Confronting Discomfort: On Re-watching ‘Pride’

Images: IMDb

A bright-eyed baby queer, I first watched Pride on its release in 2014. The film follows the true story of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) led by Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), aiming to aid miners amidst the 1984 to 1985 strike. It pulled me in – gave me a cup of tea, a burning rage, a sense of community. I wanted much of that on-screen life: a life of badly bleached hair and homemade protest signs; of activism captured on film and an unapologetic queerness dressed in soft pastels. And I got it. A ‘gaggle of gays and lesbians’ as my second family, clad in worn dungarees and oversized vintage sweaters. Stolen moments with pretty girls in club corners. Activist sweet nothings spoken over coffee on hungover mornings. Even vegetarianism.    

But in June 2020, the film has a tangible hollowness like never before. Pride is not the queer utopia I thought it was. What was once a place of comfort is now one of discomfort. This discomfort is one which must be confronted.

And that discomfort is all too easy to ignore when I stumble across the film on Amazon Prime. With that soft consumer glaze across my eyes, I find myself reaching to it for comfort. A careless comfort. One which doesn’t require thought – no clothing label whispering sweatshop suffering, no animals harmed in the making of. But, even if they’re not plastered across the homepage, Amazon’s morals are not ones I share. And I can hardly imagine Mark Ashton shaking hands with Jeff Bezos. The depiction of Ashton’s communism is subtle – a heckle, a red star badge on his coat – but it’s there, nonetheless. It’s therefore with a subtle smirk that Amazon Prime stacks the film ever so neatly under the ‘Celebrating Pride’ header. If we’re talking historical accuracy, we’re hardly respecting Ashton’s memory by handing it over to a company which stands for everything he stood against. Pride is a film for thought; but thought isn’t worth much if it’s shoved to the bottom of our fanny packs only so we can dance to ‘Shame, Shame, Shame’ without listening to the lyrics.

Paddy Considine and Bill Nighy in Pride (2014)

And the film itself is thoughtless. The handshake of solidarity laboured in Pride seems purely between white hands. All major characters are white. POC are little more than background noise. A little black boy handing Mark Ashton a bucket; tokens of colour amongst the crowd at ‘Pits and Perverts’; a cardboard cut-out of Eartha Kitt in the opening scene, a whitewashed erasure of activism in return for aestheticism. For all the background scenery POC provide in Pride, they lack a voice – qwhite suspicious. Perhaps I’m wrong – maybe there just happened to be no LGSM members of colour in 1984. But that’s beside the point. To view queer POC as a subgroup which can only exist if history says so is to erase us. To erase us is to silence us, diminish us, deny our existence. And that’s nothing to be proud of. Queer POC are – and always have been – at the front of the Pride movement. To disregard that ever, but especially now, is sacrilegious. Black Lives Matter is making radical changes – and doing so in Pride month, of all months. It’s uncomfortable but it’s true: Pride’s representation isn’t good enough. We have always been here. And we have always been here as more than merely an aesthetic fetish in the background.      

But the erasure goes further. A disturbing lack of Welsh actors haunts the screen. A film depicting Welsh experiences ought to do so through a Welsh voice. Partly, at least. We are allowing for a dominant tongue – one which masquerades as another, and, in doing so, erases those it dresses up as. More than 25,000 Welsh miners lost their jobs in the decade long closing of pits. Is Pride’s erasure not partly what they were fighting against? Against the centralisation of all wealth, resources, and opportunities in the south of England? To save their communities? In June 2020, the United Kingdom is hardly feeling very united. There is only so far Thursday night claps and media whitewashing can hide that, such distractions a frantic plastering of civility, beginning to crack in and of themselves. But Pride’s Welsh erasure is a blatant reminder of how it’s held together – retelling the stories of others but without their voices, truth potentially lost in the translation.

And these stories are persistent. Marginalised people being neglected, mistreated, disregarded. Especially at the hands of the UK government. Pride touches on that – in the government’s mistreatment of the miners, but also in their treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in the AIDS crisis. A government allowing a disease to take root, disproportionally affecting a group of already disadvantaged people, and caring little about it – the similarities are uncanny. This pandemic has been used as an excuse to well and truly push BAME communities under that lying Brexit bus – and then act like nothing could’ve been done about their deaths. The “farewell tour” Tim (Russel Tovey) speaks of is all too familiar: BAME workers forced back to their jobs, an uncertain and unsafe COVID tinged future waiting them. This treatment wasn’t good enough then; and, it isn’t good enough now. The discomfort of Pride lies not merely in its representational failings, but also in its mirroring of our own failings, those which we refuse to shake off.

These failings are not merely depicted as political, but also personal. Performative allyship sashays its way through many scenes – and we let it, just for laughs. A striking miner, Carl (Kyle Rees) gets dance lessons from Jonathon (Dominic West) – a gay panto actor – claiming, “I’m gonna be a woman magnet.” Queer allyship is depicted as dependent on personal gain. Support was dubious before there was something on the cards for them – and then suddenly it becomes a given. We gorge ourselves on cheap activism even now, empty black squares and meaningless rainbows satisfying our greed for on trend wokeness. And for what? A shag? Disturbingly, the film presents this as a possibility. Carl and another miner, Gary (Jack Braggs), use their new flamboyant dancing to attract women at the ‘Pits and Pervert’ ball, only to see the women’s disappointment when realising they are not gay. On learning they are miners, they fawn over them, necking them minutes later. The lads are simultaneously perpetrators and victims of performative allyship. Solidarity slips when we don’t hold ourselves accountable, when we don’t hold our own. These characters, this film, is an example of this. If we are doing something now that was done then, we are doing something seriously wrong. Mullets are enough 80s nostalgia as it is.

But what we should remember is that 80s solidarity – that unrelenting strength and unity, more stubborn than any Pride’s non-biodegradable glitter. It’s nothing radical, but the bottom line is this: from discomfort comes growth. Meaning, we should confront our discomfort with Pride – its failings, its reflecting of ourselves, its consumerist access. I can’t lie – I love the film. It bursts with nostalgia and queer joy and I cry every bloody time. We’re talking ugly, hysteric, don’t-look-at-me tears. And that’s okay. But what’s not okay is to accept that it’s enough – that it’s enough to make us feel something and feel included when we know that isn’t the full story. Pride is not a depiction of paradigm queer activism; it doesn’t deserve a pedestal – save that for LGSM itself. But it does deserve some thought. Thought which isn’t necessarily comfortable but which will encourage us to look at ourselves, to look at film, and to know that we can do better. 

by Eilidh Akilade

Eilidh is currently studying English Literature at the University of Glasgow. She is a big fan of watching film trailers on repeat, sweet potatoes, and intersectional feminism. You can find her rambling about nothing of note on Twitter @eilidhakilade_

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