gay-themed comedy The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, a chronicle of Adam and Steve,¬†received bomb threats from an allegedly Catholic organization.

In response to all of the above, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus arranged a tour of the Deep South and this is recorded in a moving and utterly relevant documentary film, Gay Chorus Deep South, directed by David Charles Rodrigues, who co-wrote with Jeff Gilbert.

Chorus conductor Timothy Seelig was born in Fort Worth, Texas, the son of a Baptist minister and a mother who sang with celebrated homophobe Billy Graham, a childhood from which Houdini would’ve found it difficult to escape. Indeed, Seelig did not embrace his sexual orientation until he was thirty-five years old. His association with the chorus evolved into a passion, attracting others with similarly blighted childhoods.

Particularly moving are the stories of those chorus members who visit home towns and reconnect with family members who rejected them as gay children. It’s interesting to hear how some of these parents excuse their objections to flesh and blood by cherry-picking the Bible.

Over seven days, the Chorus conducted twenty-five performances in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Far from a token tour of the most popular bigot hotspots merely to garner publicity, the Chorus chose the states with the most discriminatory laws. For some of the group, this was a painful reminder of times and attitudes they left far behind and long ago.

For every step forward progressive governments have made, just as many rights have been retracted in the past three years and hatred has been given a mandate. Yet in this courageous tour, bridges are built, olive branches are offered by civic bodies who see the tour as a move towards tolerance and peace, some by religious leaders, one, remarkably, by the host of a right wing radio show.

The climax of this emotional ninety-minute documentary takes place in a Southern Baptist church in South Carolina where the Chorus’s splendid rendering of Amazing Grace brings many to tears, and the pastor tells a packed congregation that his welcome to the chorus is “because I am a Christian…” If this admission of acceptance is made in the name of a religion which is often at the root of discrimination, one is moved to believe that change can be made, and that hope exists if we are bold enough to seek it actively.

Recently I reviewed The Lavender Scare, a film documenting the forty long years of government oppression of tens of thousands of gay men and women which resulted in loss of rights, jobs and often, lives. If you thought those Eisenhower days were behind us, think again. Thanks to the very stable genius now occupying the White House, discrimination is once again real and earnest.

The Gay Men’s Chorus is taking brave steps to oppose these injustices.

Gay Chorus Deep South
MTV Documentary Films
92 minutes
in limited release October 30, 2019

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